Are you a successful offline retailer looking to take your retail business online?
Do you understand the process, the pros, and the cons well enough to succeed?
Have you evaluated if going online is the best move for your business, financially, logistically and from a marketing perspective?
If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to all of these questions, this article is just right for you. Here, we discuss aspects of online retailers that can often come as a surprise- the minutiae that decide how well you do. From choosing your products to shipping and returns, let’s begin!
Selling Online Is Different
If you’ve been seriously considering taking your business online, you probably know that
- selling online involves more time in which the consumer interacts with your brand
- there is a time gap between making a sale and the delivery, and the longer it gets, the more unhappy a consumer can be
- simply being online is not enough, and you need to market your store
- today’s consumer can take to a variety of social media platforms to voice their concerns, and you need to manage your reputation online to sell sustainably.
Let’s dive deeper into a few of these aspects, and some more.
Are You Ready To Start An Online Retail Business?
The challenges of going online are unique as they are troublesome to address. Here are a few things you need to keep in mind before you take the leap and take your retail store online.
Suggested reading: All You Need To Know About Omnichannel Retail
With a physical store, we think about the layout, product placement, and a few personal touches. With online stores, we need tithing of how accessible they are.
- Firstly, your E-commerce site needs to load quickly. People use a variety of internet speeds and from several different locations. If your site is too bulky, it will just not load quickly enough to hold their attention.
- There will be periods of time when you’ll experience a spike in the number of visitors, just like in a physical store. You need to be prepared with a reliable web host that can handle these spikes.
- Keep in mind that people also access the same site on a mobile device. Your site needs to perform well on every device and still continue to load as quickly as possible.
A customer’s interest in your website is directly proportional to the amount of time it takes to load, so the way it behaves is extremely important.
Perhaps the greatest advantage of having a digital catalog is the ease of production and distribution. Problems such as printing and distribution costs are cut down significantly. Moreover, a digital catalog is easy to share through a variety of media and thus serves to increase consumer recall. Your customer can now see your catalog on your website, in their email and even on Instagram. As with a print catalog, ease of reading is paramount here.
- Consider having lots of high-quality pictures.
- Curate the contents of your catalog based on a trending theme.
- Consider having an engaging description for each product.
- Don’t forget to mention the product’s price and code.
While selling across multiple channels is a great way to improve sales, the inevitable issue of stock management often crops up. How do you make sure you don’t continue to receive orders when you’re actually sold out?
- A good inventory management system can help you keep track of what you’re selling.
- At Primaseller, we’ve built software that can take care of your inventory woes. Our automated inventory management system ensures that your stock levels are dynamically updated across your sales channels, throughout the day.
A payment gateway is a portal where your customers will pay for the product they buy from you. Not all payment gateways are created equal, though. A payment gateway securely processes your customers’ information, accepts the payment from them and generates a confirmation number. A good payment gateway does all of these without ever creating a problem.
- Consider how much it costs you. A classic gateway costs lesser but requires that you set up a separate account. A gateway like PayPal can be linked to an existing account, but the transaction fees are slightly higher.
- Each gateway is user experience. Play around with a few to see what it looks like on the site.
- Start with a gateway that charges a lesser fee from you and upgrades as your sales volume grows.
When going online, a unique problem crops up – that of delivery. As opposed to the instant gratification of buying a product in-store, a customer now has to wait for their product. Several things can happen if the delivery goes wrong, doesn’t arrive on time or arrives in a shabby state. This is why it is so important to choose the right delivery partner.
- Always go by their past record. Consider how many people in the same domain as you are using this partner’s services.
- Be firm about your delivery expectations. This is especially true for perishable homemade goods that you ship to far-off locations.
- Talk about who will deal with packaging. Set your packaging expectations on the table so you don’t have disappointed customers. You can also discuss an arrangement where you will do the initial custom packaging and the delivery partner will ensure it arrives in spotless condition.
If your delivery partner is looking after the bubble wrap, you may want to consider customized packaging. A customer’s brand recall depends heavily on how they were ‘treated’ by the brand.
- Include personalized messages or handwritten notes expressing your appreciation for the customer.
- Throw in a coupon for a discount on the next purchase.
- If you’re selling cosmetics, beauty products or lingerie, consider adding in a bit of fluff. Use stuffing material that will add some extra appeal to the box.
- Let your box speak for your brand- your company colors and a logo can work well.
- Keep the entire package light, else you will be paying out more for the weight of the box itself while shipping.
Just like you have a returns policy for a physical store, it is important to have one for your online store. While designing a returns policy, be sure to be specific.
- For an online store, ‘seven days from the date of purchase’ can mean several things. Do you expect to have the product back within a week since it arrives at a customer’s place? Should the customer ship it to you within that time frame? Think through them.
- Set clear guidelines for what can/can not be returned.
- Specify what condition the product must be in for you to accept returns. Since the returns process is happening remotely, this is crucial.
