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Managing a Business

How to Go from Brick & Mortar to E-Commerce

As more and more brick-and-mortar stores are limiting their operations or closing their doors completely, it’s now crucial to operate virtually. What’s more, your customers expect it. By switching to online sales, retailers can find new customers and grow their business. 

Even if you have no idea about the online world, let us take a moment to reassure you that you can make the jump. This article has practical, easy-to-follow steps on what you will need to do to take your business online. 

Why Transition From Retail to E-tail 

If you’re on the fence about making the jump to online sales and need some convincing, let’s take a look at the benefits of moving your store online:

  • Give your customers the ease of shopping from home or on the go.
  • Gain sales outside of your neighborhood — shoppers who wouldn’t normally come across your store can find it online by searching for items you carry.
  • Decrease the financial impact of social distancing. Just because you’ve had to put your physical store on pause doesn’t mean your sales have to take a break as well.
  • No need to worry about the time and cost involved with finding a physical storefront.
  • Collect concrete data about shoppers and sales. Use it to create growth and a more enjoyable customer experience.

An online store is more than a place for people to purchase your goods online; it’s a powerful resource for growing your business. 

Starting an e-commerce business involves software selection, product preparation, shipping, and inventory considerations. 

Then, your focus will shift to online marketing and virtual customer service. Aspects integral to success with e-commerce. 

For established retailers, pivoting to e-commerce includes the extra steps of incorporating your existing capital and brand into your new business endeavor. Let’s get started.

Hedgehog being clever about how he sets up his ecommerce website

Think About Your Brand Strategy

As an established retailer with a solid idea of who your brand is, the first steps to building your e-commerce store will move much quicker. As an established retailer, you’re not starting from a blank state after all. 

Before we dive into taking your store from retail to E-commerce, take a moment to consider what makes your business unique. 

Do you have a unique visual expression in-store? Take a good look at your store. What can you translate about what’s in front of you, to an online shopping experience?

Once you’ve cracked what you wish to carry from your existing store and bring that, you have halfway nailed your online branding style. Another aspect that can inform your branding are the designs you already have, for example, your shop signs, and any logos and letterheads synonymous with your business. 

Use your Insights to Tailor Your E-commerce Experience

Real-life retailers have an advantage over brands operating virtually. Their daily interactions in-store help them understand their customer base. They know which problems and value propositions their customer base care about. These details enable them to create a user-experience (UX) that is tailored to this knowledge.

For example, you experienced positive sales when you demonstrated a product in-store. With this in mind, you might consider filming video demonstrations for customers to see clearly how to use your products. To make each product shine —  and increase conversions, add your demos to a custom landing page.

As you begin the process of taking your business online, think about what you have observed from your in-store customer’s buying habits. How can your insights be used to build your e-commerce brand? Do your customers usually repurchase an item after 30 days? If so, it might be a good idea to set up automated emails This way, when a certain time period as passed, customers are sent a reminder email, or an offer to come back and buy the same thing from you again.

You’ll also need to decide which products from your brick-and-mortar store will be sold online. Some products have restrictions that prohibit them from being sold over the internet. Aside from restricted items, you may find that some items from your in-store inventory won’t be practical to sell online or make financial sense to do so. For example, perishable goods, or impulse buys placed around your cash register, might be best left off your online store.

Select an E-commerce Platform

Bringing an online store to life is a lot easier than it used to be thanks to e-commerce platform software. There are several e-commerce platforms available on the market. Many of these systems support wizard-based installs which can help you go from zero to a working online store within a few hours.

Today, e-commerce platforms handle everything from storing your products online and displaying them in a browsable online catalog to keeping track of inventory and adding a payment gateway, all things that make selling online possible. 

While each of them has their own sets of pros and cons, the choice depends on your own requirements. The most budget-friendly option that has full e-commerce integrations and functionality is the WooCommerce plugin for WordPress. We recommend a full store on your own website powered by WooCommerce.  

If you have an existing WordPress website, all you need is to add the WooCommerce plugin and you can get started.

If you don’t yet have a website, you will need to purchase a domain name and hosting from a provider like EasyWP to bring a WordPress site online in one click. After that, install WordPress, then add the WooCommerce plugin.  

That’s it. Now your e-commerce platform is set up, and it’s time to design your e-store.

designing an e-commerce website

Design Your Online Shop

E-commerce platforms provide easy-to-use templates and drag-and-drop features to add design elements. How do you imagine your virtual store? This is the time to incorporate decisions about your brand image and apply them to your homepage and product pages. Since you have a real-life store, you may want your online store to reflect it. This way, your existing customer base will find a certain familiarity while shopping virtually. 

