5 Tips for Online Business

If your retail business relies entirely on customers who walk through your door, it’s time to think differently about your storefront.

Online sales in the United States are expected to reach nearly $500 billion by 2019, predicts Forrester Research. That’s a lot of potential sales going right past your door if your business doesn’t have a welcome mat for online customers.

Online shopping

Even if you don’t have a virtual shopping cart, an online storefront can help customers discover your products and services, learn about your brand, and find critical information like hours and location, explained Michelle Yuenger, manager of business applications product strategy at CenturyLink.

Here are five simple steps to setting up an online store.

1. Determine Sales Strategy

First, decide how your online store will complement your physical business. One option is to educate shoppers by promoting your brand, showcasing products or sharing expert knowledge. Or you can focus on e-commerce.

“Businesses really need to decide first if they want to sell a product online or if they just want to drive more traffic to their stores,” Yuenger said.

If e-commerce is the plan, decide whether you want to expand your geographic market or simply deepen your presence in markets where you already compete. It’s also critical to think about logistics when marketing products to an online audience. If the best-selling product in your physical store would be expensive to ship, for example, online customers would be less likely to buy it.

2. Choose A Theme

Just as important as deciding what information you want to provide is deciding how it will look. Successful online stores have a unifying visual theme that complements their brand. Stick with high-resolution, professional-quality images.

“A picture paints a thousand words, and you need to make sure that the images are the most reflective of your business,” Yuenger said.

Some questions to ask: What will the photography style be? Will models wear the products, or will there be flat representations? Will products be photographed in the store or against a white background?

“Those kinds of decisions should be consistent throughout the site,” she said.

3. Pick Three Strenghts                                                                                                                                            

When setting up an online store, decide on no more than three things that you want to communicate about your businesses. A common pitfall for small businesses is trying to do too much.

“Sometimes it’s a mistake to try to include everything or to be everything to everybody,” Yuenger said.

Focus on the things that set your business apart from the competition, whether it’s being family-run or known for providing excellent service, she adds. Online, it’s easy to get hundreds of similar listings when searching for a business, so make sure visitors know who you are and what your business is about in just a few seconds.

4. Plan For Success

What will you do when online sales pick up? Plan the logistics of e-commerce in advance so purchases can be as seamless as in-store transactions, Yuenger advised. Know how you’re going to collect payment and package the products. Ensure that customers get the products that they purchase.

It’s also important to have a system to track online sales so that you know what’s working and what’s not. The U.S. Small Business Administration offers tips to walk you through the process of setting up your online store.

5. Get Social

Put an online marketing plan in place, just as you would for your physical store.

“‘If you build it, they will come’ doesn’t work,” Yuenger said. “You have to have a plan.”

Using social media to spread the news about your online store is similar to joining a local Chamber of Commerce to network with other businesses, she advised. Be part of the social media conversation by listening as well as talking, and sharing information that’s helpful to your audience.

“If you position yourself as an expert and share information that other people find relevant, they will naturally gravitate toward that site,” she said.

Whether you set up an online store in order to share information with shoppers or expand into e-commerce, one thing is clear.

“Businesses cannot afford to stay offline,” Yuenger said.

By Lisa Wirthman

 

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