The Devil Is In The Details
You already know that there are several online stores that also perhaps sell a product similar to yours. How do you stand out?
- For every single one of your products, always use an original image of the product itself. It is tempting to use fancy stock photos, but this will only disappoint the consumer. Sites get a bad rep when they advertise one thing and deliver a cheap imitation.
- Set yourself apart. You can do this in every step of the online shopping experience. Think about the process as a customer.
- How quickly a customer gets to the cart and checks out depends on how much relevant information you have provided, so make sure each product sells itself. Provide all relevant details and cut out the fluff.
If you keep a few of these things in mind and use a judicious combination of sales acumen and customer outreach, taking your retail store online can actually be a walk in the park!
8 Tips to start your online retail business
1. Replacing The Touch And Feel Factor
The single greatest difference between a physical outlet and an online avenue is that in the latter, a consumer cannot experience the product.
All the information they garner needs to come from visual details. Exceptional product pictures and text descriptions are necessary to make you stand out.
Sometimes, these aspects alone can evoke an emotional response in the buyer and prompt them to make a purchase. Most established brand achieve this by developing a consistent, emotionally-relevant brand voice, which they then use across the web store.
Elements such as the store design, User Experience and networking elements (social media sharing, a link to the target consumer’s hobbies/ interests) then add to the basics and create a holistic buying experience, enough to replace the experience of actually touching a product.
2. A Different Product Catalog
Are you tempted to instantly transpose your offline catalog onto your online store? Based on the niche you operate in, this may or may not be a good idea.
If you have a unique set of products that aren’t to be found elsewhere, simply selling the same products across channels is a good move.
If your products are more generic, like clothing, for example, you need to have specific catalogs for your online store that can entice more people to buy online. For example, you may have noticed how some brands collaborate with online influencers and design a clothing collection around them.
This collection is then available only online, as a way to bring more people to the web store. When taking your retail business online, a keen understanding of your target consumer’s triggers can help you come up with ideas to bring more of them to the online store.
3. Not Every Product Sells Online Easily
Some products, such as electronic goods, toys, and clothes sell more online today than they do through offline stores. This can be attributed to several factors:
- These products have a degree of standardization, so the consumer knows what to expect when buying online.
- For these items, the easy returns and replacement policies ensure that an unhappy purchase need not be endured.
- In general, the more customized a product is, the more resistance there is to buying it without experiencing it first.
Products like furniture that are bulkier can be perceived as being a ‘bigger investment’, thus making it harder to convert a sale online. As opposed to a physical outlet for furniture, someone browsing an online furniture store may not necessarily be expressing buying intent.
Likewise, most people would hesitate to buy jewelry or high-end accessories online as they would want to try these products on before investing in them.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be selling these products online. In fact, we have a guide dedicated to selling jewelry online. It just means that the approach you take to going online with these items needs to be very different from the standard e-commerce setup.
4. Online Marketing- Giving Your Sales Channel The Visibility It Needs
The amount of money you make is directly proportional to the exposure you get online. And to make money, you sometimes need to spend money too. Enter- digital marketing.
Today, digital marketing services can deliver everything from targeted ads to delivering ads via email, retargeting customers who have expressed intent and identifying distribution channels with maximum traction.
When you set up your online store, be sure to enable analytics on it. This way, you always have a basic understanding of what is and isn’t working for you.
- If you’re looking to get your website to rank higher in search, you can invest in Search engine Optimization (SEO) for your website. Using the right keywords on the website gives you a better chance of being noticed. A well-maintained blog also helps you rank higher over time.
- Google’s Adwords service is one way of featuring on page one of the search rankings. Using the right headlines based on what your consumers might be looking for, you have a good chance of showing up as a sponsored result. You can set up conversion tracking to monitor whether your ads are leading to conversion.
- Facebook also offers a variety of sophisticated tools to advertise to your audience. You can customize everything from your audience and location to the placement of your ad itself. More recently, Instagram too has started to allow paid promotions, which in turn can boost your product sales.
If you choose to outsource digital marketing or recruit someone to do it for you, here are some metrics you can ask them to measure and report on:
- Traffic Metrics such as sources, new vs. returning visitors, cost and revenue per visitor, bounce rate.
- Conversion Metrics such as conversion at each touchpoint cost per conversion and lead to close ratio.
- The overall return on investment from your digital marketing effort, measured as money spent vs. money earned directly as a result of online marketing.
5. Order Fulfilment, And Where It Can Go Wrong
Unlike in a retail outlet where a customer picks the order up immediately after billing, there is a time gap in online retail between when an order is placed and when it is received. Everything that happens between these two points in time is called the fulfillment process.
The first problem that can crop up in fulfillment is not having enough inventory.
For example, your books may show that you still have five products, but the reality is that there are none. Essentially, the customer has ordered a product that is out of stock. In this scenario you have to wait until you receive the product from your vendor, pack it and ship it, adding a good week or so to the fulfillment process.
