When you make the decision to take your existing retail business and market it online, it’s important to understand that by doing so you are potentially starting an entirely new business complete with a separate marketing strategy, sales process and operational flow. Initiating and operating an online business extends well beyond the design and development of a website, but maybe you’re not sure where to get started? The following article describes 10 of the most important considerations to make when taking your retail business online:

  1. Competition: Your online competitors may not be the same as your local retail competitors. In fact, you may find that you are competing with large websites based in the US or overseas. Perform a thorough analysis of your online competition and don’t rely on the assumption that it’s the same as your local competition.
  2. Differentiation: For better or worse, going online often means opening your products up to being price-shopped. Be sure your products are unique and differentiated enough from the competition that they can’t be compared solely on price.
  3. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS): A SaaS ecommerce platform, in short, is a subscription-based service for creating, hosting and managing your online retail business. The appeal of SaaS ecommerce platforms is that they offer a low-risk, low commitment option for getting your business online without having to pay thousands of dollars up front. Where SaaS platforms fall short for many businesses however, is in their lack of flexibility and customization. Because while they may provide an initial jumping off point for your retail business, it can be difficult and sometimes expensive to scale up your business with a SaaS ecommerce platform.
  4. Guarantees: For many people, the notion of online shopping is inherently riskier than traditional shopping. Because online shoppers lack any physical interaction with the product or its salesperson, they need additional assurance that what they buy will be to their satisfaction. To meet this need, many online retailers offer conditional guarantees or warranties with their products. When a online shopper knows that they’ll receive a full refund if the product that they buy doesn’t meet their expectations, they’re much more likely to make a purchase.
  5. Privacy Policy: From a buyer’s standpoint, your business’ privacy policy is one of the most important documents on your website. A privacy policy is a legal document that describes, in detail, any information collected from your site’s visitors and what your business does with that information. If you’re unclear about this process, you may want to consult with your website’s administrator and ultimately have a lawyer create a privacy policy specific to your business.
  6. Shipping and Returns: Another problem specific to online business is developing a process for shipping products and handling returns. Do you know how much it costs to ship your product within Canada, into the US or overseas? Are you aware of the necessary customs charges that accompany your products? Are you able to absorb these costs? Without an efficient shipping process you risk creating a bottleneck in your business, which could affect the amount of sales you’re able to make. Just as important is developing an efficient and fair return policy. Remember that an unsatisfied online shopper can be toxic to your online business, so treat complaints and product returns seriously and fairly.
  7. Engagement: Studies show that online shoppers shop less impulsively than they would in a physical shopping experience. Understand that online shoppers may not buy right away and that this is not necessarily a problem. However, it’s important that you build relationships with your online shoppers and engage them regularly by providing something of value rather than just a stream of promotions. Research some of the social media or internet marketing success stories within your industry and copy a formula that has worked for other companies.
  8. Analytics: Website analytics offer incredible insight into your buyer’s activity, buying habits and buying motivations. Solutions like Google’s popular and free Google Analytics are simple to initiate and fairly easy to learn. More complex solutions like heat mapping software and a/b testing software can offer even more insight into your online business.
  9. Search Engine Optimization (SEO): You may have a beautifully designed website that offers exactly what your customers are looking for, but if they can’t find you in the first place, it’s almost as if you don’t exist at all. Learn all that you can about SEO, then put it into practice throughout your website. Today’s search engines care less about keywords in the site and more about the activity outside of your website that says you’re a good business to work with. So focus on provide genuine content and value to other human beings with a few keywords layered in and you’ll be off to the races.
  10. Foot Traffic: While there are substantial benefits to taking your retail business online, understand that you are far more likely to make a sale to a customer who enters your physical retail location than one who visits your website. Because of this, it’s important to encourage online shoppers to visit your retail store by offering special promotions or events exclusive only to those people that visit you in-store.

The above lists represents merely 10 of the most important considerations that business owners must make when taking their retail business online, but industry specific considerations can expand this list even further. Again, it’s important to understand that by taking your retail business online, you’re essentially creating an entirely new business that resides alongside your traditional retail business not underneath it. Just like starting any new business, there are considerations and decisions to be made that will ultimately determine whether your business is successful or not. The more that you know, the more likely you are to be successful.


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