If there’s anything that COVID-19 taught us, your business needs to be online.
Over 2.14 billion customers are buying goods and services online in 2023.
That is a lot of potential. And you don’t want to leave that market share to your competitors. So retailers need to start an e-commerce shop and website, but how to get started?
In this guide we’ll help you through all the steps involved to take your brick-and-mortar store online. But before we get into that, let’s quickly see the reasons why you should launch an online store.
Why take your brick-and-mortar store online?
Here are the four most compelling reasons to set up an online store.
1. Sell 24/7 (on semi-autopilot)
Like the idea of making money while you sleep? A big advantage of your online store is that you don’t have to worry about standard opening hours.
Your customers can find you anytime they want and buy from your ecommerce store 24/7.. It doesn’t matter if it is during the day, at night, or even on public holidays. 53% of customers will always research their purchase online before buying. So if you don’t have an online presence, you’ll be letting a lot of revenue slip away.
Online ecommerce success doesn’t come magically, there is still a great deal of work involved But first successes are super easy to attain.
2. Expand your business without the upfront costs
Expanding a brick-and-mortar store means hiring more people, training them, opening at new locations, paying rent, ect. That’s a lot of overhead and a lot of investment.
When you expand your online store, you’re no longer restricted by your geographic area. An audience could be across state, country, and even the world can be your e-commerce oister
So online expansion allows you to reach a much larger audience, without the upfront costs you’d see in retail store locations.
And with a strong marketing plan you can hypothetically drive an unlimited number of customers to your store.
3. Make customers happy
Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, said that the customer is a company’s only boss. And the customer can fire everyone by simply spending his money elsewhere.
For a business to survive, it has to keep its customers happy.
Research by Zendesk showed that 80% of consumers will rather do business with a competitor if they had more than one bad experience. But there are plenty of options to create customer satisfaction with your online store.
Don’t underestimate your website’s value as a communication channel.
- Save hours of phone calls between your customer and customer service with a well-written FAQ page and knowledge base.
- Get a warm welcome for sales reps who deal with informed buyers that already know about your products.
- Give information to your customer when they need it, through your online store.
- Capture important customer details with Point of Sale and e-commerce integrations. With this information, you can personalize the customer experience for each buyer.
4. Increase brand awareness
A sustainable business depends on trust. 81% of customers say that they buy based on trust.
And the more your customers trust you, the easier it is for you to build lasting relationships. In order to get to this point, your customers first need to know about you.
An online store and website allows you to build that SEO strategy that will get you on the first page of search engines. It allows you to channel what is going on online, in social and have people look into your business more closely. The size of the company doesn’t matter, it works even better for small businesses.
You’ll get noticed as an authority once you begin to show up on search engines for a particular niche.
Show up online and start building trust and brand loyalty.
3 Steps involved in taking your brick-and-mortar store online
Without a doubt, opening an online store has a lot of benefits for your business. But the question is: “How do you go from a brick-and-mortar store to e-commerce?”
There are 3 stages to taking your business online:
- Pre-launch preparation
- Optimizing your online store
- Marketing your online store
Let’s go over each one in detail.
Pre-launch phase: Preparing your business for online
1. Finetune your market and customer persona
The first thing you need to figure out is who your ideal customer is. Know your customer in advance, and you can relieve yourself of a lot of stress during marketing.
So how do you create a customer persona and pick a target market? Here’s the good part. A buyer or customer persona is a semi-fictional description of your ideal customer.
Since you already run a brick-and-mortar store, you already have a customer base to work with.
You only need to study them.
Your customer persona’s (or lack of one) greatly impacts the direction of your marketing strategy. A clearly defined persona will arm you with crucial information such as
- How your customer is most likely to find your website
- How your customer will want to interact with your online store.
Creating your website using a buyer persona can increase your website traffic by up to 210%.
You need customer data, industry research, and informal observations to create a good customer persona.
Buyer personas can improve your email open rate 2x and your click-through-rate 5x.
When crafting a customer persona, you should ask yourself these questions.
- What age, gender and demographics describe my ideal customer?
- Is my customer spontaneous or calculating?
- What benefits does my product offer to my customer?
- Is my customer looking for these benefits?
- How important is price to my customer?
- Is my customer making the final purchase decision?
- What social media platforms and sites does my customer visit?
There’s one more thing to keep in mind.
The users of your product might not be the actual buyers. A store selling children’s toys for example has children as its end users. But the parents are the ones who buy the toys. In B2B, this is the same – often there are influencers and decisions are made together.
Develop a buyer persona based on the person holding the money.
2. Choose the right e-commerce platform
You’ll need an e-commerce software platform or website builder to set up your online store.