The second problem that is very common in fulfillment is vendor management issues.
You may forget to raise a purchase order in time, thus leading to low stock issues and delays in fulfillment. Likewise, your vendor, too, might delay the process further by not shipping products out in time.
The third issue that is also quite common has to do with shipping.
Some shippers take longer than others to deliver a product. Shippers like USPS are a lot cheaper than the others, but their tracking options are limited and if a parcel is lost or misplaced, they can be slow to respond. You can read reviews of shippers here and decide which one works best for you.
Use A Good Retail Management System
Thankfully, there is a single answer to all of these problems and that is automation.
Good retail management software can help you maintain inventory accurately, alert you when stocks run low, dynamically update inventory so no one ever orders an out-of-stock product and help synchronize inventory across your POS channels and your online store.
What’s more, you can also automate your purchase orders and print shipping labels, integrate with shippers in order to track packages and handle returns and replacements, all from a single dashboard.
This is complete control over your retail business from wherever in the world you may be.
6. Shipping Process- The Hidden Costs
Once an order is placed, the ideal case scenario is to ship it out as soon as possible. But ‘as soon as possible’ involves a few caveats, such as
- Finding the product in the warehouse, packing it properly and adding it to a consignment to be shipped out.
- Printing shipping labels and affixing them at the right place.
- Creating a shipping manifesto and handing the orders that need to be shipped, plus the manifesto, to the shipping provider.
- Tracking the package and updating the customer accordingly.
- Once delivered, updating it on your system with a time window for returns and replacements
- Processing returns and replacements correctly and adding products back to the inventory if applicable.
It is safe to say that shipping is where the real uncertainty of online retail business comes into the picture. However, you can reduce the risk to an extent by
- Integrating with more than one shipping provider and using the right one on a case-by-case basis.
- Investing in shipping insurance so that an order damaged in transit doesn’t eat into your revenues.
- Having a clear returns policy that specifies the returns window, as well as an agreement with your shipper to include the cost of one return in the shipping fee.
7. Warehouses vs. Stores
Since you already have one or more offline stores, you either also have warehouses or use a portion of your store as the warehouse. If you find the need for one more warehouse, choose the location close to where you expect most of your orders to come from. This way, you can cut down significantly on the fulfillment time.
With Primaseller, you can also log your retail store as a warehouse and fulfillment center. This way, the inventory is distributed across your outlets and online store, and you get an alert every time stocks run low due to orders from both channels.
It is a good idea to treat the stock for the same product across different warehouse as one entity. This way, you only raise a purchase order when you run out of stock in all locations, as opposed to ordering for each location separately. Until that happens, you can simply move the stock around from one location to another.
8. Managing Reputation Online
As an online retailer, a lot depends on the trust you build. You can showcase trust through the reviews people leave. You must encourage customers to leave reviews- however, limit this to one or two emails post delivery and do not bug them with repeat requests.
Sometimes, you may get a bad review. Instead of rushing to hide it, evaluate if there is a genuine concern and write back to the customer offering a solution. Once you believe that they are satisfied, ask if they would like to add to their previous review.
When building your brand online, a strong presence on social media can benefit you. The first place people turn to, both for complaints and for past reviews, is social media. Be sure to stay active and answer all concerns. Referral programs are a great way to encourage existing customers to bring in new ones.
Make your website the go-to place for information about your brand and products. Pay attention to minute details such as getting the product dimensions right- it builds trust in your brand.
Also, don’t forget to personalize your packaging! Include elements such as your logo prominently, along with immediate help information. Tie it all up in a package that best represents your brand.
Is Selling Online Working For You?
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! You now have all the tools you need to take your retail business online and succeed. Use the questions in this section to evaluate any gap areas and fix them right away.
Before You Begin
- Do I have the resources I need to make my listings as accurate and engaging as possible? (This includes good photographs, engaging descriptions, the product value before and after tax, shipping charges, etc.)
- Am I curating products with the online customer in mind?
- Do I have a separate online catalog to entice more users to come online?
- Is my product easy to sell online?
- If not, do I have a game plan for selling my product online successfully?
After Your Online Store Is Ready
- How do I intend to market my online store?
- If I choose the organic traction route, do I have the expertise to pull it off, and enough time until it pays off?
- If I opt for paid promotions, what is my daily, weekly and monthly budget?
- Will I be hiring a digital agency to get me organic traction and also conduct paid promotions for my store?
- Do I have the right tools to manage my inventory accurately at all times?
Once You Start Making Sales Online
- Is there too much of a lag between an order being placed and being fulfilled?
- Am I handling inventory correctly across channels to guarantee order fulfillment?
- Is there a gap area in how I handle purchase order, thus leading to unwanted inventory fluctuations?
- Am I getting too many returns or replacement requests?
- Am I getting too many negative reviews?
Are you in the process of taking your retail business online? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we might just be able to help.
Suggested reading: All You Need To Know About Omnichannel Retail