If there is one strategy that Covid-19 has accelerated for businesses, it is the adoption of technology to extend sales outside the traditional business physical space. Restaurants are promoting curbside delivery through on-line platforms to increase sales in an environment where occupancy has been cut in half, and online platforms allow for order placement without tying up phone lines. Retailers are supplementing in-store sales with on-line orders, or they are improving the effectiveness of social media posts through the inclusion of direct purchase links of select merchandise. Service providers are pushing on-line interactions to limit physical interactions. If you can think of a business, there is probably a way they can improve sales or efficiency through the adoption of on-line sales based platforms.
So, which should you use? Well, it isn’t quite that simple. Not all online platforms are built the same, and businesses need to be prepared for the logistical and technical elements of web based sales. Adding an online sales component should be treated as a separate business, with dedicated marketing, sales strategies, customer service elements, and more. This isn’t as simple as flipping a switch. Here are some things you should consider:
- How will you develop quality, attractive content?- It doesn’t matter if you are selling food, clothing, or candles; your inventory needs to look attractive to the potential buyer and the sales information should be compelling. For many traditional retailers, suppliers have high quality photos they can provide upon request for online upload. The positive for this strategy is that you get access to professional photos, the negative is that your products become more searchable for price comparisons. You need to contextualize who the products are for and why people should buy in a very short narrative. You can’t have shoddy pictures and incomplete information and expect people to purchase from you.
- How will you maintain an accurate inventory?- Consumers get frustrated when they look through a menu, find the perfect item, and then find out that the product is out of stock. How can you accurately link your inventory to your web store in a time sensitive manner? Some point of sale systems automatically track inventory, and others require some sort of physical intervention to stop product sales. It doesn’t matter if someone is ordering a meal or a necklace, your inventory has to be accurate to maintain customers.
- What is your best shipping method?- Can you deliver in-town? Allow for curbside pickup? What are your best shipping methods (USPS, Fed Ex, UPS, etc.). How do you flag items for their delivery type? How do you communicate delivery tracking? How do you follow up to ensure a good consumer experience? These are all questions you must answer BEFORE you start on-line sales.
- How will you handle customer service issues?- If you have customers, you have issues. Items can be the wrong size, something can get messed up in the order process, or they can be damaged in transit. How can you quickly and effectively make things right for your customer? In the world of on-line reviews, a few bad customer experiences can devastate future on-line sales.
- How easy is your site to use?- People shop through on-line portals because it is easy. The more difficult you make the process, the less likely people are to buy from you. You need to make sure the transaction portal is secure, but the purchase options need simplicity in design. Much like the consumer feedback you would encourage for a new business opening, design feedback is pretty critical when forming an effective on-line sales presence. Your design shouldn’t only consider desktop options. A LOT of people use mobile devices for on-line transactions, so make sure that your on-line sales platforms look good on a phone/tablet AND a laptop/pc.
- What are the fees/expenses involved in on-line transactions?- Selling on-line isn’t free. You have web hosting fees, transaction fees, packaging, shipping, marketing costs, customer service costs, inventory, and more. Experienced e-commerce businesses can create efficiency through operational speed over time, but that usually doesn’t occur at the outset. Consumers will often push for free delivery or other types of price break considerations, and businesses must track their costs associated with the sales process to remain profitable. Destination taxes, return shipping labels/shipping costs, and third party vendor fees can erode profit margins.
- Should you host your own site, sell through a third party, or both?- MANY businesses have Point of Sales (POS) systems that have on-line integrated components. You can integrate most existing digital systems into web based sales portals (with web development help). However, many consumers go to specific sites to purchase. Some of the large format sales sites that are more established contain integration methods for existing businesses. You don’t have to be Etsy, EBay, or Amazon to sell on Etsy, EBay, or Amazon (although extra fees and expectations may apply when selling through a third party). Many small businesses will work through both third party stores AND independent web sales platforms to give consumers the option of who they want to deal with.
- What are the most popular platforms available?- Internally, check the Point of Sale platform you currently use for online sales integration FIRST. There isn’t a need to change your internal operations if you don’t have to. The following are some more popular platforms for online sales, with associated “getting started” links (click on the verbiage below for each respective sales platform):
Selling online through Shopify
Selling online through Square
Selling on Amazon
Selling on Etsy
Selling on Ebay
Selling on Facebook
So, why the emphasis on this now? We don’t have a crystal ball, but we are pretty sure this internet thing is around to stay… You want to give your consumers the opportunity to spend money with you in ways that are convenient for them. Even if people aren’t spending with you through your web portal, a lot of people will look through product offerings to determine if they want to come into your place of business. Families will often share links to specific items as they make purchase decisions. Whether we are talking about keeping up with consumer trends or preparing for potential future negative impacts of Covid-19, the ability to sell on-line is important.
Still confused about how your business can integrate online sales into your business operations? Contact Emporia Main Street for an in-person or virtual consultation.