If you’ve ever thought about taking your business online, there’s no better time to do it than right now. Actually, 10 years ago would have been nice but, since you don’t have an online presence yet, now is as good a time as any. Maybe you haven’t set up a website yet because you just don’t know where to start. Let’s remedy that right now and make your first sale over the Internet.
Curate Your Best-Selling Products and Services
Before you jump in with both feet, curate your best-selling products and services. A lot of businesses that transition to ecommerce make the mistake of offering everything under the sun – their whole product catalog. This is a mistake if you’re a local business with a niche market.
Why? Because you don’t have any firm data on what your margins will be online yet. You also want to lead with your strongest product offering. If it can’t succeed online, then your weaker products probably won’t make it either.
Of course, there is an argument that perhaps weaker products in the store will do well online, but this is more of an exception than the rule. You can always test it out though, if you want. The important thing is to have a test – a small batch of products that you sell – to see if online selling will even work for your business.
Set Up A Basic Website
You don’t need to go crazy with your website. A basic one will do. Fortunately, the web today is very user-friendly. WordPress makes it unbelievably easy to get yourself up and running. Choose a WordPress theme from the wordpress.org theme database and fill in the template with your own content.
If you’re a little squeamish about going it alone, you can always hire a developer to help you with the design. Studiopress is a WordPress theme designer, but they also hook you up with developers if you need help customizing the templates they sell. You can also hire a developer here that will help you with any one of the free themes you find on WordPress.org.
Test The Waters
Before you set up an ecommerce store, try using an application like ShoppinPal to test the waters with existing customers. ShoppinPal, and other similar apps, let you set up an online “store” presence inside of a few hours. It’s a mobile shopping app that lets nearby shoppers discover your store, browse your inventory, and then make purchases.
Shoppers then come into your store to pick up their merchandise or you can arrange for shipping. This way, you can sell to customers or prospects immediately while also seeing whether an online presence would work for your company.
Use Multi-Channel Distribution
If you have a strong base of customers offline, you’ll want to ease into online sales using multi-channel distribution. What is it? It’s a way of selling goods that makes use of both online and offline channels.
When you’re first learning how to start a retail business, this is one of the best ways to prepare yourself for online sales later. After you’ve done some basic market research on how your customers like to receive products, you test the idea(s) by allowing users to buy through a mobile application or in-store.
Let users buy online and then pick it up at a store location, buy through the mobile app online and have it shipped, and then allow customer returns through both online (shipping) and retail (in-store) channels. This trains your market to think of you as both an online and retail merchant. Pretty soon, the brick-and-mortar lines will blur, and you can encourage more and more people to do business with you via the Internet.
Your online store will be for nothing if you don’t have a good marketing plan. Just like with offline marketing, online marketing’s goal is to drive sales. But, unlike offline marketing, online marketing tends to focus heavily on content creation and curation, email list management, and user engagement and social media.
This scares a lot of business owners who just don’t know how to navigate these marketing channels. Fortunately, there are so many marketing firms out there that specialize in content creation and social media that this shouldn’t be a major hurdle to overcome.
If you’re already something of a good writer, try setting up a blog and use that to capture email leads. Something like Brian Dean’s Skyscraper method will help you shortcut a lot of the nonsense online about marketing and get paying customers on your email list.
Francois Bondiguel is from Vend, a point-of-sale, inventory, and customer loyalty software that helps over 12,000 retailers manage and grow their business. Connect with Francois on Google+ and LinkedIn.