Local mom and pop shops have historically faced challenges, especially when they are located in areas saturated with “big box” stores. People tend to go with what they know, so a local furniture store selling handmade, solid wood products might face stiff competition from name brand establishments with larger volumes offering cheaper prices. However, just about every product has a niche market with motivated buyers. You’ve heard the phrase “location, location, location.” While this commonly refers to a physical location, in today’s technology saturated society, “location” also means having an online presence.
The Internet is breathing new life into independent establishments, allowing them to take products they sell locally and offer them to a worldwide audience. This shift in doing business can be quite scary for some shop owners who are accustomed to operating the same way year after year after year. However, the benefits of developing and e-commerce arm to your business can be two-fold. For instance, my husband loves going into a local, independently owned hardware store because they carry unique items he is unable to find anywhere else. This small local store recently brought an e-commerce website online. Now, not only can my husband order what he needs and have it shipped directly to our home, but his dad in Texas and friend in Washington D.C. can check out the same neat little hardware store the next time they are searching for that “hard to find” item.
e-Commerce is especially beneficial for specialty shops. A boutique in a quaint town that thrives on tourists who are passing through can now retain those “pass through” customers throughout the year. And, those customers will most likely share the website with friends, which further expands their customer base.
Taking your business online is surprisingly inexpensive. Be sure to shop around for a website development and design company who is reputable and has an excellent track record. It is beneficial to engage in an annual maintenance agreement with your website developer so they can ensure all security and plug-ins updates are performed on a regular basis and attend to the overall “health” of your website. When planning your e-commerce website, keep these ideas in mind:
Test your market on eBay and Amazon
Established online marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon offer an extremely low risk avenue for many new retailers to test their products and also reach their potential customers without having to lay out precious capital for website development and spend thousands of dollars on advertising and marketing to acquire new customers.
Many well know, multi million dollar, e-commerce enterprises operating today at some point started on eBay selling products from their garage. In Australia well known online retailers such as Surfstitch.com, catchoftheday.com and kogan.com used eBay as a stepping stone to building successful businesses.
Once you have gained some exposure and experience dealing with real customers, you can gradually make a transition towards investing in your own e-commerce store and building your brand.
Build a unique brand
Whether you are an established traditional retailer or starting an online business completely from scratch, it is recommended that you invest some time in developing a unique business name that somewhat relates to your target audience and is also memorable. This can have a big impact on the success of your brand in the long run.
Of course if you are a well established brick and mortar retailer, it may be wise to use your existing business name to help your customers find you online.
Build a Unique Product Line
It may not be practical to offer absolutely every item you carry on your e-Commerce website. Focus on offering products which are bestsellers and those which are exclusive. In other words, do you carry certain items that are difficult to find anywhere else and not sold by your competitors? If so, those items are good candidates for your e-commerce website.
Invest in Design, Navigation and Simplicity
Your e-Commerce website is your online storefront. First, make sure your home page is appealing and branded with your logo and colors. This is the first page people will see when they visit, and having a cluttered or unappealing home page is comparable to having a broken front window in your store. Not a good first impression! Next, make sure your e-commerce website and online store are easy to navigate. Bad navigation is as frustrating as cluttered shelves and aisles. Remember, if your website is not visually appealing and easy to navigate, you will inevitably lose customers.
Offer World Class Shipping
Shipping and postage is one area some businesses forget to consider when putting their store online. You will need to factor shipping into the costs of your items and develop a protocol for sending items. Take time to pack your products securely and in sturdy boxes and focus on delivering your products quickly. Customers love fast shipping and you also want your customers to be excited when they receive your shipment, and broken merchandise is not only costly for you, but also very disappointing for the customer.
Build A Great Customer Service Team
It is wise to designate a staff member (or two) to oversee your businesses e-Commerce efforts. First, they will want to monitor inventory and keep the online store up to date. Second, this person needs to ensure all orders are filled and shipped within a reasonable amount of time. Designating certain staff to oversee e-commerce will help keep your online efforts running smoothly and inspire your customers to come back!
Artists, photographers, jewelry makers, and craftsman are also experiencing the benefits of e-Commerce. While art festivals and craft shows still get a lot of foot traffic, many artisans are reaping the profits of also offering their products online. Not only do they reach a wide audience, but they no longer have to travel to as many shows or bring as much product with them. This not only translates into more customers, but also a direct cost-savings.
Last but not least, make sure you have a relatively clear online business strategy, a unique selling proposition and specific growth targets. This is particularly important if you are in a broad market with many other players. You have to ask yourself very early in the game, “why should the customers buy from me?”. Simply offering cheaper products than your competitor is a race to the bottom. Instead, focus on building a unique product line, offer value and exceptional customer service.