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How to take your Offline Business Online

2020-04-27

The current COVID-19 pandemic highlights the importance of having an online business presence. With more and more businesses being asked to close their storefronts and offices, many organizations are taking the leap and going online to accommodate. With foot traffic slowing down, turn your attention to the internet and take these steps to launch your e-commerce site.

Why should I go online?

There are many reasons why businesses should consider going online. A common misconception is that going online may replace in-person customer interactions. This is simply not true – having an online business can augment your current physical location, making your business much more agile and adaptable than before.

Diversify your Income Streams

While managing both an in-person store and an online business can be additional work, the effort will be well worth it as you can diversify your income streams by offering new virtual offerings, such as templates or downloadables. This allows you to tap into a market that you would not have been able to access by only having a physical location. In addition, much of the day-to-day operations of a virtual store can be automated to make running both stores much more manageable. Leverage the automation tools that are widely available online.

Drive in-store traffic

These days, consumers are placing more emphasis on researching products prior to buying. According to Salesforce, 87% of shoppers begin product searches via digital channels. However, 46% of shoppers still say that they prefer to buy in a physical location. We can see that consumers love exploring their options online, where they can learn more about different products, read reviews and research organizations’ business practices. Once consumers make their decision, they still prefer to go in-store and pick up their products in-person.

Having an online presence and a website that provides consumers with all the information they need can drive greater in-store traffic while making the purchasing process easy and streamlined.

Greater Customer Reach

One of the biggest limitations with having only a physical store is geography - consumers are only willing to drive so far. If it is not convenient for them to get to the store, they will not be shopping there. This severely limits the geographical reach and market of a single store location. In the past, businesses would need to open up multiple locations in order to access a larger consumer market, which is both time-consuming and costly.

This issue is solved with an online eCommerce store. With an online store, you can reach a larger target audience, no matter where your physical store is located. The costs to set up the store are much less than a retail location so you will easily be able to scale and grow your business.

Build your Reputation and Brand

In this digital day and age, the brand is everything. Consumers have been shown to reward brands that they can trust and align with their values. Having a clear brand can reaffirm your organization’s credibility and build an emotional connection with your customers, motivating your customers to pick your product over a competitor’s product. An online presence is the first step to sharing your organization’s story and laying out your brand to consumers.

So now that you know the importance of going online, how do you get started?

Step 1: Do your Market Research

The first step is to do some market research. While you already know the customers who frequent your physical store well, it is time to learn more about customers who may be potentially interested in your online business. Does your business cater to a particular niche? Has the potential customer demographics widened now that the business is online? Learning more about potential customer segments you can serve is important to business planning and operations.

Now that your business is online, your competitors are no longer the businesses that serve similar customers in your geographical area. The competition pool has significantly widened now that you can access global customers. Size up the competition and understand what those businesses have done to be successful online. Be inspired by your competitors and learn from the best.

Step 2: Build a Website and/or E-commerce Store

Next, time to build your store. In order for customers to find your business, you will need to have a domain name. Such as how “www.google.co.uk” will bring you to Google’s search engine, this domain name will be the address to your website or e-commerce store. An online registrar, such as GoDaddy or BlueHost, can reserve the domain name and you only need to pay an annual registration fee.

Once you have your domain, choose a web host to store your website’s files on its servers. There are many hosting packages out there, each providing a variety of tools that you can use to build a professional-looking website. Pick a hosting package that suits your needs and budget.

Once you have the website set up, take some time to plan your website. Determine what style and feel you want your website to have, which should align with your brand. Other than the homepage, determine which subsections your website needs. Common subsections include:

  • About Us – to learn more about the business (Hint: this is a great section to share the company’s story and create a brand connection)
  • Products / Store – to learn more about the product offerings, or as a link to the e-commerce store
  • Pricing – this is a useful gateway to share prices for various products and start the sales conversation
  • Contact – information on how customers can reach your physical store, or get online customer support
  • Blog – companies can create and share content which resonates with their target customers
  • Resources - any other business resources you would like to share

Once you have an outline of your website, it is time to start populating your website with information about your company and the products you are selling. It is important to not rush through this process as this will be your brand’s storefront. Take the time to properly market your company, write product descriptions, take high-quality product photos, and set up a purchasing process that is frictionless for your consumers. Constantly test your website and e-store throughout the process to fix any errors and bugs before you launch your website.

