Believe it or not, many brick-and-mortar stores still haven’t jumped into e-commerce with both feet. If your growth is stagnating, revenue is no longer improving, and you’re getting a lot of customer feedback involving questions about your online presence, it’s time to consider building an e-commerce site.
The good news is, now is the best time to build an e-commerce presence. At this stage in the game, there is an almost infinite number of tools and opportunities that have already been tested by other business owners. Early adopters ate the risk and discovered the best e-commerce practices so you don’t have to.
While many sources out there teach you how to build an e-commerce store in an online-first way, this guide focuses on what to do if you already have a brick-and-mortar store in place. Let’s look at the tried-and-true steps it takes to get your e-commerce store right:
1. Choose your e-commerce platform.
It doesn’t matter if you are doing a full e-commerce migration or just supplementing your physical location — the first step is choosing your platform. In broad terms, your choices are either going with a ready-to-go platform like Shopify, BigCommerce, Volusion or Big Cartel, or working with an open-source, self-hosted website provider.
While the four listed above offer the benefits of a big box of ready-made tools, you get to customize your experience when you use a self-hosted website provider. Figure out which one is best for you by focusing on your best-selling product(s) and playing with the experience of selling it and customizing the options online.
Consider the items from your catalog that you want to sell online. You don’t have to match your in-store inventory exactly. Base your decision on shipping rates or other relevant factors. Take my company, for example. State laws have a massive impact on how and where my products are sold. I have to make sure that I calculate these factors into my shipping costs and get that information out to people on my website.
2. Get a merchant account for collecting payments online.
Programs like BigCommerce and Shopify have payment processing already integrated and ready to use in their dashboards once you link to a third-party account. Many businesses find this to be a convenient option, and I prefer these pre-integrated merchant accounts because they’re generally intuitive and secure.
Unfortunately for many business owners, security is a question of getting your in-house or third-party experts to test your system. That’s worth the effort early on. The easy part is figuring out if your payment process is intuitive. Simply place a test order and evaluate the experience or have someone do it for you who you trust to give you honest feedback.
3. Develop a marketing strategy for your e-commerce website.
Whatever marketing strategy you’re using in person, develop a special approach for e-commerce. The internet is a competitive place for any business. Invest in standing out. Here are a few things I’ve learned:
• Digital marketing is a full-time job. It is worth it to outsource, particularly your SEO and content marketing efforts because they require a long-term investment.
• Blog articles help you stand out by demonstrating your authority on your subject matter. If your brand is a resource for people who want to learn about your field, you’ve already won the sales game.
• You need backlinks to tell search engines that you are a valuable website that deserves to rank higher in results. The higher you rank, the more business you get.
• Your e-commerce presence can work for you 24/7 if you build in automated up-selling sidebars and pop-ups, but you’ll need industry-specific custom programming to make it work well.
4. Think about implementing a web-based point-of-sale system.
If the point-of-sale (POS) system you’re already using works with your store, skip this step. If it doesn’t, you will need to find a system that integrates your online platform and in-store sales. Be prepared for your POS dashboard to become the one place you review things like your:
• Labor reporting
• Sales reporting
• Price adjustments
• Staff management
I’m writing for people who are starting to build e-commerce sites with preexisting brick-and-mortar stores. Just hop on the FAQ or help chat of the various POS systems you are evaluating and ask if any of their other customers started with a physical store and had good integration. Read the reviews and look for people who had a similar starting point as yourself.
5. Use an integrated bookkeeping service.
Once you have a combination of in-store and online sales, your headaches will multiply if you don’t stay organized. Some bookkeeping services were created with an e-commerce-first mentality. See if your new system will allow you to easily input all of your old books. Or, figure out if your current system has an e-commerce dimension you never paid attention to before. Remember that you are far from the first business to make the switch at this point in the game, so research tends to be easy.
There’s no reason to hesitate on this. Creating an e-commerce presence is easier than it has ever been. You can find solutions to most of your problems with a quick Google search. It’s not a matter of whether or not you develop an e-commerce presence, it’s a matter of when. The sooner you wade into it, the sooner you can reap the benefits.