There are plenty of options to choose from. These platforms have one thing in common though.
They give you the tools to get your online store up and running in no time.
The most popular ones are:
E-commerce software: Shopify, BigCommerce, Magento, WooCommerce
Website builders: Squarespace, Wix, WordPress
Answer the following questions to decide which e-commerce platform is best for you.
- How easy is it to start, what is the learning curve like?
- How much flexibility do you have with design?
- Can it integrate with your essential business tools, like accounting and POS software?
- What’s the platform’s total cost?
- Is the platform scalable?
- What kind of security does it come with?
- How many products can you upload?
- Is customer support available?
- How much will you pay for a domain name and hosting?
- How well does it work on mobile, desktop, and other devices?
Because there is so much to say about them, here is a full review of the best ecommerce platforms.
If you already have a great website for your business, you don’t need to build another one. You can give your website e-commerce capabilities by installing an e-commerce plugin. An example of such a plugin is Ecwid.
It’s even better if you can connect your brick-and-mortar’s POS software to your online store. This will allow your customers to enjoy a smooth checkout process.
Some of the popular POS solutions are Lightspeed, Vend, Square, and Shopify POS. You can integrate these POS options with both your offline and online stores to manage both channels effectively.
To understand which POS software is right for you, check out this in-depth guide on POS systems.
3. Select your domain name
After choosing your preferred e-commerce software, the next step is to pick a domain name.
Your domain name is the address of your website that people type into their web browser.
For example, the domain name for this website is www.emailvendorselection.com
It is getting harder to catch your preferred domain name. First quarter of 2020 there were over 366.8 million registered domain names a 4.2% increase from 2019. So many of the desirable domain names are already gone…
Keep the following domain name tips in mind:
- Choose an easy-to-remember domain name. Make sure that people can spell and pronounce your domain name with ease. You should be able to share your domain name while speaking too.
- Use keywords into your domain name. Using an SEO-friendly domain name tells search engines what your website is all about. This in turn can help you rank higher on the results page.
- Get a dotcom domain name. .com domains are the most popular domain. They account for 35.11% of registered domain names. This is because they are the most trustworthy and memorable.
- Use a variant. There is a good chance you might not get exactly the .com domain name you want. In that case it isn’t the best idea to use unpopular domain name extensions like .photography, .drama, and so on. Instead, use a variant like adding “my” or “get” at the front of the name, or opt for a .store or a .shop domain name. These are more trusted.
4. Choose which products to sell
The next step is to decide which products to sell online. Sometimes you won’t be able to 1-on-1 sell exactly the same inventory online as in-store. Even if you have a huge inventory of products available in-store.
So how do you choose which products should be sold online?
Here are three cosiderations on which products to sell:
- Pick your top sellers first. Choosing products with high demands will enable you to target a larger audience. So, even if you have hundreds of products in your inventory, start with the products with high demand.
- Choose items that can be easily managed. You will save yourself (and your team) a lot of stress if you can package, store, and ship the products without problems. It is advisable to only sell bulky items in your brick-and-mortar store. Or allow your customers the option to buy online and pick in-store.
- Think about solid margin. As with all business there is some retail math behind it. All the costs involved, the gross profit margin should be healthy, even if you are getting returns.
As you begin to scale, start adding new products and product categories based on your market and competitor analysis.
5. Research your competitors
Good artists copy, great artists steal.
Those are the words of Pablo Picasso.
There are different ways to interpret that statement. But it is certainly true when talking about competitor research.
When researching your competitors, don’t just copy their strategy. A copied strategy can only be as good as the original. And that’s if you manage to get all the pieces right.
Instead, you should ‘steal’ from your competitors.
Take the time to understand why they made a particular move and why. It is only when you understand this that you can use those ideas where it applies to your business.
The aim is to figure out ways to make your product offering more appealing to your customers. Understanding your competitor’s approach to solving problems will help you.
6. Write custom pages and meta-descriptions
A good product description can give you a massive sales boost. So, you shouldn’t rush the process.
But if you’re trying to take your brick and mortar store online, there won’t be time to write a hundred custom product descriptions before launch day.
But, what to do then?
What you should do is come up with meta descriptions for each of your products.
A meta description is an HTML element that summarizes your page’s content to other users and search engines. It usually appears in the search engine result as a snippet under your page title.
Why should you care about meta descriptions? 43% of users click on a search engine result based on the meta descriptions.
Unlike product descriptions, meta descriptions aren’t meant to be in-depth. In fact, you only have 160 characters to work with. But your meta description should show the important information about a product.
These are the qualities of a well-written meta description:
- Relevant to the page
- Uses active voice
- Contains keywords
Meta descriptions don’t directly impact on your Google ranking. But a well-written meta description improves your click-through-rate (CTR). Your CTR has that direct impact on your ranking.