Step 3: Identify your Target Customer

Knowing who you want to sell to is important when crafting how you will sell to those customers. Luckily, you already have a pool of customers at your physical store to survey and learn from. Develop an understanding of why your current customers come to you (i.e. your competitive advantage), their goals and challenges, and what problems your business is solving for them. Some questions you may ask include:

  • Why did you choose my business over other competitors?
  • How can I best serve you?
  • What are some online services that you use?
  • Which social media websites do you frequent?

After gathering the data from your current customer base, you can now tailor your website and e-commerce store to target and better serve similar customers online.

Step 4: Consider your Pricing Strategy

Now that you have your product offerings in place, consider your pricing strategy. Aligning pricing strategy to your target customer is very important. Spending habits vary greatly between consumer demographics so make sure that your products are appropriately priced.

In addition, consider the costs you will need to take on if you are selling through a virtual store. While you don’t have the overhead costs compared to a physical location, shipping, warehousing and packaging costs need to be taken into consideration when pricing a product. While customers dislike seeing price discrepancies between in-store and online products, as a business owner, you will need to maintain your profit margins to continue operations. Pricing strategy is delicate balance and will require significant planning and forethought.

Lastly, look into competitors and see how they price their products. While it is easy to think that online products will be cheaper, do not undersell your business. Consumers often associate price with quality, so you may be leaving money on the table if you don’t appropriately price your solutions.

Step 5: Develop a Marketing Plan

All the research you have done up to this point will help you with the creation of an effective marketing plan. Here is how you can promote your business and get your name out there to attract customers:

  • Create blog posts and other content to drive website traffic. Consistency is key! If time is an issue, you may want to hire a freelance writer to help produce content for your blog.
  • Set up a content and promotion strategy, personalizing the content you produce to various times of the year. For example, holiday-themed blog posts can resonate greatly with customer prior to the holiday shopping season.
  • Leverage Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to get higher search engine rankings, to organically grow your website traffic without the need for ads. Search engines will pick up keywords from content on your website.
  • Determine the most effective use of advertisements. If your target customers frequent certain social media sites, taking out advertisements on that site may be the most effective way of customer acquisition. Google Ads is also an effective way to reach out to new customers, as customers looking for solutions to problems your business can solve can connect with your organization.
  • Pay-per-click advertisements can be a cost-effective way to promote your business. You will only be paying for leads that the ad generates, and you can turn off ads that are not performing well.
  • Network and partner with local influencers. For consumers, seeing someone they know and trust use a product is an immediate stamp of approval. Find a local influencer who has high engagement scores with your target customer base.
  • Launch a newsletter to regularly connect with customers. This can drive repeat sales from current customers, which is easier than driving sales from completely new customers.
  • Offer special promotions to loyal customers, which can also drive repeat sales. In addition, your customers may decide to share those promotion codes, attracting new customers.

Step 6: Connect with Customers

Consumers love when they can create a personalized connection with a business. Therefore, customer outreach and support is so important in maintaining your brand. However, maintaining a social media presence can feel like a full-time job. When connecting with customers, here are some online tools you can leverage.

  • HootSuite – You can easily schedule your social media posts via Hootsuite in advance, across many platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
  • Sprout Social – Posts published through Sprout Social allows you to gather data on engagement and other analytics related to your post, letting you know which posts are most effective.
  • Buffer – Buffer is a great tool to use to promote your blog across all your social media. This is great to stretch content that you have on hand and to drive traffic to your site.

Stay 7: Stay flexible

Being adaptable is key to succeeding online. The internet seemingly moves at the speed of light, so keeping up can be a challenge. Gather feedback from customers and constantly improve your website, products and offerings. Consider where the market is heading and how your business will need to change. With more consumers accessing websites and shops from mobile devices, is your website optimized for mobile viewing? Does it make sense to build an app for your business? As the expert and owner, only you can answer these questions. Through constant improvement and adapting, you stay ahead of the curve and future-proof your business.

There are many reasons why you should take your business online. With these steps, making the transition to online can be seamless for you and your business.