Thinking of trading online?
The current social and economic climate – with much of the world in lockdown and many bricks-and-mortar stores forced to temporarily close their doors – has meant many businesses are now looking to operate online instead. Others see it as an opportunity to launch a new online business from scratch.
This is easier today than it has ever been, but there are still a few fundamentals that are important to consider. First, are you adding an online presence to an existing bricks-and-mortar business, or are you launching an eCommerce business first? If you have an existing business, some of the decisions are a lot easier – you have a brand, a reputation, a customer base, product suppliers, a payments partner, and an understanding of what you do. Moving into eCommerce is simply a digital reflection of your business today. You might still need to sort out logistics: how do you process and deliver online orders? What does fraud look like? When do you refuse to serve a customer? How do you measure risk? But these are well documented opportunities to solve.
If your first venture into business is online, you have a lot more to do:
Brand & identity
First, who are you? How are you presenting your business to your as-yet unidentified customers? Think of your website as your shop window. It has to be inviting and encourage your customers to come in and look around. Remember, when you start, your shop is tucked around an undiscovered back street with limited parking and a small pavement. If a potential customer passes by, you want them to stop, look in the window and come in.
Choose your website partner very carefully. Do some research. There is little point working with a partner who does not let you repaint the front of your shop, or who has so many business restrictions that you cannot trade the way that works for you. Can you work with a hosted shopping cart provider and, using their tools, create the shop window you always wanted? Something like Elavon’s eShop? When Elavon asked small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) who had an eCommerce platform what their go-to was, 45% bought an off-the-shelf solution1. Why? Because this is often the simplest entry in eCommerce, with lower costs; a great way to get started as you learn the eCommerce business. What are your own technical and design capabilities? Can you build the shop front you want, or should you find a little more start-up income and work with a web agency that can create your vision for you?
You are also a customer
Think about your online shopping experiences. What do you like? What encourages you to buy? Think about making it really easy for a customer to checkout. No one likes to queue up at a checkout, answer a lot of questions to then find out it’s cash only and there’s no stock. The customer’s experience from entering to leaving your shop is important. Ideally, you want them to browse and buy, enjoy the experience and leave you a glowing testimonial. But remember: you will not please everyone, and you will learn as much from a negative review as you will a positive one, so encourage and seek feedback. Is there a small group from your intended market who could act as a focus group – giving honest feedback?
Promote your business and your products
Use every method available to you; don’t be shy to use your network of friends and acquaintances. Encourage them to visit your website and give you feedback. Test, learn, iterate. Use blogs, SEO tools, product offers and promotions. Think about your competitors: How are they driving customers to their websites? What are they doing differently or better than you?
Don’t be afraid to change. You might not get everything right first time. Remember, you cannot be the best at everything, so seek help from your friends and your business network for those things that take you too long and frustrate you the most. Concentrate on the bits you enjoy and are good at.
 'UK SME Pulse' - September 2019