For centuries, brick-and-mortar stores have been the mainstay of human civilisation, and even today, they play a vital role in the shopping practices of consumers worldwide. Nevertheless, in the past few decades, the popularity of eCommerce has grown at an exponential rate. Currently, there are expected to be around 2.05 billion online shoppers globally, and the numbers are set to grow in the future.
A physical store comes with its own set of challenges, and hefty expenses. Customer flow can be erratic and there are multiple recurring expenses for everything from rent to utilities, staff and management. Adding on eCommerce capabilities to an existing store can significantly boost your profits at a minimal cost.
It is your decision if you want to shift to an exclusively online mode by shutting down a physical shop. However, considering the low costs of eCommerce platforms, expanding online while maintaining an offline presence is advisable. Examine the current success, branding, presence and profits of the current brick and mortar store before considering closing it.
Here is a step by step guide on expanding your store’s capabilities into an eCommerce site.
Why You Should Expand with an eCommerce site
Online shopping has proven itself to be far from a passing trend. The concept of eCommerce is here to stay. By 2023, it is expected that 22% of all global retail sales will take place through eCommerce. There are more eCommerce sites than ever before, with smaller businesses expanding to online sales as an additional avenue. From the initial mainstream B2C sales, there are now many more niche eCommerce websites and even B2B expansion.
Before you learn how to expand into an eCommerce site, you need to be convinced that it is a good idea. There are several reasons why you should consider expanding with an eCommerce site:
1. Massive Customer Base
One of the largest driving factors behind the growth of online shopping is the presence of a massive customer base. There are an estimated 4.57 billion active users of the internet, and with the growth of technology, more people are turning to online shopping for its convenience. Internet access, mobile devices, smartphones, purchasing power of youth, social media, all these factors contribute to an increase of people using eCommerce.
With the abundance of people using the internet and eCommerce, you have an enormous untapped market available online. With an eCommerce site, there are no restrictions on geography you can target and you can sell to customer located in a different state or even a different country. Based your specific offerings, you can conduct targeted online marketing at a low cost.
2. Improved Experience for Offline Customers
If you have a sizeable customer base for your offline store, adding online selling capabilities is a great way to offer offline customers a better shopping experience. Existing customers can browse new items online and place orders, while trusting your brand. With the buy online pick up in store (BOPIS) feature, customers can enjoy online shopping with the convenience of fast pick-ups.
An eCommerce site is an effective way to grow your offline customer base. Many shoppers prefer offline modes of purchase, but may not have come across your store. An eCommerce site can catch the attention of potential customers, give them an overview of your store, and encourage them to purchase – offline or online. Satisfied customers are also more likely to recommend your brand to others if there is an easily accessible eCommerce website.
3. Affordable eCommerce Platforms
Some form of online sales has been taking place since the 1990s, but modern style eCommerce sites began with Amazon and eBay in 1995. Early eCommerce sites were expensive and had minimal features. They were difficult to create, requiring in-depth software development and coding skills, adding on to costs. The launch of eCommerce platforms such as Shopify in 2006, Magento in 2008, and BigCommerce in 2009, made eCommerce more accessible than ever before.
Modern day eCommerce platforms are available in a range of price points and payment models such as free to download, licenced and subscription payment. Although some platforms may require the help of a developer to set up, the recurring costs are minimal. Depending on your expected growth and budget, you can easily setup a good quality eCommerce site. The eCommerce platform costs tend to increase with more features, and higher sales volumes.
4. Easy to Use and Manage
With modern eCommerce platforms, it is easy to setup and manage an eCommerce website. There is no need for specialised coding or software development knowledge, and the site building is user friendly. Modern platforms come with a variety of tools for everything from catalogue, order and shipment management to marketing, promotions and search engine optimisation.
After the initial setup, maintenance and ongoing operations are simple to manage. As desired, you can include additional admin accounts, extra products, special deals, customer loyalty programs, shipping protocols and payment options. The eCommerce site can be used to support deals and promotions offered by your offline store, or have an entirely different strategy.
The power of branding is often underestimated, but developing a well-known brand can have a major impact on the long-term success of your business. Expanding online to an eCommerce site is a great way of establishing your brand. Any customer searching for your brand online can instantly be connected with your online store, and from there go on to the offline store if desired.
Digital marketing is an excellent tool for any business, and its success increases multi-fold when there is an eCommerce site. Since the internet is a high definition and graphic medium, you can use it to your advantage to build an image for your brand. Increase the popularity of your logo, incorporate visual elements, showcase your signature products and exhibit your USP.
STEP 1: Formulate a Business Plan
Although you probably have an existing business plan for your brick-and-mortar store, for an online selling website, it will help to have a dedicated business plan. This can help you in budgeting and planning, setting up your eCommerce site for success in the long-term. For your eCommerce site business plan, consider the following aspects:
- Competitor Analysis
When you plan to launch an eCommerce site, you will gain a new set of competitors. Which is why, a thorough competitor analysis is a vital part of your business plan. As there are no regional restrictions, any eCommerce site selling similar products could be a competitor.
