Creating a Successful E-commerce Site
This past year, with government shutdowns and covid-19, it seems like almost everything moved online. The United States saw a massive spike in e-commerce retail sales despite massive unemployment. According to Digital Commerce 360, consumers spent $861.12 billion online within the US, an increase of 44% year over year. Despite how promising these numbers are, it doesn't account for small businesses. Since the pandemic is not over yet, numbers aren't official, but Fortune reported that nearly 100,000 small businesses have gone out of business since the pandemic. It seems most small businesses were left in the dust, leaving big-box retailers were the ones that benefited from the e-commerce boom.
Looking to gain leverage as a small business owner? Now is as good a time as ever to bring your small business online. Here's how:
Setup Your Online Store
Setting up a digital platform might be the most time-consuming part, but it is the most essential. Without a marketplace, customers won't be able to shop your products. There are multiple ways to create your online store. You can host the store on an existing marketplace, build it into your existing website, or host it on a social app. You can also do all three! If you already have an established website with multiple people visiting every day, we encourage you to host your store on your existing website. You can do this with WooCommerce, Shopify, SquareSpace, BigCommerce, and the list goes on. Find the platform that works best for you and get work by adding in all your products' specs!
You will need to know your product quantity, price, weight, size, material, description, and anything else applicable to your product—the more information, the better to reduce consumer returns and make sure that consumers are satisfied.
Don't feel like you need to put all of your products online right away. You can always test the waters and see how your supply chain works before you entirely rely on e-commerce. Try putting a variety of products online so you can test out multiple different product types.
Invest In Your Inventory
When you are selling online, you need more inventory than just the five deep on the shelves. You have to have a comprehensive inventory that is updated and allows for a larger audience. When you can ship anywhere, you have a much larger audience; therefore, you must reach that audience. inventory can be tough to gauge with too much or too little ordered. It's important not to be sitting on inventory or to upset customers when you're out of stock. This is why it's best to start with a minimal amount of your products online to test how popular your online store is. If you are a type of store that's inventory is connected to its store shelves (i.e., a grocery store that has Instacart available), be aware that customers expect things to run out or unavailable. No one gets it right every time with inventory, but that is the best thing to do to keep customers updated. Don't let a customer buy a product and then realize you have been out of that product for months.
Create a Supply Chain Plan
Now that you have a store and inventory ready to go, you need a supply chain plan! You might already have the back half of your supply chain solidified at this point, but now you have to end the front end (the consumer-facing side) of your supply chain.
Here are the things you'll need for this side of the supply chain:
- Branding + Packaging: tape, packing slips, tissue paper or bubble wrap (if applicable)
- Trusted Carriers
- Warehouse or 3PL
- Shipping + Return Policy
- Backwards Logistics
- Shipping Solution
Leverage Your Current Following
It's important to use your current following to spread the word about your online store. The most important thing to do after you have set up your online store is to get sales! Getting a good ROI starts with your current customers. This could be a series of emails sent to your existing list or sending mailers to your local community. This could also mean using efficient local hashtags to inform the community. If you're a small business, you probably have a more significant local following than you realize!
Create a Plan to Find New Customers
Once you have your current customers spending online, start spreading your wings and market to others through social media advertising, magazine advertising, sponsorships, and whatever else would help your target market find you! Remember, with e-commerce, the sky's the limit with whom you can sell. Don't forget to keep in mind that the farther you are from your customers, the longer it takes to get customers your products and the more expensive it costs to ship to customers. Weigh your costs before deciding to market to someone in zone 9 to ensure happy customers and a healthy bottom line.
It is important to note that going online is not the perfect cure for all small businesses. The New York Times article outlines how small businesses are still struggling to make it in stores and online. It's important to recognize that it will take more time to gain exposure than small businesses. Be smart and know that it's a great way to elevate your business to the next level.