As a business owner, you likely already have a website. You promote your business there, provide information, probably even have a contact us form. But if you sell products and don’t have an eCommerce presence, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity as well as some serious revenue.
Earlier this year, Forrester Research reported that online sales will increase from $335 billion in 2015 to $523 billion by 2020, with 270 million shoppers browsing and buying online. Without an online shopping experience for your business you’ll miss out on the opportunity eCommerce presents.
In this first post in a series of three, we’ll outline at a high level the 7 things you need to do to add eCommerce to your existing business. In the next two posts, we’ll talk about integrating eCommerce with your existing legacy systems and finally we’ll detail the importance of having a mobile shopping experience available to your customers.
Your Roadmap to Adding Ecommerce
Obviously, if adding eCommerce to your business was as easy as flipping a switch, everyone, including your competitors, would have already done it. But that doesn’t mean it needs to be overwhelming. With the right plan, some up front work and the right help, you can be up and running, successfully and in very little time.
1) Check out your competition
Whether you are a small mom & pop store or a large B2B retailer, your first step is to check out your competition online. Start by seeing if any of your known competitors have online stores. What do they sell? Do they list all of their products online, or just a portion of them? What is their web experience like? If you search for them, where do they rank?
Once you understand where your direct competition sits in the online world, expand your search to include online stores in your space. Take note of how well they present their products. Check out their design, how they categorize their products and so forth. Make notes of the sites you like best, and exactly why, so you can share that with your design and development partner later on.
2) Decide what you’ll sell online and when
You might want to start by offering all of your products online, or maybe you want to start with a smaller set of items that are most suited to your online audience. If you’re already offering all of your items by catalog, then moving those items online is an easy transition. If, on the other hand, you only offer products in brick and mortar locations, you might want to review your inventory to see if there are items you only sell to your local customers. Those products could still do well online, but you might want to wait until you’ve got the bulk of your stock available to your online audience before you add these long tail items.
3) Find the right solution for you
There is a good chance that this is the step that will be the most outside of your experience and comfort zone. But it is also one of the most critical. Choosing the right platform to display your products and provide your customer’s with the best shopping experience can be daunting. If you have software systems already in place – inventory, shipping, payment processing, etc. – you’ll want to choose a platform that plays well with them. Many shopping cart packages make it sound like it’s easy to add eCommerce to your site, and that might be true if you’re a smaller shop. But if you’re a larger company or you have many products, you’ll want a solution that can handle your business without adding more work than is needed. This may seem overwhelming, but finding a good partner to understand your needs and help you choose the right solution can make this step infinitely easier.
4) Prepare your inventory
The web is a visual place. Customers are significantly less likely to purchase items from you that don’t have a picture along with the description. You’ll need photos of all of your items that you plan to sell online. But more than that, you’ll also need descriptions of each of your products. You might be tempted, if you already have a catalog, to just use those. But you’ll want to optimize your descriptions for your online audience and, more importantly, for SEO. In addition to using keywords, your product descriptions should be persuasive. You won’t be there in person to sell the item, so your copy will have to do it for you. Hiring a photographer and a copy writer with experience in eCommerce is a good idea, as they will know how to best present your items for an online audience.
5) Check your usability
You may not know why a site doesn’t work well for you – why you find the navigation cumbersome, why the layout seems to keep you from finding what you’re looking for and so forth. But you know it when it doesn’t. Don’t drive away customers just because they don’t enjoy using your website. Make your site user friendly, not user hostile. Web and application usability is an entire discipline within IT, but you can start by using the list you made from the first item in this post to get an understanding of what doesn’t work and what does. Remember, the site isn’t about making it easy for you to find products. It’s about making it easier for your customers to do that.
6) Make sure you have the usual suspects in place
These may not seem important when you’re in the middle of building out your eCommerce division, but don’t forget to take the time to create pages for your site’s Terms of Service, Return Policies, Shipping Policies, Sizes (if applicable) and so forth. These pages may get a low number of visits but they will answer many questions that you and your customer support team won’t have to, and will keep your customers from being confused or frustrated when it comes to returns or knowing when their items will arrive.
7) Be ready to support all your customers
Your customers will come to you from all over once you are online. They will also come to you using different browsers, from different screen sizes and on different operating systems. While you don’t need to support every browser ever built, you should be sure your eCommerce site works on the top three or four (as of the writing of this article they are, in order, Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari). We’ll talk about it more in our third post in this series, but you’ll also want to make sure your eCommerce site supports mobile users, including tablets and phones.
In our next post, we’ll talk about integrating your eCommerce solution with your existing legacy systems, so you don’t have to rework everything before you start down the path to online sales.