7. Set up your payment provider
You need to integrate your online store with a payment processor to accept payments. There are two options for you, merchant accounts and payment service providers.
A merchant account is a type of bank account that allows you to accept and process card transactions. Essentially it is an agreement between the merchant and the acquiring bank that makes all the transactions simple.
A payment service provider (PSP) takes care of all aspects of sending and receiving payment, for a cut of the transaction. Popular PSPs are PayPal, Stripe, and Square.
If you use a payment processor for your in-store card transactions, then the choice is easy. You only need to check with your provider to see if they support online transactions (which most of them do).
But don’t forget to compare the costs of PSPs. Using more than one payment processor for your online store gives customers a variety of payment options.
PayPal is a very popular and trusted PSP that allows customers to make secure online purchases.
A study showed that 54% of customers are more willing to buy if you add PayPal as a payment option. And this holds true even if PayPal isn’t used for the final transaction.
8. Determine your shipping and return policy
We don’t like it, but returns are an unavoidable part of selling online. How you handle shipping and return will determine whether customers buy from you.
This is because 67% of buyers check the return policy before making any purchase.
And 92% of customers will buy from you again if your returns process is easy.
Add transparency and build trust in your shipping and return policy by
- Create a clear and informative page for your shipping policies
- Give your customers enough time to return products
- Add direct links in your emails to frequently asked questions
Phase 2: Optimize and improve your eCommerce store
1. Choose a website design
You don’t have to go overboard with a flashy web design, but at the very least, you want your brand’s design to project a sense of professionalism.
Most e-commerce platforms come with premade design templates to quickly build a professional looking store.
This is a must as 38% of your site visitors will leave if your design is unattractive.
The best one for you is the one that allows you to balance professionalism with aesthetics.
You can always hire a web designer to create a custom design if you feel like you’re not getting what you need.
Just make sure that your design is helping the customer experience. It is important to keep pages free of clutter. Use simple navigation to make your customers’ lives easier.Don’t forget about the mobile experience of your site.
The m-commerce share of the e-commerce market reached 72.9% in 2021.
More people use their smartphones to begin and end an online purchase, so your store’s design should be optimized for mobile users.
Source: merchant savvy
2. Improve your conversion rates based on best practices
In most cases, people shop online because it is convenient.
We don’t have to walk all the way to a brick-and-mortar store when we can get what we need from the comfort of our couch. KPMG discovered that the number one reason why people shop online is that they are able to shop at all hours of the day.
The following tips will help you hook customers that land on your site.
- Use an easy-to-understand website with clear navigation. Try to minimize the total number of clicks a customer has to make before checkout. 18% of customers claim a complicated checkout process as their reason for cart abandonment.
- Use white spaces on your website. White space helps you highlight your most important call-to-action (CTA). It also improves the legibility of your text.
3. Build out your product pages
Even if your meta description does a good job of driving traffic to your website, you still need great product pages to get people to complete their purchase.
87% of consumers rate product content highly when making a purchase decision.
If you make a sale, 50% of your shoppers will return the item if it doesn’t match the product description.
That’s how important your product page content is.
Product pages get the most traffic.
Create your product pages using the right keywords. A keyword-rich product page will not only increase your organic traffic. It will also help visitors make a buying decision faster.
Some of the characteristics of a good product page are:
- A good product page should contain all the necessary information a buyer needs to arrive at a buying decision. This will also reduce returns.
- Make good use of social proof. Don’t be shy about flaunting testimonials and ratings. A study showed that testimonials can increase conversions by up to 34%.
- Use a consistent style for all your product pages.
- Use bullet points so your pages are easily readable.
- Add information on shipping and returns.
- If you sell clothes, display a size guide.
4. Don’t waste too much time on your homepage
Your homepage is the main webpage of your online store.
But in reality, most people land on other pages of your site through search. An ecommerce homepage is a very important page. Preferably telling your store’s story and guide people on their way. But you shouldn’t spend too much time tweaking it for your first launch.
5. Create SEO content
If you’re serious about driving organic traffic to your website, then you should focus on search engine optimization.
51% of all website traffic comes from organic search, so your store needs to be SEO-optimized. This isn’t about stuffing your website with keywords.
Provide content that your customers will find valuable.A happy customer will always come back for more. And that customer might even refer more people to you.
The flywheel popularized by Hubspot
Do the following to start creating valuable content for your store.
- Include short descriptions in your category pages.
- Add banners to your brand page.
- Add FAQs to drive traffic from related search queries on Google.
- If a product gets specific questions, add the answer to the product description.