Check out and analyse the products that the competitors are offering, their overall site layout, website speed, pricings, shipping charges, shipping speeds, and promotions. Think about where there are gaps in the market, and where you can find an ideal fit for your brand.
- Product Offering
What products are you planning to sell online? Are they the same or different from those offered in the offline store? The range of products you plan to offer will also influence the capability requirements of the eCommerce portal. Decide on product categories you want to sell online, so you can plan your website, prices and shipping accordingly.
Initially, it is smarter to start with products targeted at a broader audience. Once you gain better visibility you can reduce the product range. Always include best-selling items from your store, and products that are sold regularly.
- Target Customers
The existing customer base of your offline store is a great foundation for an eCommerce site. However, since you have access to a greater pool of shoppers, it helps to revise your targeted customers. Examine the products you are planning to sell online, and who would be interested in purchasing those products.
The scope of customers is widely increased in an eCommerce site, so you can easily expand the geographical reach of your business. New products can also help draw in more customers.
- Order Fulfilment and Shipping
For any online sales, you need to have an order fulfillment process in place, identifying the means of delivering the purchased product to the customer. While in-store pick-ups are a popular option, that is restricted to nearby customers. When purchases are made from a distance, you require a shipping solution.
There are two primary shipping models available; packaging and shipping in-house and hiring a third-party shipping service. In-house shipping might appear cheaper, but it can take a lot of effort and time, adding on to overall costs. A third-party shipping service can be expensive, especially if you have to warehouse products with them. However, many third-party shipment providers can be integrated directly into eCommerce platforms, resulting in fast and easy to manage shipments.
An eCommerce website typically involves less costs than an offline store. There are no costs for renting the premises, utilities, or in-store staff. However, these are replaced with costs for the eCommerce platform, hosting, developers, and a few staff members, depending on growth. Have a general budget in mind beforehand, and consider how you would be financing the eCommerce site.
Although there are a few free eCommerce platforms available, they have limited features available and hidden costs involved. While you may get the platform for free, it can restrict the growth of your online store. Investing in a good quality platform can help you offer the best to customers, and establish your business in the market.
- Choose a Domain Name
A domain name is your address and name on the internet, and defines your online presence. Accordingly, it is important to select a suitable domain name. This can be done in two ways: either you select a domain name based on your current brand name, or try out a new SEO-friendly domain name.
If your brand name is not SEO-driven or is not available as a domain name, you can choose a different domain name, while still keeping the branding for the website. A domain name that is SEO-friendly can have a big impact on organic traffic and rankings, helping you reach a larger audience and drive more sales.
STEP 2: Find a Suitable Platform
A vital step in launching an eCommerce site is choosing the right eCommerce platform. The platform you use will influence the look and functionality of your digital storefront and so, it needs to be selected carefully. Some of the top eCommerce platforms are Magento, BigCommerce and Shopify, but always choose a platform that best matches your business needs.
Here are the aspects to consider when selecting an eCommerce platform:
- Features: Advancements in technology have resulted in the evolution of eCommerce platform features. There are a great variety of features available, including easy page building, mobile friendliness, catalogue management, order management, customer loyalty programs, promotions and discounts, fast checkouts, multiple payment options, and automated shipping quotes. Prioritise which features are essential for you, and which are optional, to help you shortlist an eCommerce platform.
- Integrations: When you have an existing store, you would likely be using several business tools, for example, for point of sale (POS), accounting, and inventory management. To integrate the operations of your eCommerce site with your retail store, check that the eCommerce platform supports integrations with your desired business tools.
- Costs: The majority of eCommerce platforms will have a monthly subscription fee, with different plans depending upon the size of the website. Some platforms may be available for free, but there can be hidden costs involved and/or a compromise in features. Consider your budget for the eCommerce platform.
- Scalability: Some platforms are more scalable than others. Estimate the expected growth of your eCommerce site and how much scalability you will require, especially in the first year. Typically, eCommerce subscription plans will support a certain number of products and sales, if you exceed that level, you would have to upgrade to the next subscription plan.
- SEO Friendliness: Even if you have an extensive base of offline customers, gaining organic traffic and new customers is a valuable opportunity you should not lose out on. An SEO friendly eCommerce platform will help in search engine rankings and bring new customers. SEO features include customisable meta tags and descriptions, optional blogs, ability to use your own domain name, and opportunities for customers to leave reviews.
STEP 3: Setup an eCommerce site
Once you have chosen your eCommerce platform, have a business plan and a general vision for your digital storefront, it is time to bring it to life. Depending upon the eCommerce platform and the degree of complexity required, you may need developers to help in the initial setup and technical maintenance of the eCommerce site. Setting up the eCommerce site can involve several components.
- Design and Layout: Decide upon the actual look of the eCommerce site and try out several designs and layout to find one that suits your brand the best. This includes the homepage, product pages, category pages and other supporting pages. Make sure that the navigation is simple to avoid discouraging customers.
