As Ontario reopens under Stage 2, many business owners will be giving a huge sigh of relief and opening their doors to customers again. When that first customers pays in person, it may be the first sale they have made in months.
For other businesses, it’s a start of a new era where their bricks and mortar business runs alongside their new online e-commerce business. That online business may have been created out of necessity during lockdown, but it’s now very much part of what they do. It’s also made their business stronger, and better equipped to serve customers in the future.
If you’ve been thinking of setting up online, or only managed to do the basics such as click and collect ordering during lockdown, now is the perfect time to set up a fully functioning e-commerce store.
Good e-commerce needs you
We’ll say this right away: it will take time, effort and investment to create and to integrate an online store into your business functions. However, it’ll also provide you with a whole new outlet for your goods and services, to a nation of customers much more familiar with buying online than they were back in early March.
If you’d like to talk through a new e-commerce website, call us now. Or read on for a breakdown of what you’ll need to consider and put in place for an efficient and cost-effective e-store.
Why can’t I just use my normal website to sell online?
In a word, you can. What you need to add is an e-commerce solution to create all the pages and functionality you expect from an online store - product descriptions, prices, a virtual basket (cart) and delivery options. The new e-commerce section can simply work alongside your existing website, or you can take the opportunity to create a new fresh website with the e-store included.
What you’ll need
This is what you'll need to sell online as an independent e-store, (i.e. not through a marketplace like eBay, Etsy or Amazon). When you set this up yourself, you are 100% in control of every aspect of your e-store.
• A secure, reliable e-commerce website
Nothing annoys customers more than a flaky e-store that just doesn’t work nicely on their smart phones. And there’s no reason to have one either. At Akira, we use the latest e-store modules to build and customise stores that do everything you want and more, without the need to totally reinvent the wheel every time. This makes them cost-effective to build, and so much easier to administer yourself.
• Time and resources to put products online
This is the part many new e-business owners forget about. Just as it takes time to place stock on your store shelves, putting your products online takes time and effort. Before you start to load any products, you'll need:
- a clear, well written product description that sells, with SEO keyword integration
- a selection of crisp, well lit images of each item, preferably from several angles and in all appropriate variations, such as colour
- a definitive price for the item, provision for multiple purchases, and the associated shipping costs
- If you’re selling a specific product line brought in from a major manufacturer, they will probably provide you with all the text and images you need. We always suggest you put your own spin on standard text, so it doesn’t read the same as every other e-commerce stores selling the same products.
- If you plan to sell your own, unique products, you’ll need to write the descriptions and take the photos yourself, or outsource these jobs. People can’t touch or feel your products online, so make sure what you write and how you photograph items really sells them.
Also allow sufficient time to upload these details to the website itself. This is not a quick job. Some e-commerce solutions offer auto uploading options which can help - ask us for details.
• Stock levels and storage
If you plan to sell items online and in-store, you’ll need to ensure that stock controls work across both your systems. You don’t want frustrated online customers seeing that you have 10 items in stock, only to find when they order that actually you sold them all last week from the shop and there are no more arriving until next month. It’s easy to update any e-commerce website yourself with via the ‘back end’ system. At Akira Studio, we use one of the most popular and reliable e-commerce systems, so stock control is simple and straightforward.
• Strong partnerships with suppliers
This is perhaps the ‘hidden’ side of successful e-commerce. By partnering with your suppliers you can secure your supply chain against the unexpected, like, say, a world pandemic… Since March, many e-stores which relied on container loads of imported goods found themselves with supply problems for in-demand items such as hand sanitiser, or a glut of unwanted spring clothing and Easter bunny outfits. By building relationships and partnership with trusted suppliers, you can work together to ensure a continual supply of goods that people actually want to buy online.
• Secure, encrypted payment gateway
Online payment security is vital for consumer confidence and your own business accounts. Again, thanks to COVID-19, customers are much more familiar with paying online using bank cards or Paypal, and increasingly willing to do so. Your payment gateway needs to be both reliable for the user and secure for their details. At Akira, we only use the best gateways that offer high levels of data encryption and security, without charging ridiculous transaction fees.
• picking and packing logistics
OK, so you’ve got the goods on the shelf or on the warehouse. The order comes in from your website, and you’ve suddenly got three socially distanced customers in your store. Before you know it, it’s the end of the day and you’ve not even packaged that online order, let alone posted it. Ensure you make time every day to process orders, and that includes physically wrapping them for delivery so they arrived in perfect condition.
• Reliable and robust delivery methods
Most e-commerce solutions will take care of order slips and delivery labels, but you’ll need a reliable delivery partner to take it direct to the customer's front door. You can use a national carrier, or you can seek out a local partner / shipping broker to do the job, so you can concentrate on the most important thing of all…
• YOUR MARKETING PLAN!
Customers can only buy from your e-shop if they know you’ve got one! Promoting your online store is as important as promoting your main street store. Use every opportunity to promote it, including social media, online ads, email footers, flyers, printed on your shop bags, van or truck decals, etc. You literally cannot overdue promotion for an e-store, we reckon!
• Time to do all the above in a realistic and effective timeframe
If you’ve reopened for the first time this week, you’re probably tired and in need of a vacation already! Do you realistically have time in your day to do everything a full e-store requires? If not, consider outsourcing or hiring help for elements such as packing or loading product details - there are a lot of graduates and students out there with no jobs for the summer yet!
Does your business actually need a full scale e-store?
Many businesses found during lockdown that they were able to offer "e-commerce lite”, with online ordering for curbside collections, or click and collect with phone payments. One of the great joys of professional e-commerce solutions is that you can adapt them to serve whatever type of sales you want to make. You simply use the features you need, and switch off the rest.
So, you might like to feature three fresh produce boxes that people can collect from your farm. Customers can view the three boxes on your store as three individual products. They can pay for them online, and get a collection time when their box is ready. They can opt for home delivery by yourselves on your regular day in their area, or opt to have it delivered out of area by a delivery company.
That’s how many of our new e-commerce customers started, and then realised the enormous potential of what an e-commerce store could offer them moving forward. From necessity comes opportunity.
Not out of the woods yet
The global pandemic is not over yet. Not every health district is relaxing restrictions at the same time. Local outbreaks could create the need for localised lockdowns in the future. Some members of our communities don’t want to venture out just yet due to health concerns. Others have been converted to the joys of shopping online for almost anything, and having it delivered direct to their door.
By investing in an e-commerce solution, you can help future-proof part of your business against further lockdowns and other unforeseen events. You’ll also increase the geographical spread of your customers too. Your store will be open 24/7, and best of all, there’s no social distancing required online!
Talk to Akira
Call us to discuss your e-commerce requirements. Or see what we’ve done, from scratch, to set up an e-store online for an independent local business in Huron County and a major European client:
River Road Brewing was looking for a new website to promote its brewery and sell products online. The new website and estore is fully integrated with their stock management system and payment provider, allowing seamless sales to take place.
Akira Studio designed and built the new e-commerce site for the official Nature's Head composting toilets distributor in Europe.