Thinking of building an online retail store? Here’s what you should consider

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In the age of covid, staying offline is no longer an option for small businesses as the demand for online retail has increased. ECommerce purchasing has grown significantly, with a study showing that consumers spent $861.12 billion online with U.S. retailers in 2020, up 44% from $598.02 billion in 2019, according to the latest Digital Commerce 360 analysis.

If you want a slice of the ecommerce pie however, it’s not as simple as just building a website. Constructing an online retail store can be ambitious, with a number of things you need to have in mind when starting. From deciding on a software partner, to building and designing the front and back ends of your platform, to keeping your customers happy—you need to keep many logistics in mind. Here are a few of the key steps to consider when embarking on a path towards online retail.

Subscribing to software vs. the build and buy method

It’s not the most feasible idea to build an online platform by creating the software internally because for small businesses, writing the software themselves is simply not worth it. Yet with purchasing an out-of-the-box solution, it is commonly misconceived that once you buy the software, you own it and it works for itself. It is important to remember however that once you have an online platform, you then have to babysit it by hosting, updating, and rebuilding it. So just buying any old software won’t do.

Buying software doesn’t mean you stop paying for it. It is just the beginning of more expenses that it takes to modify and maintain it, all while paying for upgrades or support. In most cases, especially in the case of e-commerce packages, it is a no-brainer to simply subscribe to a solution which has the features you need, unless you plan on having your own technical team in-house, which is challenging for most small businesses.

In the majority of cases, software companies are already building something for your industry—with all of the needed bells and whistles in mind. Subscribing to one of these pertinent SaaS companies is a key first step. The fact is that somebody has already sifted through the problems, trials, and learning curves you are bound to experience—so there is no need to reinvent the wheel. A quality software platform can also help you operate behind the scenes in the ways that you need—such as managing operations, inventory, or deliveries. Finding a software company that has done the work for your specific niche industry is the most efficient and cost effective route to starting an online business.

The importance of a user-friendly interface and streamlined features

Once you have your software, you have to make sure your solution is adoptable on all devices—offering both a good User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX). This ensures that your users and potential future customers have a good experience. For every $1 invested in UX, companies get a return of $100, so it needs diligent, continuous attention to make sure it’s meeting customer needs. The speed of the site, good search functionality, and the ease of navigation are all important factors in your website’s online success—as it was shown that 88% of users are less likely to return to a website after a bad user experience.

It is also important to focus on your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) as well—such as growth in revenue, net profit margin, and gross profit margin. Keeping your features and KPIs accurate and streamlined to your business’ product and services offered helps to inform your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) terms and words. A solid SEO strategy is crucial to get you ranking high when people search for the things you’re selling. Paying meticulous attention to these things can make all the difference.

The final thing to consider is to realistically evaluate how easy your platform is to use for you as the administrator. If you can’t keep your site updated and refreshed, it will become stale. You don’t have to be a programmer, but thats why choosing your software is important. You have to be able to easily navigate the website, so that you can keep your website current and relevant to your users. Being aware of the experiences your users are having and providing solutions in a timely manner is important, so be sure to stay on top of any communications happening between customers and your website.

Keep them coming, and also from leaving

Social proof is a huge factor in wrangling people for sales. Statistical studies have shown that when it comes to hearing peer reviews about a product or service as opposed to a company’s description about the same product and service, consumers are 12x more likely to buy. This social proof can be displayed via public product reviews or testimonials, displaying statistics on product adoption, or by posting positive media mentions. As many of us know, word of mouth is often the most effective and powerful way marketing tool.

Once you get them in the (virtual) door, it is then important to make sure that they leave with something in hand. Like with everything else in sales, it isn’t technically a done deal until the buyer pays. Cart abandonment is a huge issue with ecommerce retail websites, with some studies placing abandonment as high as 80%. Implementing some features that help nudge people along to complete the sale is an additional way to help avoid people from leaving too soon. Make your checkout process easy so that you don’t complicate matters, mitigating the chance that customers question transactions. If there is any kind of hesitation, the user could get distracted and there is a chance of missing the final transaction.

This will help to keep your bounce rate—or the percentage of visitors to your website who navigate away after viewing only one page—to a minimum. For about every 100 visitors to your webpage, which ones actually become your customers? Keeping your visitor to customer ratio at about 2% (2 customers out of 100 visitors) is pretty average for online retail.

An actionable way to convert these elusive visitors into long-time customers is by giving them the confidence to trust what your site has to offer. One way to do this is to certify your website with a trust badge or security certification, which is a badge or seal letting website visitors know that your page is legitimate. This tells people that any data they share will be collected through secure third-party service providers—helping to instill trust in people who may visit your website and turning them into future customers.

Thought leadership is another way to take this step further. If you are in a niche industry with years of experience and have insight into the aspects of your specific field, then leverage that knowledge and expertise to your advantage—showing your potential customers you know it inside out. Write a blog on your e-commerce site which answers most frequently asked queries from your customers.

For example, if you are a business whose product is warm clothing, why not write and educate your customers about different types of cloth, its advantages and disadvantages and suggest what type of clothing are appropriate for which lifestyle? Can silk pajamas, while sounding luxurious, be good for every lifestyle? How about a florist educating their customers about appropriate flowers, colors and their meanings? Search engines, especially Google, simply love content as their users look for information. Content is king in search engines. Your thought leadership, your blog, and your original and useful content can quickly catapult your online business.

Starting any business, whether online or not, is a learning process. Being an active participant in strategizing your methods everyday is the very crux of what pursuing a business is, and sometimes this means reiterating those methods with new knowledge gained. Providing solutions for your clients should be your bread and butter—thinking everyday: how can we improve? It doesn’t happen overnight, but with the right amount of effort it does happen. As they say, the best things in life are worth working for, so start applying the above advice to the passion product you believe in.

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