Hey there Sea Changers, one aspect of the online business world that I have not really looked into to this point is for those looking to realign current ‘traditional' businesses into an online capability. This can be for a number of reasons, which we will discuss below, and whilst there is obviously some work involved, it is not a real difficult process to get set up. So if this is something that you have been thinking about then grab a drink and let's run though how to take your brick and mortar store online…
What do we mean by ‘online'?
Ok, so let's make sure we are clear on what we are discussing here. I will start with the simple explanations:
- Brick and Mortar – By this I mean a traditional ‘physical' business that has a shop front or office that people walk into, make purchases and walk out again. This is your retail outlet (shoes, books etc.), service business (e.g. restaurant, doctor, lawyer, consultant ) or wholesaler.
- Online – Online means that sales transactions are undertaken via online processes. These are often still physical products that are purchased and shipped, however all processing is completed without the need for a shop front or a customer visit.
There are of course many variations to this but in general, and for this post, we are talking about taking whatever it is that your business physically does with customers and moving it to a process that is completed over the internet.
Why do you want to do it?
As with any new business strategy, the first step is to determine exactly why it is that you need to change (or add to) your current sales processes by implementing an online business model. There are so many reasons that this may occur including:
- Closure of brick and mortar business
- Change in local circumstances or legislation
- Cost savings measures
- Changes to technology etc.
- Open new sales avenues
- Transition from retail to wholesaling
- Increase sales
- Increase brand awareness
- Promote a particular product
- Increase internet traffic
- Run discounted promotions for superseded or over stocked items.
Regardless of the reason for taking the business online, it is critical that clear goals, intended outcomes and success points are identified and recorded so that the program can be tracked against tangible targets. In reality, the reasons to convert some or all of your business to online often mirror those of any traditional sales or marketing campaign so as long as the return on investment is there, then it can certainly become a successful part of an overall sales strategy. Below are some things to consider as you move forward.
Who are you targeting?
Now, to be honest, I am not sure which I should discuss first in terms of what you are selling and who you are selling to as they sort of intertwine, but I will start here with the caveat that you may wish to circle back after reading the next section. So, whilst targeting is usually covered within the overall strategies we have just discussed, it is such an important aspect that I wanted to touch on it specifically.
As you look to implement an online sales process, think about who it is that your real customers are (I.e. demographics) and what the reality is that they will shop online. This is not an exact science I know as some people (my mother) refuse to buy anything online whereas others (my father) would happily buy whatever he could online so he can avoid the shops altogether. However, it is something that you really need to have any understanding of not only in regards to whether they will likely purchase from you online, but also how to market and promote to them moving forward.
What are you selling?
The next determination is around what it is that you are actually selling. Is it just a few items to ‘test the water' or are you planning on pushing your whole inventory online in one big move? This may not only help to determine who your target audience is as per above, but also the logistics that you place behind it. Moving product to an online sales process may result in:
- Increased logistical processes (shipping etc.).
- New inventory sales and management processes (and software).
Most people think that moving to an online sales process will save them money – which it may well do in the long term – however initial setup costs may mean that a large initial investment is required. To that end, cost could be a considering factor in whether some, or all of the products that your company offers are sold online or only a few. Shipping for larger items also may make it a non-viable option for some products where customers may not be willing to accept the extra costs for delivery.
This is also something to really consider for online service and delivery type arrangements as well. After all, it may sound like a great idea for a restaurant to go online for food delivery but if their menu items don't support it, then it may have to either change the menu across the board (and risk alienating their loyal diners) or introduce a second online menu (and risk overloading the kitchen). Obviously this can be overcome (Uber eats anyone?) but these are all things to consider when taking a business online.
What has to change?
The next thing to discuss here are some of the other areas that may impact a business as it moves to the online world. These include:
- Online sales processes are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
- Online business opens the opportunity for global sales – this can in turn affect logistics as discussed above as well as geographical regulations etc. For example, a Lawyer planning to do online consultations will only be able to do so within the jurisdictions in which they are licensed. Think about whether you plan to expand internationally or keep it local.
- Customers may require assistance in real time (back to the 24/7 realities)
Keep in mind however, that no matter how daunting these influences can be, they are only things to consider and manage. After all, there are thousands of online businesses out there that are working away quite well thank you very much. For example, you may choose to only sell in your own country with customer service availability within usual business hours to start with then expand as the business grows and processes mature. Or on the other hand, if your product allows, then you may wish to go global immediately to open up a whole new market for your business and your brand.
What are your competitors doing?
When it comes to any sort of marketing strategy, one area where it certainly pays to investigate thoroughly is what your competitors are doing. Chances are that at least one company within your market (or close enough to it) has set up some sort of online sales arrangement and have already addressed some of the issues we have discussed above. It therefor pays to have a look into the online sales processes of competitors to attempt to identify:
- Products they promote (I.e. any exclusions).
