As Covid-19 continues to severely impact the retail sector, the financial cost of the virus is predicted to be in the region of £12.6 billion, according to Global Data. Bricks-and-mortar retailers without an e-commerce offering will be hit hardest by store closures. With the unpredictability and uncertainty of the current climate, retail businesses simply can’t afford not to be online.
Moving from ‘bricks & mortar’ to ‘bricks to clicks’
Consumer shopping habits are changing amidst lockdown measures. Research by Ipsos MORI confirms that almost a fifth of UK shoppers said they were using online stores more frequently. While self-isolation is limiting consumers’ ability to get to the high street, e-commerce offers a larger opportunity than ever for companies to service their customers’ needs and in the process, protect their operations and employees through the crisis.
In order to maintain revenue and reflect dynamic changes in consumer behaviour, bridging the gap between a bricks-and-mortar and internet offering has become key for businesses to survive – particularly small businesses. What is particularly interesting is that this situation brings to the forefront the number of bricks-and-mortar retailers that have yet to establish an online presence and are now keen to do so for the first time due to the opportunities presented by e-commerce.
Setting up small businesses for online success
The challenge for many businesses is establishing how best to go about setting up an e-commerce offering when they are already focused on so many other challenges and margins are tight. The good news is that setting up an e-commerce store needn’t be a costly, time-intensive or complicated process. In fact, small businesses can have their online stores up and firing in a matter of hours.
1) Choosing an e-commerce platform: In order to get set up as quickly as possible, we recommend using a SaaS e-commerce platform. Many platforms come with pre-designed themes that can be used as the visual foundation, avoiding the need for advanced design skills. What’s most important is that your theme selection aligns with your industry and your desired brand image. Uploading and managing products on the backend is intuitive, allowing businesses to save time in operational tasks and day-to-day trading activities.
2) Selecting third party suppliers: Businesses that have a bricks-and-mortar store, often already have established supplier relationships. However, with an online store, merchants now have the added necessity of packaging and shipping, in order to get products into customers’ hands. This can be carried out by a third-party shipping service, or internally. There may be a lot of fulfilment centres temporarily out of operation, so merchants with an existing physical presence should also look to their storefront as a temporary fulfilment centre. It allows them to take advantage of the inventory they already have at hand – and gives customers the option to buy online, pick up curb side.
3) Choosing a domain name: A domain name is the part of a store’s URL that identifies a company. It should give customers an idea of what the company sells and something about the brand, especially as your business will be opened up to a broader customer base. It’s important to keep a site URL as close to the company’s name as possible, as it allows customers to connect with something with which they already have familiarity. You can purchase a domain name for your store directly from your e-commerce platform provider. Another tip is to keep your domain name short and memorable. Doing so ensures it is easy to enter and reduces typos that can lead to customers ending up on the wrong website.
4) Cherry-picked product selection: In the interest of time, businesses should select the products that are already best sellers or that have the potential to do better in an online environment. Ensuring product descriptions are clear will make it easier for customers to find them when searching online. It is also critical to have clear product photography that offers visuals of each product from a variety of angles, so that customers can get the clearest idea of what they will be purchasing when they can’t physically see or touch the product.
When writing the copy for each product, keep the customer in mind. Throughout your copy, focus on how your product or service is uniquely able to solve a customer's problems or make their lives easier. Think like a customer and ask yourself "Why should I buy this. What’s in it for me?”
5) Setting up payment gateways: In addition to fulfilling customers’ orders, it’s vital to set up payment gateways so they can pay you. In a time where flexibility and convenience are king, it is important to offer a range of payment methods including credit card, debit card and Apple Pay. Most e-commerce website builders will make it easy to sync with a number of payment gateways such as PayPal, each of which can handle credit card payments. Your store country and currency will determine the payment gateways available to you.
Offering multiple options will increase your conversion rate and reduce cart abandonment. There is no limit to how many payment methods you can set up, although we recommend not using more than two or three.
6) Testing the site across multiple platforms: There’s one more crucial step to take before the site goes live which many businesses overlook: testing the site. We cannot stress the importance of this enough. The site will need to be pre-viewed prior to launch to ensure that all essential functions work as they should. This includes checking the site works across multiple web browsers and devices to see how it appears, ideally by people who aren’t familiar with the system. The testing phase is often when gaps appear.
With the right plan and approach in place, bricks-and-mortar retailers can transcend their offline functionality to an online platform and enhance their customers’ experience while doing so.
BigCommerce is working with a series of partners across the supply chain, including Royal Mail and PayPal, to offer an end-to-end service to new e-commerce sellers. New merchants can set up and launch a fully functioning online site in as little as 24 hours.
Mark Adams, European P&L, sales/marketing, BigCommerce