By Hiral Atha
The Coronavirus pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges to small businesses across the world. Storefronts are shutting down at an alarming rate, and those still standing are facing a customer drought. Even after the shutdowns are lifted, customers are very likely to refrain from stepping out in public and favor online shopping as often as they can.
So that’s where you go! Take your business where the customers are. Go online.
However, for businesses that have traditionally relied on footfall and in-person interaction for so long, the transition from offline to online isn’t an easy one. You could be overwhelmed by information, wondering where to start and struggling with too many questions. Today, this post will help you answer those questions and give you a structured guide to taking your offline business online.
First Steps: Head to Social Media
Taking your first step towards digital transformation can be as simple as creating a business page on social media. Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest are absolute crowd pullers with a large chunk of your customers already hanging out there. By creating good content on these channels, you can easily begin drawing customer attention to your business.
Creating a Facebook page or Instagram account for your business is quick and simple. Just enter your business information and you’re on.
Good pictures are arguably the ultimate pièce de résistance of social media. You can create attractive photos without fancy equipment or professional photoshoots. Even a smartphone camera can produce great images. Just use your imagination, use light well and keep the background tidy.
Sell On Amazon Or Build Your Own Online Store?
When you set out to sell your products online, you will arrive at the crossroads of owning versus renting. You could sell on Amazon, and other ecommerce giants, or build your own branded online store. There are pros and cons to each.
Amazon gives you an already established market and some handy tools to sell and receive payments. However, it takes a bite out of all your sales, doesn’t let you do any branding of your own and has some pretty restrictive policies.
Setting up your own online stores gives you a lot more freedom and ownership. All your money is your own and you could truly build a brand of your own. However, as a standalone store, you could find yourself facing a lot of competition and need to work from the ground up, investing quite a bit of time.
As a small business owner, you do want to build your own brand and have complete ownership of your store. So you could begin by selling on amazon, but you must work on building your own store and gradually, encouraging the customers to buy directly from you.
Building Your Online Store
If the thought of web hosting, domain purchasing, and other internet jargon overwhelms you, quit worrying. Building an online shop is so much easier now with plenty of turnkey platforms making the job easy for you.
You could develop a custom website but that’s usually a longer, more painstaking process involving web development expertise. Alternatively, you could use platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce, BigCommerce, Magneto, 3Dcart and Wix among others. While these platforms cost some money, they offer a great deal of assistance and a majority of online sellers find them immensely helpful.
These solutions offer a one-stop shop for all things ecommerce – from creating your website to choosing the right theme and interface, uploading your products, accepting a range of payment methods, integrating social channels, and even help with shipping.
When it comes to ecommerce, shipping is the equivalent of walking the talk. No matter how wonderful your products and store are, they only offer value if the customer receives them in great condition and on time.
Choosing the right shipping service is crucial. Using ecommerce solutions like Shopify usually gets you substantial discounts with the major services like DHL and Bluedart.
Calculate your shipping costs carefully. High shipping costs could lead to cart abandonment. You bearing the shipping cost could affect your net profitability. Ideal scenario is to offer free shipping on a minimum order value.
You might want to exclusively assign someone the task of packaging and shipping orders on time, or set aside a specific time each day to handle this yourself.
If you are running this enterprise solo, handling new responsibilities is bound to take time. Communicating openly with your customers will make them feel better about waiting longer for their package to arrive.
How to Handle Payments Online
Once again, if you’re using one of the ecommerce platforms like Shopify, handling payments comes out of the box. From all credit and debit cards to digital wallets like Apple Pay and PayPal, you are better off providing your customers as many options as possible.
Balancing the Click-and-Mortar
With all this talk of online business, it is important to pay attention to your loyal offline customers too. Customers who have showed up and continue to show up at your store deserve your full attention. They would also probably appreciate the option of buying online from you during the current pandemic to be sure to let them know about your online store. You could even put up signage outside your shop telling customers that they can now shop your wares online.
This might mean putting in extra hours to keep both the online and offline channels going, but in the face of a global crisis, I’ll bet that business owners are willing to go the extra mile.
Do You Now Need a Digital Marketing Strategy?
To increase your online exposure, traffic and sales, you will need to promote your business online. Yes, this means you need a digital marketing strategy. But for starters it doesn’t have to involve professional marketers and added expenses. For now, you could simply focus on promoting it yourself on social media and by creating your own content. You could start a blog yourself. Put out great content on Instagram and Facebook. You could ask users to share their pictures with your products tagging you. There are plenty of ways to promote your business online without spending money.
As your online venture gains traction, you could always scale up your digital marketing by hiring professional content creators and marketers.
Taking your offline business online may be a lot of work, but it isn’t necessarily complicated or difficult. However, it may be the most rewarding thing you do for your business, not only to counter the economic slump caused by coronavirus, but also for the larger future of your business. So take a deep breath and get clicking pictures of some of your best products.