Taking Your Bricks-and-Mortar Business Online

Taking Your Bricks-and-Mortar Business Online

Already have a thriving offline business? Perhaps you can increase sales revenue and exposure by taking your bricks and mortar business online; web visitors can discover your business through new channels, and choose to either buy online or visit your physical store in person.

Is Your Business Suited To Going Online?
First things first: not every offline business is suited to selling online. Perhaps your product doesn’t present well online, or there are already many competitors in your space. If you run a single physical bookstore, is it worth competing with Amazon and Book Depository? On the other hand, if your books are unique and hard-to-find, perhaps listing some of these titles on Amazon will help you sell more and boost customer awareness of your physical store.

Either way, having some sort of online presence makes a lot of sense; most people turn to a search engine to find what they are looking for, and if they’ve heard of your store before they may well search for your name online. Even if your site is simply a brochure and a map to where you are located, this can be a good driver of physical traffic and new customers. And the good news for local businesses; Google often rewards local companies with higher search rankings over international businesses.

The Basics: Click and Collect
Not ready for a fully-fledged ecommerce system yet? Perhaps your POS and inventory management system can’t handle integration with an online shopping cart? Not to worry, a great interim step is Click and Collect.

Click and Collect works as it sounds; a customer browsing your site is interested in buying an item and clicks to reserve this product. The customer leaves their name and phone number, and a preferred time to collect the item from your store. Meanwhile, your store manager receives an email instructing him or her to put aside that item for the customer, who then arrives at a later time to pay for and collect their goods.

Sounds simple? It can be with a basic plugin for your WordPress site (such as https://wordpress.org/plugins/eshop/) or Shopify site (try https://apps.shopify.com/click-and-collect); these plugins/apps simply allow a customer to reserve an item online, giving you their contact details to follow up on later if necessary. Many customers who then visit your store can be up-sold to a higher priced item, or cross-sold to include more items in their overall purchase.

Adding Ecommerce as a Sales Channel
We discussed the different Content Management Systems here, and indeed each business will have unique needs and opportunities when moving to trade online. In the long run you will probably want to have your own dedicated website with a CMS like WordPress or Magento, however you may choose to get started with a simpler (and lower cost) solution such as a shop-in-shop on a C2C marketplace, or a SaaS ecommerce store such as Shopify. Below are a few key points to consider when bringing your business online:

1. Keep it Consistent
Your branding and online customer experience is a direct reflection on your offline business, so you’ll want to invest some time and energy getting this right. A consistent message is key here, which will probably involve the engagement of a professional designer to align your offline and online messaging.

2. Be Realistic About Costs
A Shopify or C2C business might be cheap enough to set up initially, but the running and marketing costs may be more than you first anticipated. Consider the following before embarking on your ecommerce project:
• How many additional and/or specialised staff will be needed to manage the site?
• Will the site be actively marketed on search engine and social media channels?
• Who will manage these marketing functions and budgets, and how much marketing budget will be allocated?
• What are the monthly operational costs (hosting, payment processing, email marketing etc)?
• Will specialist software development work be needed to integrate online stock management with existing POS systems?

At the end of the day, an ecommerce site is a lot like establishing a new physical store; you will have extra operational, marketing, and staffing costs before you start to see the additional revenue flowing. Needless to say, developing a realistic online business plan is key here, and you are reading the right book!

3. Make it Obvious That You’re a Local Business
Most people love to support local businesses, so tell them your story! Make it obvious that you are a local business and a part of their community; it will encourage more sales, inspire trust, and result in more people dropping by your physical store. You can give people a reason to come to your shop by offering in-store discounts, promotions, and fun events! Your social media accounts can also help promote your online/offline community, strengthening your local brand and customer loyalty.

4. Use Offline Marketing to Boost Online Sales
Here are just a few examples of the synergies you can find between offline and online businesses:
• Start an email newsletter by gathering your physical customers’ email addresses and directing them to your online store
• Offer promotions to your in-store customers for liking or sharing your Facebook page
• Post in-store and event pictures online and encourage your fans to share
• Tell your story through blog posts and social media coverage
• Partner with your suppliers, customers and other business partners in joint events, leveraging their fans and followers, and sharing similar resources
• Host competitions and giveaways online for activities held in store

The Bottom Line: Your Customers Are Almost Certainly Online
At the end of the day, we are all spending increasing amounts of time online, whether for fun, shopping, communication, or business. Having a strong online offer that links your physical business to the growing online world is key to remaining visible and relevant to your customers over the long term.

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