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Brick and mortar stores have been around since the beginning of time and they're not going anywhere. Retail isn't dead, no matter what some people say.
The truth is that shoppers simply like the in-store experience, where they can try on clothes and inspect the products before making a purchase.
Shopping malls and physical stores all around the world are filled with shoppers, proving that today's consumers are seeking face to face interaction more than ever.
But that doesn't mean that you need to limit your sales to a brick and mortar shop.
You can boost your retail sales significantly by putting your products online, making them available to shoppers far outside of your immediate location.
In fact, over 2 billion people are currently shopping online and an estimated 7.1 million online retailers currently taking advantage of this online shopping trend.
So why can't your brick and mortar shop do the same? (Especially in the face of COVID-19, where the entire world has been forced to be on lockdown.)
Setting up an online shop can be tedious and a bit overwhelming at first, so I've created a complete guide to walk you through each step.
By the end of this article, your brick and mortar shop will have a solid online presence, boosting your sales both online and offline.
Let's get started.
Prepare to Launch Your Brick and Mortar Store As An Ecommerce Business
Before converting your traditional brick and mortar store to an ecommerce business, it's worthwhile to get clear about a few things. This will help you create an online retail space that will attract the right shoppers and convert well.
After all, you don't want to put all this time and energy into building an online store if it won't actually make any sales.
Here are 10 key steps to take before launching your ecommerce website.
1. Define your target audience
Your target audience is made up of shoppers who are most likely to buy your products. When you are clear about who your target audience is, then it's a whole lot easier to find them.
The easiest way to get started is to look at your existing customers who shop in your brick and mortar business. You could even invite them to complete a questionnaire so that you can have a better idea of who they are by asking them questions like
- what some other brands or online publications that they visit when they're online shopping?
- what kinds of products they're most interested in purchasing?
- what is most important to them in their shopping experience (ie easy checkout, lots of reviews, personal recommendations)?
Once you have an idea of who your existing customer base is, take the time to really think about who they are and how they represent your ideal customer.
A few questions to help guide you in defining your target audience might be
- what kind of personality does your ideal customer have?
- what are their general attitudes about the world, politics, and your industry?
- what are their core values and how do your products align with them?
- what are their interests and hobbies (how they spend their spare time)?
- what are their lifestyle choices?
- what is their general online behavior?
Now, take a look at what you have to offer and how it aligns with your target audience. Consider these questions
- will your target audience actually benefit from my product or service?
- do they have a need for your product or is it a want?
- do you fully understand what drives your target audience to make decisions, like searching online or buying?
- can your target audience afford my product?
- can you reach your target market? How will you reach them?
When you know these key details, then you can better tailor your online presence to suit their needs. You can also create targeted ads to find more online shoppers just like them.
2. Purchase your domain name
The very next step is to purchase your domain name and, unfortunately, it's not as exciting as you might think.
Rather than choosing a cutesy name or sticking directly with your brick and mortar shop's name, consider your target audience (again) and what would make your online store most visible to them.
The easiest way to do this is to choose a domain that has your target keyword in it. This will help the search engines find you more quickly and your potential customers to trust your brand more easily.
And if your online sales depend largely on organic traffic, then it's best to choose an SEO-friendly domain name.
For example, when I search for an 'eco friendly online shop', online businesses with the term 'eco', 'green', 'sustainable', 'natural', and 'earth' in their domains pop up.
These online retail stores put a portion of my keyword right into their domains to make it abundantly clear what they are selling before I even click on their sites.
While many brick and mortar stores may choose to use the same name as their stores in their respective physical locations, you have a greater chance of reaching a wider audience—and sales—with an SEO-friendly domain name.
3. Select which products to sell online
Most brick and mortar businesses have a large inventory, which is useful for shoppers who like to examine products face to face before making a purchase.
But that doesn't mean that you need to sell every single item in your inventory on your online shop.
Instead, narrow down your inventory list to your top-selling items. Also, consider which items people ask you about or request the most. This way, you already know that there is a demand for these products both online and offline.
Also consider selling any products that need to be replaced often, like toothbrushes, cleaning supplies, or single-use items.
This makes it easier for you to get returning customers rather than having to rely on new customers each month.
Once you upload the first 50 to 100 products, monitor your online sales and adjust your inventory as needed.
4. Take a look at your online competition
Today's consumers do lots of online research before finally making a purchase, so it's important to be aware of who your competition is, who their customers are, and how they are selling their products.
First, take a look at their audiences on social media, paying special attention to the demographics and which other pages and brands they follow online.
This will help you get to know your target audience even better because you know that they are already purchasing the products that you sell (just not from your online shop... yet).
Then take a look at how your competition is pricing their products. Pay attention to
- the actual price of the product
- shipping costs and how they determine the shipping rates
- tax rates
- any service fees
While it may be tempting to list your products at the lowest price, shoppers may be unpleasantly surprised when they see a massive shipping cost at checkout. This kind of bait and switch ruins the customer experience, making them less likely to complete the purchase or to ever return to your online shop.
Instead, safely price your items in between the lowest prices you can find and the highest, taking into consideration your shipping costs and profits. This will help protect both your online sales and the customer experience.
5. Take professional pictures of your inventory
Because shoppers won't be visiting your physical locations, it's super important to include quality photos of your products. You can certainly use stock images that the brands have on their sites, but personalized product images that you take yourself will perform much better.
And you don't need to hire a professional photographer for your product images, either. Most smartphones these days can take high-quality photos with either portrait mode or live focus, matching the same look and feel that DSLR cameras are known for.
When photographing your products, follow these general guidelines:
- Use a white background. Setting your products against a white background allows shoppers to see your products clearly and gives your site consistency in its images. You can use white project paper or even purchase a small portable studio.