Draft out your homepage

When people land on your homepage, they should get a sense of what your brand is. What else do you need to include on your homepage? There are several elements every website needs to have:

  • Your logo should be visible at the top of your webpage. It’s the core of your brand identity, and the first thing your visitors should see.
  • A navigation menu that makes it easy for visitors to find the information they need
  • Access to FAQs on your refund policy, shipping, privacy policy, and terms and conditions. These elements are often placed within your navigational menu and the footer of each page on your site

Build Effective Product Pages

Online stores work very differently from brick-and-mortar stores. In a real-world store, a customer can see a product on the shelf, hold it, and read its label. But in an online store, the storekeeper needs to provide a description, a list of specifications or features, and a photograph or video showing the product.

  • Stick to a familiar layout

For continuity, your product pages should follow a similar style as your homepage. Statistically speaking, customers land on product pages through your marketing efforts, such as from links on social media or in your email newsletter. 

  • Add images and video

For e-commerce, your product images play an important role in landing sales. To feature them in the best light, take high-quality photos that offer an impression of the item from all possible angles. You might want to consider a demo video of the product in action so customers can see how someone would use, or wear it.

  • Include accurate descriptions

To sell products online, you need to add descriptions that inform and persuade your customers. Add as much relevant information so people understand the product and entice them with benefits so they can judge whether it’s right for them.

As you begin adding products to your virtual store, make sure you add titles, descriptions with keywords, at least one image for each product page, and links to shipping and returns FAQs.

It can seem like a daunting task to write creating individual product pages for a sprawling inventory. It may make sense to tackle this task in small pieces, writing a few product descriptions, and processing a few images each day. It is also possible to hire freelance writers to speed up the process. 

Manage Inventory and Accounting

As with brick-and-mortar retail, your online store needs careful inventory management. As an online retailer, your transactions, inventory, and accounting can be managed within your e-commerce platform. 

If you plan on running a physical store and online store in tandem, this is especially true. Each is sharing the same units of stock. When someone buys the last racing bike in your physical store, the online store needs to know not to sell it too.

In this case, you’ll need to find a solution that accounts for online and physical inventory. It’s likely that as a retailer, you have an existing system in place. If this is the case, your online store will need to integrate with your current systems. For example, you can integrate with many Point of Sale systems with WooCommerce

hedgehog with a stack of packages to ship

Shipping and Fulfillment

Opening an online store means getting a product to your customer is no longer as easy as bagging it and handing it across the checkout counter. You need the packing materials, including boxes in a variety of sizes, tape, and labels. Since most shipping rates are weight and distance-based, you’ll need a scale too.

To take on the packaging and shipping, simplify the process, try to select a provider that can integrate directly into the e-commerce platform that will give you a host of shipping options with just a few clicks. Thanks to the integration with USPS, you can print labels right from your WooCommerce dashboard at the lowest USPS rates.

Once your business has been established, your products are ready for sale, and all the bugs have been worked out of the site, you are ready for the official launch. 

Post Launch — Advertising and Marketing

Since you plan to make sales through the Internet instead, now’s the time to spread the word about your new online store. 

Think about the best way to reach your existing customers and keep your community in the loop first. You might want to keep them updated on your new direction through your social channels and via email marketing if you have a newsletter in place. It’s also a good idea to place a sign on your premises alerting people that they can now safely shop online for the same products and services. 

Once your site is up and running, you’ll need to focus on marketing and advertising strategies to grow your base of customers. With WordPress, there are many ways to automate your marketing efforts. Adding shoppable social media posts through the WooCommerce plugin. Email marketing is also a breeze thanks to the Mailchimp for WooCommerce plugin

Whichever platform you choose to build your e-commerce store, factor in which automated marketing features are available to you to build a marketing strategy for your online store.

Your Future in E-Commerce

We’ve displayed how your transition from brick-and-mortar to a full-blown e-commerce store involves consideration and a number of steps to launch. Your build can take as little as a few hours and can also extend to several months if you have a large and varied product inventory. The best strategy is to take your time, and don’t skip any details. 

We’ve focused on WooCommerce on this blog post for good reason. It’s a tried and tested, and pretty great way to make online sales. Woo stores stand out because they run on WordPress. You know you are in good hands with a platform that powers most of the websites on the internet. Thanks to WordPress, your website can extend to a store and sell everything from products to memberships and digital downloads. The only question that remains is, what are you waiting for?

Have you made the leap from brick and mortar to online sales? Which platform is working for you? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

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Isobel Weston

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