Using digital bricks and mortar to build a successful online business

While reports of the ‘death of the high street’ have been exaggerated, there’s no denying the rise and rise of online shopping. However, buying online is not just for the kids – everyone is doing it! Between 2008 and 2015, the market witnessed a 24 per cent increase in 55 to 64-year-olds going online to purchase goods and services.

Interestingly, clothes and sports goods were the most popular items purchased online in 2015.

For small retailers debating whether to set up a physical store or an online business, this growing popularity in online shopping is a huge consideration. To a certain extent, this decision will depend on the type of product on offer - maybe it’s something best experienced in-person, like cutting keys or the business may be built around a customer service concept, like high-end luxury goods. For most businesses, it’s the financial considerations like the overhead of a bricks and mortar physical store or because the product sells better online.

For small businesses looking at starting up or digitising for the first time, this may seem intimidating; however, following a few simple rules will help ensure the success of an online store.

Build your online brand

Even if the business starts out as a bricks and mortar store, the necessity for a strong website with an e-commerce function is clear. Many small businesses start out selling on third party websites such as Etsy or eBay, but while those sites have great reach they don’t really help a business build its brand. With a brand-owned online store, a business can use marketing tactics to attract customers to buy products directly from them and provide a platform to publish branded content.

‘M’ is for mobile

Having an online presence is not enough. Businesses also need websites that work across multiple devices. According to the Ofcom 2015 Communications Market Report, a third (33 per cent) of Internet users now see their smartphone as the most important device for going online. This figure increased by 11 per cent from 2014, showing a clear rise in the popularity of the mobile device and subsequently a corresponding rise in mobile shopping.

Customer experience is critical

Customer experience is critical and in this digital age, technology can help small businesses make customer interactions as positive as possible. Today’s customers expect to be treated like individuals, therefore personalisation is key to turning browsers into buyers. This could include personalised digital marketing, making personal product suggestions, and making sure that the online shopping experience is as smooth as possible by securely remembering a customer’s history and details.

This is where small retailers have the advantage over larger businesses as they can focus on their core target audience rather than having to manage a large pool of customers. Using both a physical store and an online site offers the ideal situation to achieve a great shopping experience. For example, a shop assistant with access to a customer’s previous purchases, online and offline, will be able to recommend the perfect product suited to the customer; taking a big step forward in ensuring the customer’s loyalty to the brand.

Creating a perfect balance between online and offline

The offline and online elements of the business need to work together without a hitch. To attract the customer, marketing needs to be spot on, whether through digital or using traditional media. To ensure this is the case, companies need to know their customer individually, continually tracking their interactions with the company. Before the customer places an order, the company needs to make sure the inventory is up to date across all platforms so that orders can be met, no matter how or when the customer orders the products. Once the purchase is completed, the delivery must be rapid and smooth, which can be aided by using technology solutions to manage the delivery data and automate parts of it.

The end game is to make the customer feel that they are important to the business. Whatever element of the customer journey is improved – whether it is a more personal approach to marketing or improved inventory management, technology can help businesses implement these improvements and in turn provide an better shopping experience for their customers.

Toby Davidson, VP, SAP Anywhere