Phase 3: Marketing your eCommerce website
Now the framework is in place, your online store is ready to run smoothly. You’ll need a marketing strategy to make sure sales take off.
How do you get started with marketing your online store?
If you already have a brick-and-mortar store (along with a customer base), it makes sense to start from there. Make sure your customers know about your new website.You shouldn’t have much difficulty convincing your brick-and-mortar store customers to (also) use your online store.
Add your website’s link in your social media posts, your newsletter and refer to it in the store.
But how should you market your eCommerce store? Let’s have a look.
1. Use social media to reach your customers
No matter what industry you are in, chances are, your audience is online and active on social media. According to Social Media Today, customers spend 20-40% more with companies that engage with them on social media.
Buffer reported that 58.8% of companies claim that social media is very important to their overall marketing strategy.
But how do you drive traffic from social media to your store? We know of organic social media marketing, and that can be a worthwhile endeavour it may take lots of time and effort to see the first results.
Luckily there is also social media advertising. 94% of companies using Facebook uses paid advertisements. This should tell you that social media advertising works.
4 quick tips for social media marketing success.
- Make sure that you promote only your best content and offers
- Try remarketing ads for customers that have recently interacted with your brand. Remarketing ads are more likely to convert website visitors by 43%.
- Set up shopping carts on your social media pages. Give your customers the chance to buy directly from social media platforms. This will help you target impulse buyers.
- Explore influencer marketing. Customers are very open to recommendations from their favorite influencer or niche expert. Influencer marketing is said to have an average ROI of $7.65 for every $1 spent.
2. Use email marketing to boost your sales
The success of email marketing is well documented. Your email marketing strategy can produce 3800% ROI if you know how to implement it correctly. And start with email marketing right when you launch your online store (or even earlier).
For some added success in ecommerce email marketing, follow these tips.
- Use contests and ads to get people on your email list. Growing your email list is essential, you can have no email marketing strategy. Use targeted ads, lead magnets, or contests to entice people to your list.
- Segment your list. There are plenty of advantages of segmenting your list. It helps you decide quickly who your paying customers are. Also, you’ll stop sending irrelevant emails to your customers. \
- Make good use of cart abandonment emails. This strategy can significantly boost your sales. 68.1% of online shopping carts get abandoned. But 29.9% of cart abandonment clicks usually lead to a purchase. that’s a huge part of your revenue that could have slipped away.
Pro tip: To improve the results of your cart abandonment campaign, offer a coupon code or free shipping. This will compel people to complete their transactions.
3. Research how to improve your conversion rate
As an online store, your conversion rate is critical to how fast you’ll be able to grow.
that’s, you’re expected to convert 2 out of every 100 web visitors you get.
It is not enough to drive traffic to your store. What these customers do when they land on your site is just as important.
Here are four tips to improve your online store’s conversion rate.
- Get to know more about your customers. Surveys are important if you want to understand your customers. Ask for feedback from your customers to know what they expect from you. Analyze your responses. If the feedback is about a particular product, consider adding it to your FAQ page. This will help inform future customers.
- Improve your website loading speed. Did you know that 64% of shoppers who are dissatisfied with their shopping experience will visit a new store the next time? One of the courses of this dissatisfaction is slow website loading speed. Your customer’s satisfaction reduces by 16% for every 1-second delay.
Your online store launch checklist
The steps outlined above will help you move from brick-and-mortar to the online space.
A lot of work goes into making this change successful. But these are proven methods. And they will work for you too.
Here’s a launch checklist to guide you on this journey.
- Select your e-commerce platform: If you need help choosing the right platform for you, check out this in-depth review of the top e-commerce platforms.
- Get the right domain name: Remember that your domain name must be easy to remember. If possible, aim for a dotcom domain. But if you can’t get that, use a variant or different domain extension like .shop.
- Choose your launch product catalogue: Start with proven bestsellers. They will help you reach a wide audience quickly. The best items to sell online are those that are easily shipped with high-profit margins.
- Research your competitors: Find out what makes your competitors successful. don’t just copy it. Discover the motive behind each tactic. And figure out how you can apply it to your store.
- Create quality product descriptions: Your product description should motivate people to buy. Ensure that you include all the information a customer needs to arrive at a buying decision.
- Set up your payment method: Choose multiple payment processors to begin accepting payment on your store. I recommend making PayPal one of your options.
- Refine your shipping policy: Make sure that your customers are aware of your shipping and return policies. Be upfront with any expense they might have to bear.
- Optimize your store: Learn about SEO, conversion optimization and design. Apply what you’ve learned to your webstore.
- Start with marketing and sales: Get the word out there. Use marketing channels like social media, emails, and your storefront to let people know that you’re open for business online.