Question: I run a successful storefront boutique and want to offer an option for online shopping. What are some things that I should think about before doing so?
Question by: Sarah
Focus On "Easy Wins" First
"Launch your online storefront with a limited selection of popular items that you can easily ship and manage (get a shopping cart solution with a simple inventory management). Get the basic online payment-delivery-return chain in order first, then expand the features and audience (U.S. vs. global) if you so see fit. Keep the painless shopping experience the main goal, at all times."
Make Payment Quick and Easy
"Be sure that your customers can find what they're looking for and can easily pay (via a third-party like PayPal or Google Checkout). You don't want people leaving your online store because it's clunky, confusing or complicated."
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Consider New Costs
"A big killer with online businesses is the incredible cost of shipping products around the country. Since shipping the product will increase your costs, you have to think about how that will affect your pricing, if at all. For a consistent customer experience, pricing should remain the same, and for an exceptional customer experience, you should be ready to eat the shipping costs."
Extend, Don't Cannibalize
"Determine what differentiation—if any—you want to offer through your online shopping channel and stick to it diligently in your piece curation. Does your user just need easier access to all of the same pieces? Are there 5-10 things that they want to buy online (either because they are bulky or difficult to find, etc.)? You want this new channel to extend your brand, not cannibalize it. "
Stock Up on Inventory AND Information
"As an online marketing firm that helps clients do this, I can speak from experience that you must be committed to the whole process. Gather images, product descriptions, pricing, etc. before starting the process because it will make things much easier. Even if you don't add all products at once, be sure to have enough to make the store worthwhile."
Set Up Shop on Facebook
"Not sure how much traffic you have on your site or if you use Facebook page for marketing, but running a shop on Facebook would be good start and test. Try selling online with the tools like Beetailer as they give you access to everything you need. This is a better way to test as you'd not be investing thousands of dollars in developing and promoting your own e-commerce store."
Direct Sales or Stepping Stone?
"Most people want to jump right in and spend a ton of money developing a website to sell their products when there are much easier ways to get started online. Build your brand on Amazon, eBay, Shopify or Etsy first. Once you've started to see real returns from online sales then look to start your own website. Don't forget to budget for PPC & SEO when you do start your site!"
Match Your Brand Online and Offline
"Make sure that your brand image is reflected in your online shopping experience. Are you using the same logo and colors as your storefront boutique? Are you using high-quality photos? Is your customer service as good or better than in the store? Make a list—and check it twice!"
Don't Forget Online Marketing
"Once you launch an online store, it will be crucial to spread the word in order to get traffic and sales. You'll need a marketing plan in place that encompasses organic traffic, pay-per-click advertising, affiliate marketing, and social media—to name a few. Look into various options and networks and have a marketing budget planned out."
Offer an Alluring Experience
"Offering an online shopping option, if done thoughtfully, will add an attractive revenue stream to your boutique business's bottom line. Provide an enjoyable user experience on the front end of the website, have dedicated and responsive customer service, and ship goods in aesthetically pleasing branded packaging. Dedicate a portion of your in-store cost of sales to going the extra mile online!"
Consider Inventory Control
"Inventory control may be the least sexy part of business. But if you're considering setting up an e-commerce site, you've got to figure out how to manage inventory before you can even decide how to set up your site. Are you going to ship yourself? Outsource to a fulfillment company? You need to decide where your inventory is going to sit, how you're going to process orders and other details first."
How Far Will You Go?
"Engaging in business with people in distant lands means exposing yourself to the regulatory regimes of those far away places. Within the US, this could include new state-level tax requirements as well as federal-level rules and restrictions regarding interstate commerce. These layers of regulation only deepen once an international border crossing becomes part of the transaction."
Online Also Means Mobile
"All signs are pointing to an increased focus on mobile Internet usage over people logging in from home or work. Make sure you've got a solid mobile presence, and that people who check out your online shop from their phones and tablets find it to be an experience worth telling friends about."
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