Joining the digital age – advice for bringing your business online

Shopping onlineThe way people shop has changed rapidly over the last few years. On-line shopping is booming and consumers are using the internet to research and shop for products more than ever before. But despite this massive shift in how consumers behave, many small retail businesses resist the move towards ecommerce.

This happens for a variety of reasons – for many people taking their business on-line means entering a realm they feel they know nothing about. People are afraid of the costs involved and that they won’t have the expertise to make it work. However, while traditional shops put off the challenge of learning about ecommerce, new SMEs are setting up on-line and taking a significant chunk of market share from long established businesses that used to dominate in their market.

If you own a small or independent retail business and you’ve not made the move online, this piece aims to demystify the process and give you the knowledge you need to feel confident and, hopefully, excited about joining the internet revolution.

Why take your business on-line?

If you are only operating off-line right now, chances are you are missing out on a lot of potential sales and you may even have lost previously loyal customers to competitors in the on-line sphere. Although it may seem daunting, getting your head around moving on-line could be the difference between your business surviving in the long run or gradually becoming unsustainable.

Once you learn the ropes of ecommerce some of the benefits you’ll enjoy include more sales, the ability to serve customers from all over the world, the capacity to engage more regularly with customers and reach a much wider pool of consumers, and the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve stayed at the forefront of the industry where you have built up your expertise.

What do you need to make an on-line business successful?

At its simplest, getting set up in ecommerce requires a website with a shop, the ability to store stock and post it securely to customers, and a good system to stay on top of orders and manage on-line customer service.

If you’ve been running a business off-line for some time you’ll be well aware of the importance of customer service. When you take the business on-line all the same principles apply – great customer service results in loyal customers. This means replying to emails or social media queries quickly, being reliable, offering secure payment and ensuring that customers receive their purchases in great condition and in the time frame you have promised.

One way to organise the running of an on-line business is to use a simple project management system like Trello. You can use this system to keep track of stock, orders and create to do lists.

Setting up a website is also much easier than you might think. There are lots of great services which allow you to build a website without any knowledge of coding. Generally you’ll pay a small fee each month which will allow you to host your website and run a shop from it with genuine ease. Examples include Wix and Big Cartel.

If you’d prefer, you can hire an expert to build a website from scratch for you. If you are going to do this, remember these two tips – choose someone who comes highly recommended to ensure that you’ll get exactly what you need from them, and make sure that you get a content management system (CMS) that will allow you to edit and update the website yourself once it’s finished. If you don’t have a good CMS you’ll have to pay the web developer every time you need to make a change on-site. That is a waste of money when you could be maintaining the website yourself very easily.

If you are having a website built from scratch you will still need to find a suitable payment solution for the shop. Choose a well-known provider such as Barclaycard who offer secure and reliable options for accepting payments which you can read about here.

Take it one step at a time

When you decide to take the plunge and open an online shop, set yourself a realistic time frame to get yourself up and running. Start by getting the website built and regularly updated before you add the shop. Don’t start taking orders until you know you can manage on-line sales in a timely and reliable way. The last thing you want is to mess up your first few orders and damage your reputation on-line.

Once you have the shop operational you can start working on marketing your online business through suitable channels including social media, SEO, paid search and display adverts.

Moving into ecommerce is an important step to keep up with the modern retail landscape, and although it may seem challenging it can be extremely rewarding and very worthwhile. Take as much advice as possible and do plenty of research about what your competitors are already doing on-line so you can learn from their mistakes and successes.


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