- Take photos from every angle. Leave no aspect of the product unseen so that your customers can thoroughly inspect the products.
- Include a video when possible. Today's consumers spend a fair amount of time researching products both online and offline before making a purchase, so give them a feel for how the products move or feel in your hands by recording a video of the product. You could even put the product on a slow-spinning pedestal. By answering all of your customer's questions about the product in this way, you're improving their shopping experience and possibly ending their search right then and there with a purchase.
Check out this listing for this Nikon camera on Amazon, for example.
You'll notice that there are multiple angles that the buyer can view the product and there are four videos the buyer can watch to fully understand how the product works.
Being able to inspect the product thoroughly via images will significantly improve the shopping experience for your customers, making them more likely to make a purchase.
6. Set your shipping costs
Unlike regular brick and mortar sales, an ecommerce store needs to factor in shipping costs when setting prices. And as tempting as it may be to set the price as low as possible so that customers are drawn to your shop, your added shipping costs at checkout may end up turning them away in the end.
Instead, include shipping costs in your product pricing right from the start and create a standard shipping rate that is applied at checkout.
Here are a few tips for increasing conversions rates with your shipping price:
- When factoring shipping into your product prices, set a low standard shipping rate. Create a site-wide banner to advertise your shipping rates so that customers know what to expect while shopping.
- Offer free shipping when customers spend over $50 or $100, depending on what your price range is for your products. This will encourage customers to spend more and improve the overall customer experience.
7. Choose your payment methods
When choosing a payment method, you need to consider what will be easiest both for you and for your customers.
Think about it.
The easier it is for your customer to spend their money, the easier it is for you to sell online.
Depending on which ecommerce platform you choose, like Shopify or Woocommerce, for example, you will be able to easily integrate several different major payment gateways. Some of the most popular payment gateways in the ecommerce industry are:
- Square. Square is popular for brick and mortar stores want to start selling online through an ecommerce site because it accepts payments both online and in-store. Pricing is comparable to Stripe and PayPal and is compatible with a wide range of ecommerce platforms.
- PayPal. Besides the fact that PayPal is easy to use and set up, there are over 277 million PayPal users in the world, making it easier than ever to collect money for the products you sell online. Not only that, but also businesses selling products online and use PayPal convert 82% higher than those that do not.
- Stripe. Stripe is one of the most popular payment gateways for businesses selling products online because it is so versatile. It allows you to accept recurring payments, payments for subscriptions, and in-store POS payments, making it perfect for brick and mortar shops that start selling products online. Lastly, it is compatible with all major credit cards and even alternative payment methods, like Google Pay and Apple Pay.
- Google Pay. Google Pay is designed for ecommerce shops, mobile apps, and in-person payments. It's one of the preferred payment options in the online marketplace with over 55 million active users.
- Apple Pay. Apple owns 54% of the mobile vendor market, thanks to its millions of iPhone users. Apple Pay serves as a digital wallet for iOS users, making it easier than ever for users to purchase products from your ecommerce store with a single tap on their smartphone device. And if your ecommerce business accepts Apple Pay, then you're ready to receive their payments easily and quickly
8. Organize your tax details
Just like you need to file taxes for selling products through your brick and mortar business, you also need be tax compliant when you start selling online.
And this can be a major headache to sort through manually.
It's best to set up a system before you start an online business so that way you're always current with your tax information. There are lots of different programs that can help your ecommerce store manage your taxes and these are the top-rated in the industry:
9. Create a clear refund policy
Selling products in your brick and mortar store makes it relatively easy to manage the customer experience and accept returns or issue refunds. The face-to-face component helps both store owners and customers alike to maintain compassion and civility throughout the process.
When you start selling online, though, lots of that civility and compassion goes right out the window.
Don't worry, it's not you. That's just sort of the nature of running a business online and comes with the territory when you start an online business.
To help deter potential issues, it's a good idea to set an ironclad return and refund policy right from the beginning. Create a separate page on your website that clearly outlines how your brand manages returns and issues refunds so that unhappy customers know what to expect when they want to return your products.
Here are a few tips for creating a solid ecommerce return policy:
- make your policy easy to find
- personalize your policy rather than simply copying the policy of another online retailer
- make it easy to understand
- don't use any definitive language like "you must" or "under no circumstance"
- outline exactly what they can expect from you, like a store credit or total cash refund
- make it clear what is expected of your customer, like what steps they need to take to complete the return
- make sure everyone on your team fully understands the policy
10. Optimize your ecommerce shop with SEO
The very last thing that you want to understand before you start an online business is search engine optimization (SEO). It is how you will get organic traffic to your ecommerce site without having to pay for a single visitor. In fact, it's possible the most important marketing strategy that you can develop for your ecommerce website that will continue to bring you customers long after you set it up.
I've personally written extensively on the topic, so I've got a few in-depth articles about search engine optimization. Here are the most important topics to get you started:
- how to do search engine optimization for your Shopify store
- how to do keyword research
- how to choose which niche products to sell
- how to write high-converting product descriptions
- how to drive organic traffic to your online store
- how to build backlinks to your ecommerce website
The best part is that no matter which ecommerce platform you choose to sell online with, you can optimize is for the search engines. Whether you sell on Shopify, Bigcommerce, or Woocommerce, you can easily add content to your ecommerce site that will help you rank on the search engines.
And that makes it a whole lot easier to sell your products online.
Turning your brick and mortar shop into an ecommerce business is perhaps the ultimate marketing strategy for your entire business. Once you open up to the online marketplace, the possibilities are endless.
And if you take care of these tips as you get started, you'll be able to sell your products to customers all around the globe.
Good luck and stay safe!