It’s never too late to get started in e-commerce and there’s lots to learn from how retailers have responded to the recent restrictions on opening. By getting creative, many have found ways to use online selling to stay close to their customers and bring in revenue.
Bars and restaurants have started delivering wine and prepared meals to offset not being able to take bookings. And many service providers have turned to selling gift vouchers so they can maintain the customer loyalty they have worked so hard to build.
The last couple of months have been challenging, but it looks like we might be starting to see the other side. As stores reopen across Europe, retailers that have used the time to develop their e-commerce approaches could be well placed for a stronger business future. And should something prevent shoppers getting to their store in future—anything from adverse weather to renewed restrictions—they’ll be able to keep the money coming in.
If you weren’t one of them, it’s not too late. We’ve got three pieces of advice to help you get started and make the most of selling online.
As stores reopen across Europe, retailers that have used the time to develop their e-commerce approaches could be well placed for a stronger business future.
1. Don’t be put off by the tech, it’s easier than you might think
You don’t need to be able to code or spend a fortune to add e-commerce to your site. There are lots of inexpensive, user-friendly platforms out there. Just as there are online platforms—known as Software as a Service (SaaS)—to help you build and manage your website, there are ones, like Shopify, to make selling online easier. There is a small fee involved, but in return a lot of the hard work will already be done for you.
If you’re a bit more tech-savvy or total customisation is important to you, an unmanaged option might work better. Some of these, like Magento Open Source, are free. They require more specialist skills, but there are lots of freelancers and agencies around that can help—and a quick Google search will bring up lots of online tutorials, many of which are free.
Once you’ve chosen an e-commerce platform, it’s important to look for a payments platform that’s easy to integrate and will enable you to offer your customers a secure and streamlined checkout experience. It’s also important to offer a wide choice of payment options—including local ones like Sweden’s Swish and Norway’s Vipps—and to add new ones as they emerge.
You don’t even need to build a store to get started in e-commerce. Many payments platforms offer the option of creating payment links. You could promote your products or services and then send interested shoppers a link with embedded pricing details via email or private message. Or you could put the links on existing pages of your website—this is particularly useful if you are selling memberships, subscriptions or a limited range of products.
Once you’ve chosen an e-commerce platform, it’s important to look for a payments platform that’s easy to integrate and will enable you to offer your customers a secure and streamlined checkout experience.
2. Don’t follow the crowd, make your shop your own
You can make your online store as unique as your physical one. E-commerce isn’t just for retailers with catalogues, fixed price lists and easy-to-mail products. Companies in a wide range of sectors, from art supplies to yoga products, use e-commerce to connect with their customers online.
As well as using it to sell, you can use your store to build a sense of community and customer loyalty. You could use a platform like Facebook Live or Zoom to provide consultations or hold special digital events for your customers. And you don’t have to be limited to fixed prices—you could run auctions or sell subscriptions.
The checkout and payment experience can make or break your e-commerce venture. You might want to start with a simple option using a service provider’s default look and feel—either via an iframe or by redirecting to its site. But if you have more complex needs or want more control, you should have the option to build your own payments page and connect to the payments processor via an API. Your needs might change, but if you choose a provider that offers a wide range of integration and customisation options, you’ll be less likely to want to change provider in the future.
You can change how you fulfil orders, too. Click and collect can be a convenient option for both shoppers and retailers. And in the current environment, it can help reduce contact and make the process safer for everyone.
The checkout and payment experience can make or break your e-commerce venture.
3. Don’t delay, it can pay off well into the future
Selling online doesn’t mean your physical store will become less popular. People often shop with the same retailer both online and in-person. You might find that you’ve been missing out on some of your customers’ spend as they can only visit your store occasionally. And being online will enable you to reach new audiences, too. As well as the opportunity to sell more, and to a wider audience, you’ll be well placed should further social restrictions come your way.
Once your online shop is up and running, you’ll want to build your reach and gather momentum. Online sales offer a great opportunity to get customers to leave a review—you’ll be surprised how much feedback on sites like Trustpilot and TripAdvisor can attract new customers. And people that choose to shop in physical stores often research purchases online anyway—so the benefits can spill over into your offline sales.
E-commerce can also give you insight into how your customers shop. Many payments platforms offer analytics functionality that can give you an overview of your store’s performance and visibility into how visitors are navigating your site and what they are buying (or not buying). With this information at your fingertips, you’ll be able to improve your store and grow your sales.
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