The COVID-19 pandemic changed everything for local businesses around the world – and although the economic recovery is well underway, that doesn’t necessarily mean all consumers are ready to go back to their old buying habits. The reason why online sales boomed at the start of the pandemic was that hundreds of millions of people decided to minimize their trips out of the house and buy as much as possible online instead. Many of the people who made that switch are perfectly happy to continue buying almost everything online, and that’s been painful for businesses like yours.
One way to keep your business afloat during challenging times is by adding a completely new revenue channel – and if you own a brick-and-mortar business, e-commerce is probably the most potentially lucrative revenue channel that you could possibly add. It’s even possible for your online sales to grow larger than your local sales, vastly increasing the overall size of your company. Before you can do that, though, you need to set your website up for e-commerce functionality. This article will provide an overview of how it’s done.
Set Realistic Goals for Your Online Business
Before you begin the work required to set up your local business for online sales, you need to understand what the realistic possibilities are and set your expectations accordingly. For the purpose of this article, we’ll assume that your business sells tangible products. Services are a bit harder to sell remotely, but selling your time in the form of virtual online consultations is always a possibility.
So, what types of products do you sell? If you sell something that’s available from many different sellers, you’re going to have plenty of competition. Suppose, for instance, that you own a local vape shop. You’re probably not going to outrank a national seller like vapejuice.com just because you happen to add e-commerce functionality to your site. With that in mind, you need to come up with smaller goals that are a bit more modest and easily attainable. Once you achieve those goals, you can start to think about scaling up.
Think, for instance, about what you can do to recapture business from the people who used to buy from your store and now buy those same products online. Those people, after all, are still living in your local community; they’re just buying online because they’re trying to limit trips out of the house. How can you get them interested in buying from you again? You could call attention to the fact that you can offer lightning-quick shipping since you’re local. If you have the capacity, you could even offer same-day local delivery.
There’s no reason why the e-commerce segment of your business can’t eventually grow, potentially becoming even larger than your brick-and-mortar operation. Focusing on maximizing online sales to customers in your local community, though, is the fastest way to start earning revenue and get your company back to being cash-flow positive.
Decide How You’ll Implement E-Commerce Functionality
Once you’ve gotten a handle on what the realistic goals and possibilities are for the e-commerce arm of your business, the next step is to figure out how you’re going to add e-commerce functionality to your website. The two most common solutions for this are WooCommerce and Shopify. We’ll explain some of the benefits and drawbacks of the two platforms.
- WooCommerce is a free e-commerce platform that runs on WordPress. If you already have a WordPress website, this may be the easiest e-commerce platform to implement because you can build your online store on top of your website’s existing structure. If you already have a credit card processor with e-commerce functionality, you can use that card processor with WooCommerce. If you don’t, you can have WooCommerce handle payment processing for a small transaction fee. If you don’t know much about using WordPress, you may find it necessary to hire a freelance web developer for help with getting WooCommerce set up. Most freelance web developers charge very reasonable rates.
- Shopify is an e-commerce platform, a web host and a content management system all rolled into one. If you don’t already have a website – or you do have a website but aren’t happy with it – you may find that Shopify is a better solution for your needs than WooCommerce because it’s a complete platform for selling products online. If you don’t have a great deal of experience with managing a website, you may also find it a bit easier to set up than WooCommerce. Shopify’s standard plans start at $29 per month. Shopify also takes a 0.5-2.0 percent fee from each transaction, depending on your service plan.
Plan Your Content Strategy
Once you have an e-commerce platform in place and are ready to begin selling products, the next step is to start adding all of those products to your site – and if your business sells a wide variety of products, that’s going to be a lot of work. It’s helpful if your company has employees who can help with the labor, because you want your site’s product pages to be as good as they can be – even if that means adding all of your products to your site will take a while. Every product page should have at least one high-quality photo and a helpful text description that explains what the product is. The better your product pages are, the more likely they will be to earn high rankings on Google.
Set an Advertising Budget
Once you’re ready to start selling products, it’s time to get the word out about your new online business. If you happen to have a customer database, reaching out to those people is the best way to start. Let your customers know that they can now buy from you online and enjoy lightning-fast shipping or quick local delivery. It also won’t hurt to tell them how much you’ve missed their business. You might even consider sweetening the deal by offering an introductory coupon code.
When you’re ready to cast your net a little further, it’ll be time to explore your options for paid advertising. Google AdWords and Facebook are the two largest online advertising platforms, and when you first begin to explore them, you might be a bit shocked by how high the prices sometimes are. Remember, though, that it’s possible to achieve excellent conversion rates from your online advertising efforts if you target those ads only to people who live in your local community and are likely to buy from you.