Congratulations! You’ve made the decision to take your brick-and-mortar store to an online ecommerce store.
Transitioning from brick-and-mortar to ecommerce may seem like an uphill battle, but trust us, it’s much easier than you think. Since you have a physical store, you’re already halfway there — a lot of the activities executed in your storefront will also take place in your ecommerce store, but in a digital format.
Why Making the Transition From Brick and Mortar to Online Store Makes Sense
Now more than ever, consumers are making purchases online. According to the Pew Research Center, 8 out of 10 Americans are online shoppers. So don’t worry, you’ve made the right decision.
Not only will you better equipped to accommodate your existing customers, but you’ll also open your business up to a whole new world of customers. You’ll be geographically limitless! With a storefront, your customer reach only encompasses those that live, work, vacation or pass by your business on their daily commute. With an ecommerce store, however, you’re open 24/7/365 — including holidays — and your customer reach is national, rather than just local or regional.
While the vast majority of Americans are online shoppers, they aren’t just sitting at home and shopping from their computer. Most online shopping occurs on mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets. 27 percent of all US retail ecommerce sales are expected to originate from mobile devices by the end of 2018. Currently, they account for 19 percent of ecommerce sales. You can see the upward trend this will have in the coming years.
What to Consider Before Making the Transition Online
Now that you know why you should take your storefront online, before you can actually do so, you will need to consider which ecommere platform will best suite your needs. Think of this as your digital storefront or retail space, and your point of sale system combined. It should not only display your inventory in an attractive and user-friendly way but also provide insights into your business performance.
Platform selection is the backbone (and probably one of the most important) in taking your brick-and-mortar store to an online store. If you already have a website for your business, start your search there. Most web hosting services have an ecommerce plugin that you can incorporate into the existing site. And if the ecommerce plugin can connect to your point of sale system, you just managed a bricks to clicks hat-trick and are well on your way to online selling.
If you don’t have an existing website, you would first want to see if your point of sale system integrates into an ecommerce platform. For example, if you’re a ShopKeep merchant, there is a direct integration into ecommerce platform provider, BigCommerce. This connectivity, along with a guided setup process, will allow for a quick and easy transition from brick-and-mortar to ecommerce. Your store inventory will sync with your online store, and that will allow for an easier management process across both channels.
If you don’t have a website or a POS system, you can start your search anywhere. Here is a comparison chart of today’s leading ecommerce platforms to help you get started with your search.
Whether you’ve selected a plugin through your existing website or are starting from scratch, you will have to select a theme for your online store. A theme is a template, or outline, for the design of your ecommerce store. A similar example would be a resume template in Microsoft Word, or even a web form can be considered a template — something that is a standardized format that you simply ‘plug-n-play’ your information into.
When it comes to choosing a theme, there aren’t too many hard and fast rules, but here are two best practice principles you should follow.
Ecommerce themes are designed to showcase products and will include functionality for ecommerce must-haves, such as a shopping cart and product detail pages. You can typically customize colors and layouts to fit your brand, whereas retrofitting a universal theme to meet an online sales experience is always going to be a headache.
Mobile matters. And unfortunately, a site that looks great on a desktop may not easily translate to a mobile device or tablet. Responsive themes will automatically resize your store’s layout and functionality based on the device on which it’s being viewed. This is not only important from an aesthetic perspective, but also critical to your store’s conversion rates. While mobile traffic is growing at a groundbreaking pace, conversions on mobile stores are not, and much of this has to do with how tedious and non-user friendly inputting shipping and payment information is on mobile devices.
What it Takes to Transition Your Business Online
Taking your store from offline to online isn’t necessarily the easiest job, but by no means is it impossible. A little planning and research on your part, and a little guidance from us will help make the transition from brick-and-mortar to ecommerce as simple as possible.
Plan. This should go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway. As with any other business strategy, you will need to take some time and plan out your efforts — what tools you will need, the resources it will require, and the overall investment it will take to bring your brick-and-mortar business to an online environment.