- Inventory: Upload all the desired products onto the website with good quality images and catchy descriptions. Include SEO-friendly terms in the product description content.
- Payment Modes: Setup support for all the payment methods you wish to offer to your customers. Make sure that all the payment modes are safe, secure and functional. Check which payment methods involve additional processing charges.
- Pricing: Allocate prices to all the products. These prices can be the same as in the offline store, or at a discounted rate to initially encourage more customers. Also add the applicable taxes if any, either displayed separate from the product price or all-inclusive.
- Shipping: Specify which shipping methods are available for customers, what the costs are, and the speed of shipping. Offering free shipping is a great way to attract new customers, so consider if you want to offer free shipping at least initially. You may also offer free shipping over a certain amount to increase cart value.
- Global Sales: Decide on which regions you want to cater to for online sales. Most eCommerce platforms support international sales and offer multi-lingual website interface and currency conversions. However, it might be better to focus within the country for easier management before going global.
- Customer Support: For past or new customers, it is important to offer customer support, so that they can reach out to you in case of need. Setup the modes of customer support, for example email, chat, or phone calls.
Once the eCommerce site is ready, go through it carefully to work out any kinks, and then prepare to launch.
STEP 4: Marketing and Promotions
Launching an eCommerce portal opens your digital storefront for business, but to bring in customers, you will need marketing. Search engine optimisation is powerful, but it takes time to work and for your eCommerce site to get good rankings. Depending upon your available budget you can plan on large-scale promotions and ads, or more subtle and cost-effective long-term promotion tactics.
- Promote in store: Use your physical store to promote your new online sales website. Consider offering discount codes or other coupons or promotions for shoppers that use your eCommerce site.
- Advertising: If you have the budget, you can place Google Ads online or advertisements in other forums frequented by your target audience. For nearby locations, you can also consider traditional advertisements that would promote the eCommerce site and offline store.
- Social Media Marketing: Examine your target customers and which forms of social media they use most frequently. Accordingly, you can target promotions and raise awareness on your eCommerce brand on social media platforms.
- Online Listings: There are a variety of online directories available where you can have your eCommerce website registered. This is a great way to reach customers that are specifically looking for your products.
- Email Marketing: Emails are a useful tool to stay in touch with customers. Send regular newsletters, brand updates and promotions through an official business email id. There are several emailing tools that you can use to simplify email marketing.
- Content Marketing: A long term strategy, content marketing helps establish your brand authority. Create interesting blog posts and articles to be published on leading sites in your niche. This also helps in SEO rankings.
STEP 5: Merge POS Systems
There are several significant benefits to maintaining an offline store with an eCommerce site, from an increase in customers and greater reliability, to enhanced search engine potential. Despite the growth in eCommerce, many customers still prefer the experience of shopping in a brick-and-mortar shop. Physical retail shops still account for the majority portion of all global retail sales.
Managing both offline and online storefronts can be streamlined and made easy with an integrated point of sale (POS) systems. For any physical store, a POS system is a vital component that carries out transactions by identifying products, generating totals, accepting payments and generating receipts.
By merging a compatible in-store POS system with your eCommerce platform, you can integrate inventory management, track payments, and manage taxes for both storefronts at the same time. A merged POS system is especially useful if you have a unified inventory for the online and offline stores. By keeping track of sales, you can order required inventory in advance, so that sales can move smoothly without products being out-of-stock.
STEP 6: Analyse, Revise and Repeat
For maximum success, it is vital to analyse the performance of your eCommerce site, and make suitable changes. Most eCommerce platforms offer detailed analytical reports and data on aspects such as sales, source of customers, and frequency of purchases. The POS system is also a useful source of analytical data on transactions taking place, inventory, and payments.
Examine which products and promotions are most successful, and what are the major sources of new customers. Consider expanding into product categories that are the most popular, and investing more resources into attracting more customers from sources with proven success. The process of analysing and revising products, promotions, marketing and policies should be conducted regularly for consistent improvement and to reap the most benefits.
If you already have a brick-and-mortar store, then opening an eCommerce site is an excellent way to multiply your profits, visibility, and branding. The massive popularity of online shopping along with the ease of setting up an eCommerce site, has made it a great idea to launch a digital storefront for your offline store. Launching an eCommerce site does not necessarily mean that you should shutdown offline sales.
To give your brand the best chance at success, maintaining offline and online storefronts is ideal.To give your brand the best chance at success, maintaining offline and online storefronts is ideal. For a good quality and custom-built eCommerce site, consider 18th Digitech for Magento and BigCommerce platforms. With years of experience in offering eCommerce solutions, 18th Digitech can help you easily expand into a digital storefront.
An integrated POS system is an easy and effective way to manage offline and online sales, especially if you have a unified inventory management system. Reach out to POS Plaza today, to help you find ideal POS solutions for your business needs. Our experts can help you with POS systems that offer great long-term value.