You’ve worked hard to establish your company as a fixture in the community. Your brick-and-mortar store enjoys a decent amount of traffic, but you feel you could be doing more to reach a wider audience. Is it time to add e-commerce to your selling strategy?
Starting an online branch of your business has the potential to put your products in front of many more consumers than you can reach with a single physical location. E-commerce increases opportunities for engagement and sales, but you need to be sure you’re ready before establishing an online presence. Ask yourself these questions before diving into the world of internet sales.
How Much Time Can I Devote?
Running your physical store can be more than a full-time job, and adding e-commerce will increase the necessary commitment. Operating an online business requires a big investment of time, especially at the start. Just to get off the ground, you need to:
- Build a website
- Create an online inventory database with product images
- Set up tools to process and fulfill orders
- Establish a reliable customer management system
- Some of these tasks can be outsourced, but others may fall to you and your employees. If you have a large enough staff, it may be possible to delegate responsibilities to make the launch of your e-commerce site go faster.
What’s My Budget Like?
Opening a second brick-and-mortar location would require a new building with all the associated rent, utility and maintenance costs. Even though these expenses aren’t part of launching an e-commerce store, there are other necessary investments:
- Purchasing a domain name
- Securing a hosting service
- Setting up and maintaining a website
- Paying a reliable webmaster
It may also be necessary to increase the amount of inventory on hand or make changes in your production schedule to keep up with online orders. Unless you can be certain e-commerce sales will be enough to cover these costs, you may want to think twice about online expansion.
Is My Brand Well-Established?
If you’re thinking about starting an e-commerce branch of your business, it’s likely your brand is already a trusted name in your community and the surrounding area. People come to your store for everything this name has to offer, from quality merchandise to an inviting atmosphere. Translating these characteristics into an online presence can engage a much larger group of consumers, but you have to be sure your brand image is strong enough to attract people who may have only heard of your company in passing.
Consider whether you’ve had demand for your products from people who live too far away to travel to your physical location. Such demand can give you a head start with your e-commerce venture by providing these consumers an alternative way to buy from you.
Is My Target Audience Tech-Savvy?
Demand for access to your products doesn’t always translate to demand for an online presence. You need to be reasonably certain your target audience wants to start interacting with you online before you invest in an e-commerce venture.
A customer base made up of teens and young adults who never enter your store without smartphones in their hands is more likely to follow you online than an older audience used to doing the majority of their shopping at brick-and-mortar stores. Pay attention to shopping habits, and listen to feedback to determine the viability of an internet presence.
Do I Have Enough Resources?
Offering your products online requires a lot of work behind the scenes. You need a large enough staff to handle:
- Website building and maintenance
- Inventory tracking and management
- Order processing, fulfillment and shipping
- Customer service
- Marketing, including interpreting customer data
It may be necessary to outsource some of these tasks, hire new staff members or purchase specialized software. Calculate the costs, including the increased burden on current employees, before making the move to e-commerce.
Can I Handle Multiple Pricing Strategies?
The differences in costs associated with overhead, fulfillment, marketing and distribution for products sold online compared to those in your brick-and-mortar store means you have to re-work prices if you decide to get started with e-commerce. An online store also requires a pricing strategy for shipping so that you don’t lose money when fulfilling orders for large or heavy items.
Your goal should be to make the same amount of profit across all channels. This involves establishing a structure allowing you to offer competitive prices both online and in your store. You should also be able to provide occasional discounts as incentives to customers regardless of how they choose to shop. Careful monitoring of profit margins and calculation of differing costs can help you establish a viable pricing plan.
How Do I Process Payments?
Today’s consumers are using more diverse payment methods than they were even just a few years ago. Paying with cash or plastic has begun to give way to mobile payments, and some businesses are doing away with cash registers in favor of simpler forms of merchant credit card processing.
Whichever form of POS you’re currently using, establishing an online presence is easier if you can employ the same gateway to process e-commerce payments. Taking payments online requires an option with reliable security and the ability to integrate with shopping cart software to streamline the purchasing process. Using a third-party option is an easy way to ensure compliance and compatibility, but it adds another step to checkout and can be a turnoff to busy consumers.
Assessing the current state of your business according to these factors will show you if you’re ready to expand into the world of e-commerce. With the right resources, a solid budget and a determined mindset, you can transition smoothly into the world of online selling and bring your products and services to a whole new audience.
It may be a lot of work at the start, but e-commerce has the potential to expand your brand and increase sales. Be diligent in monitoring the market and the online behavior of your customers, and listen to feedback so that you understand how best to serve this unique sector. The modern consumer appreciates being able to find their favorite brands online, so if your company is ready for e-commerce, don’t hesitate to get started.