Last year saw an unprecedented number of businesses moving online as brick-and-mortar stores adapted to the conditions created by COVID-19. While the surge in online sales may have led to record ecommerce revenue in 2020, it also maintained the existing trend of significant ecommerce revenue increases each year for over a decade.
Whether your brick-and-mortar business is currently adapting to the ecommerce space or you took the last year to adjust and have decided to set up your ecommerce store now, you may be facing some uncertainty as you find yourself in an environment that looks very different from what you’re used to.
Making the adjustment from brick-and-mortar to ecommerce means adapting to changes in four major categories: ecommerce store setup and design, shipping and fulfillment, customer service, and marketing. In this post, we’ll take a look at each and provide the strategies brick-and-mortar retailers need to know as they turn their new online home into a thriving, long-term revenue stream.
Setting Up Your Ecommerce Store
While ecommerce store setup and design may be the most daunting process for many brick-and-mortar retailers, ecommerce platforms are growing more streamlined and user-friendly by the day to meet the demand. As you set up your products and build out a store that reflects your brand, learn how to think in terms of MVP (Minimum Viable Product) vs. long-term wishes.
If you choose a beautiful theme that aligns with your store’s aesthetic and functionality needs, it’s fairly easy to get your store to the MVP stage—after all, another designer has already performed most of the heavy lifting for you. Once you’re there, allow yourself to publish and promote your site; don’t hold off and wait for perfection, because that can be a moving goalpost. Do start building out a list of more long-term design and functionality needs and goals, and pay attention to the feedback you receive about your site so you can begin the process of optimizing your store on an ongoing basis. Even the biggest ecommerce stores in the world are never “finished;” they’re always a work in progress.
After your store makes its online debut, you may notice that the ecommerce world affords certain benefits you didn’t have with a traditional brick-and-mortar. These include:
- Sell 24/7: Unlike physical stores, online stores stay open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- More eyes on your products: Your customers are no longer location-dependent, which means your target audience has just become much larger.
- Customer retargeting: From displaying remarketing ads to creating email opt-in forms, you have more freedom to capitalize on piqued interest and turn one-off purchases into repeat visits.
Shipping and Fulfillment
If you haven’t had an ecommerce presence at all until now, then shipping and fulfillment is one of the biggest changes you’ll be facing. The need to package and ship products adds a massive logistical layer that you didn’t need to consider before, often requiring planning and frontloading to get it just right.
First, decide whether you’ll be handling packing and shipping yourself/in-house or whether you will outsource to a fulfillment service. The former tends to lead to larger profit margins, but the latter is often the more efficient and scalable option. Consider both short- and long-term goals as you select which is right for you.
Either way, make sure your ecommerce platform integrates with your shipping provider(s) of choice. You’re in luck on this front if you’ve chosen Volusion, as we integrate with all of the major shipping providers.
Now that you’ve moved online, your customer service needs are going to look a little different. Fortunately, the skills your customer service representatives need have not changed, which means that all of your former local customer favorites are still major assets online. The biggest changes will be the nature of the customer service requests—more logistics and troubleshooting—and the mediums through which your customers and representatives will communicate.
To address logistical concerns, anticipate as many questions and problems ahead of time and give your representatives all of the training they need to address them. You may not predict all of them, and that’s okay. Have your representatives keep records of every interaction so you can spot trends right away and make the changes/provide the training needed to manage them.
The question of which mediums to use for your customer service is a matter of what works for your business. Options include phone, live chat, email, social media, and even text messages. Most businesses use a blend of phone, chat, and email at a minimum, which gives their customers options without spreading staff too thin. Make addressing concerns as quickly as possible your priority no matter which method you use. This often means adding at least one option that gives customers a chance to interact in real-time during business hours.
Marketing is the space where you may feel like you’ve entered new territory; since waiting for foot traffic won’t work anymore, you need to be actively sourcing your customers. Web traffic isn’t a given, and you may need to invest in some marketing strategies upfront before they start producing returns. Invest in SEO to build a base of sustainable organic traffic over the long term, and consider paid advertising to kickstart revenue in the short term.
At the same time, continue building out a fun, engaging social media presence. This is often the easiest part for brick-and-mortar businesses who are making the transition because successful brick-and-mortars usually have a robust social presence to begin with. If this is the case for you, your ad money might be best spent on the platforms where your customers are congregating. If it’s not the case but you’ve used a different marketing tactic with great success, lean into that one. The mediums that will be most successful for you are the ones with which you and your employees have already established comfort and enthusiasm.
As you start to transition your business online, think about what lessons you’ve gleaned from your physical store and how they can be used to build your ecommerce brand.
- Do your customers typically prefer one color SKU over another? Make that the featured image for the product.
- Do they typically repurchase an item after 45 days? Create an automatic email offer around that timeline.
- Do your in-store products generate higher revenue when they’re demonstrated? Create online video demonstrations to add to product and landing pages to assist your customers with their purchase decisions.
No matter which marketing strategies you choose, keep the following tips in mind:
- Use a professional email address: From customer support to email marketing, you’ll find it necessary to communicate through email at some point. Don’t hurt your brand by using a non-company email like Gmail or Yahoo. Professional, domain-specific email addresses are easy and inexpensive to set up, and they instantly improve your branding and credibility.
- Test, track, and iterate: There are many suggestions on how to build out the perfect marketing strategy, but the reality is, you also have to watch what works and commit yourself to optimizing your strategy on an ongoing basis. Install Google Analytics immediately so you can begin the process of monitoring your results and making improvements.
- Don’t neglect leads: Most ecommerce platforms will collect emails from customers who purchase your products, but what about visitors who are not quite ready to buy? Add conversion points via pop-ups, sidebars, or gated content to help you build an email lead list of potential customers.
If making the transition to ecommerce feels daunting, just remember that your existing knowledge and insight give you a huge leg up. You already intimately understand what your customers want and need, so you already know which value propositions work and which pain points drive your customers away. This insight will help you create a user experience that is shaped by your knowledge. From there, learn from your successes and failures as you continue finding what works best. And most importantly, remember that being online gives you the ability to make a difference for more customers than ever.