Running your own small business in 2018 can be tough. In a post-recession market, with rising costs and shrinking incomes, keeping a bricks-and-mortar operation going can be hard. Shoppers are increasingly looking to the internet for cheaper deals. It’s crucial that small businesses everywhere embrace the ecommerce market.
It might sound daunting, but moving your business into ecommerce has never been easier. It’ll take a little time and effort, but it will pay dividends for you and your business. There’s a whole untapped market out there for you to take advantage of! Still not convinced? Read on for a handy guide to what you need to know before diving into the future of ecommerce…
Why choose ecommerce?
Consumers in Ireland are expected to double their online expenditure in 2018, predictions say. On top of this, an anticipated 3.2 million Irish customers will be shopping online by 2021. That’s a significant customer base and one that is only set to grow as time goes on.
Ecommerce gives small businesses the opportunity to push their products online, onto a wider consumer base. This offers a parallel revenue stream for your business, one you can run alongside or even instead of your physical store. It’s not just material products either — if you sell online courses, e-books or even spa packages for example, it might make more sense to run an ecommerce-only business.
It’s also a great opportunity for seasonal businesses to weather out the offseason. With pop-up shops becoming ever more popular, retailers are running physical stores for relatively low rent at peak times. However, ecommerce lets you continue to sell your product during the months when sales are traditionally lower.
What do I need to know before starting my ecommerce store?
Choosing the right platform
Before you get started, you’ll want to choose an ecommerce platform. There’s a huge range of options, offering different functionalities at varying prices. If this is your first foray into the world of ecommerce or you’re not tech-savvy, then you’ll want to go for a hosted platform or get an expert to build the site for you. This option saves you the hassle of building the store from scratch. Pre-made themes and plugins are all readily available and easy to implement so you can save on some of the set-up costs.
Before you make your ultimate choice though, you may want to consider the following:
- Budget: there’s a wide variety of price plans to suit budgets of any size, and each one comes with different capabilities. If you’re starting out, it’s worth going for the cheapest to let you find your feet. You then have the option of upgrading when you feel ready.
- Stock: depending on where your current business is at, you may wish to only stock one or two products at first. Some platforms offer cheaper payment plans for lower stock sizes, so always make sure you’re getting the best deal.
- Product: you might be selling a physical product or something less tangible like a course or service. If it’s the former, you will want to consider storage and shipping costs before choosing an ecommerce platform.
Up your marketing strategy game
Advertising your online store is very different from advertising a bricks-and-mortar operation. If you’re committing to moving to ecommerce, you’re going to want to work on an effective marketing strategy.
A key component of this is e-mail marketing, a vital string in the small business’s bow. If a customer comes into your store, makes a purchase, then leaves, it’s not likely you’ll get a chance to entice them in again. However, ecommerce lets businesses gather customer contact information. Armed with this, you can then send them updates, special offers, and discounts on the products they’ve bought or are likely to buy. It’s cheap and effective, and well worth taking advantage of.
Another important marketing tactic involves creating content, usually on a blog linked directly to your ecommerce store. Writing regular posts which are informed, useful, and engaging is a great way to grow your online store. Learn how to write a blog post that speaks to your audience and fulfils their needs. For example, if you’re a business selling travel gear such as bags or hiking shoes, talk about the best way to travel through Europe on a shoestring budget. It doesn’t just have to be text content either. Videos are becoming increasingly popular with paying customers, and are a great chance for you to show off your products visually.
It’s all about the user experience
Ecommerce is all about the customer. You wouldn’t have an untidy, confusing shop, so make sure your online store is user-friendly too. Keep it simple and professional, without too much unnecessary text or graphics.
You’re also going to want to ensure your online store is mobile friendly. With a growing number of customers using their mobile or tablet to shop, it’s vital that your site can work on multiple types of devices. Some platforms such as Shopify automatically configure your online store to be responsive, however, others require you to have some HTML knowledge to do so, so you may want to reach out to a trusted technology partner. WordPress is a great content management system for small businesses who already have a website, as you can get budget responsive ecommerce themes.
And it’s not just about looks either — a good shop is full of friendly staff, and your online store is no different. You’re going to want your site to be written in a friendly, approachable tone. Work on your brand’s unique voice. Who are your customers? What are they like? Once you know who your customer is, you’ll know how to speak to them, and they’ll appreciate it.
How can ecommerce benefit me?
As you will have seen, the world of ecommerce is quite different to that of the high street store. It’s an exciting future for the platform, and one you’ll want to be part of. But how can it benefit your business? You’ve seen the how — now here’s the why.
No geographical barriers
Before the rise of ecommerce, you’d have to go to a physical store to make a purchase from a non-mainstream vendor. You might sell the most beautiful handmade leather purses, but if your shop is way out of town, your sales are going to be limited by your location. Create an online store and your customers can come from all over the world.
Lower costs compared to bricks and mortar operations
Consider the overheads related to a high street store: wages, utilities, store rental… It all adds up. With an online store, your costs are considerably less, even if you upgrade to a more advanced ecommerce plan.
It’s a week before Christmas, and a customer desperately needs a last-minute gift for a relative… but the shops are shut. Not so for your ecommerce store! Open 24/7, 365 days a year, it means you’re always ready to make a sale, no matter what time it is. Use tools like LiveChat to help you answer customers even when you’re not around.
Targeted ads let small businesses drive up sales
You might think that a small business like yours hasn’t got a chance when you’re up against bigger companies with bigger budgets — think again. Using information gathered from your customers, you can specifically target your advertising to people who are most likely to make a purchase with special deals and coupons. Rather than casting a broad net, you can market directly to an audience who are statistically more likely to buy, saving you time and money.
Making the move to ecommerce is a viable option for almost any business. It’s often cheaper than a bricks-and-mortar business, and lets you reach a wider audience. There’s a plethora of options open to you to build your online store, so be sure to consider your choices before committing. But don’t hesitate — there’s a veritable treasure trove of opportunity for growth for you and your business.
Victoria Greene is a branding consultant and freelance writer. For all the latest on developments in ecommerce, marketing, and design, check out her blog, Victoria Ecommerce. Victoria has a drive for helping store owners get the best return on their ecommerce business.