A Platform. As detailed in the previous section, part of the planning process includes selecting an ecommerce platform to launch your digital store. You will want to make a list of desired features and price points, while distinguishing between your must-haves for today and something that is scalable for future growth.
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. To simplify the process, try to select a shipping provider that can integrate directly into your ecommerce platform like ShipperHQ, that will give you a host of shipping options with just a few clicks.
Resources. Last but not least, now that you’ve opened a new sales channel, someone needs to manage it. As a business owner, that someone is often you. Make sure you have a solid understanding of how the new ecommerce channel operates and don’t be afraid to let some of your more tech-savvy employees help out on the digital end.
The Benefits Of Having An Offline And Online Store
Since it has been pretty much business as usual up to this point, let’s get into the fun stuff and talk about a couple of benefits from having both an offline store and an online one. The most obvious is that you have the best of both worlds, it’s as simple as that. Customers can find you online, and at your physical location — you can provide local appeal and a national draw that will help set you apart from competitors.
Another benefit that is worth mentioning because it is such a buzzworthy term these days is, omnichannel . Consumers want an omnichannel experience when it comes to shopping. So what does omnichannel mean? It means that if you are providing a seamless and consistent experience across all sales channels, physical and digital. A modern example of something like this would be the Dunkin’ Donuts’ app. Coffee lovers everywhere can download the app to their smartphone and add a credit card. Once setup, they can walk into the nearest store and pay for their coffee using the app while quietly collecting rewards in the background. They can also order ahead from the app, therefore allowing them to skip the line when they go to pick up their order.
Don’t think that you have to go all out and develop your own application, there are other ways you can easily, and more cost-effectively achieve the same seamless experience leveraging your ecommerce and your brick-and-mortar store. For example, allow customers to buy online and offer an incentive to pick-up in store. Once they’re at your shop, they are more likely to look around and buy something else.
Many customers who add items to a cart and never click ‘buy’ (we’ve all been that customer before) just because they’re browsing. Those customers account for the 50 percent of consumers who conduct a local search on a smartphone and then visit a store within a day. Eighteen percent of these customers will eventually make a purchase. So while they might be e-browsing on the web today, they are coming in and buying from you tomorrow.
Comparing Ecommerce and Brick-and-Mortar Shops
Since we have spent most of the time talking about what is means to take your brick-and-mortar store to an online one and some of the benefits to having both, it’s only fair to chat about some similarities and differences, so you can effectively manage both channels.
On the surface, your storefront and ecommerce store are the same. They are both points of commerce where goods and services are exchanged for currency, and both depend on customers and excellent customer service to prosper.
Beyond that, the parallels will start to branch off into their unique segments and will require slightly different management processes. For example, tracking peak-hours for in-store purchases is going to be a different process than tracking what days and times (remember, you’re open 24/7/365, now) get the most traffic to your ecommerce store. The best way to find the former would be to run a report, or a combination of reports, from your POS system to determine peak hours. The latter would be found using a platform such Google Analytics that’s integrated into your web store.
Although you are more or less tracking the same statistics, you are doing it a slightly different manner using different tools and platforms. This is the type of perspective you want to have and apply when it comes to managing the physical and digital segments of your business.
Enhancing the Shopping Experience Online and Offline
Not only do we want to compare the operational differences from a business owner’s perspective, but we also want provide some insight into the shopper’s experience in a brick-and-mortar storefront compared to an online store.
The absolute biggest difference between having a brick-and-mortar store and an ecommerce store is the customer experience. Being able to look someone in the eye, have a conversation face to face, and explain the value of your products is something that just can’t be replicated online. It’s also one of the biggest advantages to brick-and-mortar shopping. That doesn’t mean that you can’t create a stellar customer experience online, however, (just look at Amazon) but it does mean you have to take a different approach to achieve a similar outcome.
From an ecommerce perspective, the best way to adjust to the lack of human interaction is to create an engaging, informative, user-friendly, helpful, and responsive online presence for your customers. This can be done not only on your website or ecommerce store, but also through social media.
