By Larry Alton
When a small business decides it’s time to add an ecommerce site to its brick-and-mortar offerings, it may often underestimate the amount of time and effort required to achieve online success.
It’s not as simple as setting up a website and uploading photos of products to sell. Successful small business ecommerce calls for strategic planning, ongoing maintenance, and streamlined processes to be effective.
The Ecommerce Movement
Online shopping and ecommerce have already become a multi-billion dollar industry, and they’re expected to reach $1.5 trillion by the end of 2014. Developing a niche within that massive new industry can be extremely lucrative for small businesses looking to expand beyond their physical retail presence.
But despite the apparent simplicity of these sites, a ton of work has gone into developing a solid infrastructure and a successful online sales system.
Essential Building Blocks for Ecommerce Success
If you want to make a successful transition into ecommerce, it’s important to pay attention to the following elements:
Vision and Goals
While your ecommerce site may sell the same product lines as your physical store(s), it may need an entirely different vision and a set of unique goals. You can’t approach both channels with an identical effort. You will target and cultivate different customers, the buying experience will not be identical, and the overall level of customer service interaction can diverge dramatically. You need to spend time building a unique strategic plan that takes advantage of your existing core capabilities.
Everything about your ecommerce site should be user-oriented. When customers can’t physically touch or see the items you offer, you have to compensate for that shortcoming in other ways. This means more than just beautiful images; it also means customer reviews and expert recommendations from third-party sources.
Simple and Compelling Infrastructure
People love to shop on sites such as Amazon and Half.com because of the site’ incredibly simple, yet compelling, interfaces. While you probably don’t have the funds to build as sophisticated a platform as they have, you can make the most out of what you do possess. Invest in quality search functionality and avoid overcomplicating things with unnecessary features.
Help Customers Find You
Your ecommerce site may be beautifully designed, but it’s worthless if it doesn’t attract substantial traffic. Complement your ecommerce design efforts with suitable SEO and social-media marketing plans.
Streamlined Payment System
Every ecommerce site needs a way to capture online payments effortlessly and instantly. If you don’t give them a simple, streamlined payment system, potential customers will lose patience and shop elsewhere. Wherever possible, minimize the burden on your company by finding a tool that lets you integrate online, retail, and mobile payments into a single system. Examples of payment processing vendors include Shopify and Authorize.Net, and there are many others that you can research.
Invest in Customer Service
Since online customers can’t enjoy face-to-face interactions with your business, you have to make up for this disadvantage in other ways. The best way to keep your online customers happy, and to make sure that your brand doesn’t lose any value, is to invest significantly in customer service.
Offer online shoppers multiple ways to contact you, and support each of those channels with helpful and prompt service.
Bonus Ecommerce Tips
While the following tips aren’t obligatory, they can help you put your ecommerce store ahead of the competition.
Free shipping: Many consumers dislike online shopping because they have to pay extra for shipping. Some ecommerce sites bypass this obstacle by offering complimentary shipping on at least certain orders.
Videos: Product videos greatly enhance your listings. Investing in quality videos that show how to use your products can dramatically boost your conversion rates.
Small Business Ecommerce Success
Your online success will depend on whether you set the right foundation at the start. Understand that ecommerce is an investment, and you may not see returns for a number of months or even years. However, the future of shopping is clearly centered on the Internet, and you don’t want to miss the opportunity to establish your brand online.
Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.
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