- Who they target.
- Shipping arrangements.
- Customer service structures.
- Industry specific guidelines, regulations or influences.
- Tools they use (we will get to this next).
Obviously each of these aspects can affect the success of an online sales program and return on investment. Having an idea of what competitors are up to can be a big advantage as these things are planned. Who knows, you may even be able to identify a way in which you can differentiate yourself from them and corner a specific sub-market as well.
How do we set it all up?
Ok, so now we need to consider how we would go about setting all of this up. This will obviously vary depending upon the product or service that you are looking to promote, however let's look at the basics that will be required…
Chances are your company already has a website, however If you are looking to incorporate online sales processes, then there are usually a few changes or adjustments that need to be made. These may include:
- Increased customer service interaction options – so customers can interact ‘after hours'.
- E-Commerce integration – again, chances are you will already have sales and customer management software capabilities within your company. However if you are going to allow for sales to be processed online, you will probably need an e-commerce platform within your site that allows for:
- Product display and pricing.
- Sales capture – shopping carts, purchase capture etc.
- Shipping integration – to logistics software if applicable.
Honestly, there is a whole posts worth of information in the three bullet points above. My advice, speak to a professional and get it all set up properly from the beginning – trust me, this is only interface that your customers will see – it just has to work.
Dependent upon your target market, there is a good chance that your current marketing strategies may need adjustment to incorporate your new online processes. These processes can include:
- Social media
- Website SEO – Blogging etc.
- Industry groups and publications
- Traditional marketing such as radio and newspaper
- Promote via Email lists
Social Media for example has the power to reach thousands and allows you to target specific segments if you choose the correct platform – especially if you are intending on taking your brand to a global audience. Older audiences, or those ‘on the road' all day may still listen to the radio instead and never underestimate the power of a simple sign in your retail premises.
Other sales processes
One last thing to consider here are some of the other opportunities that may present themselves as online sales arrangement mature within your business. The ability to access products and services online means that there are added opportunities for others to promote your products via other methods such as:
Affiliate marketing is where a partnership is established between you (the company selling the product) and the affiliate marketer (the person marketing the product) in which commissions are paid to the latter on the sales they generate.
The affiliate program management process is often referred to as a “win-win” for both the vendor and the affiliate marketer for the following reasons:
- Risk and cost free advertising – Affiliates do all the work in regards to marketing the merchant’s products and are only ‘paid’ if they make a sale.
- Increased Brand awareness – Even if a sale is not made, the fact that by design affiliates will need to be ‘talking up’ the products that they are trying to sell – as well as posting all over their websites and social media – there are definite advantages in terms of gaining brand exposure.
- Increased traffic and SEO – Even if affiliates are referring people to the site of the vendor who do not end up purchasing, there is still the added bonus of increased traffic to their websites. This is an advantage not to be underestimated.
There are some running costs to this as well, however once your online processes are established, starting an affiliate program can be a very effective way to gain extra exposure for your company and products. There are also management networks that can assist here as well.
If you are looking to either change to, or incorporate wholesaling to your business, then another less labour-intensive solution might be to introduce a dropshipping program. The main difference to affiliate marketing is that the drop shipper performs the following (meaning you don't have to):
- Promote the product (for whatever price they choose)
- Manage the sales processes and customer service.
- Send the final order and payment (usually for the wholesale price plus a shipping and handling fee) to you for packaging and shipping.
This reduces the overheads for your company to simply processing the payments for the product and shipping. This carries the same advantages as affiliate marketing above however reduces the need for customer sales and service processes.
Regardless of how you choose to take your sales processes online, it is critical that like all sales endeavours you monitor and manage the results carefully. This includes constant tracking of:
- Sales totals for online
- Sales totals for traditional models if still running
- Average sale amount.
- Sales details – I.e. who is purchasing, where are they purchasing and how are they purchasing it
- Popular and unpopular items sold online
Not only is this information critical in terms of ensuring that you are meeting your initial strategic requirements that we discussed earlier, but is also important for future and strategic planning. As the end of the day, it is imperative that online sales processes are managed in the same manner as any other within the company in that adjustments are made to improve any area that is under performing.
So there you have it… How to take your brick and mortar store online. At the end of the day there are really four steps to it:
- Determine your need and expected outcomes.
- Plan the details of the process.
- Choose a method in which to set up and manage your online sales arrangements.
- Keep an eye on it and tweak as necessary.
Each of these steps is critical and if done right, then hopefully your business can create benefit in a manner that sustains it as long as required in these ever-changing times. I hope this has been helpful and as usual, please do not hesitate to comment below if you have any questions, need some advice or have any experiences to share.
Do you want further assistance with any of the above or need help to build your own online business?
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Until next time
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