Questions To Ask When Choosing A Platform
As you’ve probably noticed, selecting an ecommerce platform is kind of a big deal. It will be the heart and soul of your online store, so we want to make sure we provide you with enough information to help you make an informed, and educated decision. And whatever you do, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Here is a list of things to consider and ask during the selection process.
- What is the total cost of ownership?
- Is it scalable enough to continue supporting my business as I grow?
- Is it easy to install and easy to use?
- How flexible is its front end, or template?
- Will I be able to achieve the exact look I want for my storefront?
- How many products am I selling, and how many products can the platform host?
- Does it come with built-in security, like PCI compliance? Does that cost extra?
- Does it come with support, and if so, during what hours? Is there an extra cost?
- Will it support my desktop shoppers as well as mobile shoppers? Are its themes and templates responsive, resizing automatically based on the shopper’s device?
- Can it integrate with my existing business systems, or third-party integrations I may need, like my current shipping, accounting, and POS systems?
Adopting Technology for a Seamless Transition
To simplify the transition from brick-and-mortar to online, the best tool, or technology to have in place, is a point of sale system.
Your POS system will handle everything from inventory updates to payments and tax collection. Because there are so many other things to consider when selling your products online, the last thing you want to do is create more work for yourself by choosing a POS system that doesn’t
automate the management of your inventory.
It’s also important to understand how your POS system and your ecommerce platform will communicate. Is it a two-way or one-way sync? Meaning, if you make changes to the inventory in your POS, is that change also reflected in your online store and vice versa?
The key is to choose an ecommerce solution that is both easy to use and allows for seamless communication between your online store and your brick-and-mortar business.
5 Steps to Getting Your Brick and Mortar Store Online
We know that we have thrown a lot of information at you about taking your business online, but that’s because it’s an important decision and we want to educate you about what to consider before you take the plunge.
The easiest way to break it down and wrap it up, is to provide you with these 5 steps to getting your brick-and-mortar store online.
- Plan. Again, this should go without saying, but it’s just as important here, just as it is with any other business strategy.
- Choose a platform. Another repeat, but again, super important. This is the heartbeat of your digital store and one of the most important tools you will need to have a successful ecommerce site.
- Create a budget. Like anything else involving your small business, you need to have an idea of what your budget is and what you’re willing to spend to not only set up, but also maintain your online store. Make sure you understand any ongoing fees and expenses associated with starting an online business that can add up over time.
- Product selection. A significant aspect of running an online business that we haven’t talked about yet is deciding what products to sell online. Some products have restrictions that prohibit them from being sold online. For example, if you’re a children’s boutique that sells everything from shoes to hats for toddlers to tweens, but you also sell a variety of snacks and beverages. These treats are mostly considered an impulse buy because you know shopping for children can be tough, shopping with children is even tougher, and nothing settles a hangry kid or adult like a little treat while they checkout. Even though these items exist in your inventory, they are not something you would add to your online store. On the flip side, selling online has some advantages that selling in store doesn’t, like identifying niche products to sell in your online shop that you usually wouldn’t sell in your store.
- Supplier selection and order fulfillment. If you already have a brick-and-mortar store, chances are you already have vendors who you order from and have a consistent relationship with. In the world of ecommerce, you will also need to learn, what’s known in the industry as fulfillment. Fulfillment is the actual process of servicing orders you receive online. There are two ways to go about the fulfillment process depending on what works best for you. The first way is to take on the packaging and shipping yourself. The second option would be to leverage a third party service who would warehouse, pack, and dropship online orders directly to your customers on your behalf.
Making the shift from bricks to click shouldn’t be a casual decision. There are a lot of things to consider when transitioning your brick-and-mortar store to an online store, and you want to make sure that you’ve dotted all your “i” and crossed all your “t” before diving into the digital world. We hope to have helped make the process a little easier and a lot more transparent for you.