Most retail businesses recognise the importance of selling online. However, many risk missing opportunities to generate more sales by rushing into setting up their internet store without putting a proper strategy in place.
Before making your digital debut, think carefully about key details to make your website work as hard as possible. These include identifying your target audience, your unique selling point (USP), customer payment preferences and website hosting options. Taking these into consideration will help develop an impactful online presence, generating as high a return on investment as possible.
Through our experience helping small businesses, we’ve gathered some top tips to help you start building your e-commerce strategy.
Have a clear plan of action
Developing an e-commerce offering can be costly. To help you decide whether such a strategy is worth your time and investment, take a step back and think about what you want to achieve online.
To determine whether a website is right for you, try answering the following questions:
Who are my customers and how will they find out about my website?
What am I going to sell and does my product lend itself well to being sold online?
Are there are a lot of people who want what I’m selling?
How much will I charge online and how much does it cost me to buy or make my product?
Who are my competitors and what can I do that’s better or different?
How much do I need to sell to break even, make a profit and grow the business?
Buy or build?
Once you have a clear view of your business and how online selling will work for you, you need to choose a solution to build your website.
Two common choices are buying a ‘shop in a box’ or building your own website. Both offer pros and cons which are important to consider.
A ‘shop in a box’ means you are essentially subscribing to a service from an e-commerce company that provides all the basic tools you need to set up and manage an online business. This option offers templates and technical advice to build and maintain your online presence, even if you don’t have any specialised skills. It’s also a great way to stick to a budget, as they provide a range of design options by price.
However, going down the ‘all-in-one’ route can also be limiting: if you don’t like the design templates or the packaged option doesn’t support your preferred payment solution, there’s little you can do about it. You may also be contractually obligated to stay with the host for a certain amount of time.
Building your own website means you manage everything yourself (or through an e-commerce agency). While you have the freedom to make your website look and function exactly how you want – there are no limits except for your budget and imagination – you do need more technical expertise, and a bit more time to go to market. On the flip side, once your shop is created, you will have full control over the customer experience, the content, and the business solutions – payment, marketing or otherwise – you’d like to implement. You’ll also have greater flexibility to expand and change the site as your business grows.
Finding the right payment solution
The next priority is your payment system. Three in ten (30 per cent) online purchases last year were made on a tablet or mobile, and of those, 70 per cent were made on a smartphone. You’ll need to understand how your customers will use your site, and be able to accommodate the payment solutions that match their expectations, for example, one-click ordering.
Choosing the right provider is important – their role is to act as the middleman between your online shop, the customer’s bank or credit card company and your business bank account, all in real time. If that middleman takes a day off, you’re in trouble. Having a trusted provider that can minimise downtime, prevent fraud and swiftly fix an issue will help keep your transactions flowing, and your shoppers satisfied.
Finally, it’s important to design a user-friendly payment process – our research shows that 46 per cent of all shopping basket abandonment happens at the checkout. Make sure you minimise the number of steps in your payment process in order to keep consumers engaged until the end. It’s also important that product and checkout pages have the same high-quality look and feel so that customers know their data will be secure when moving from one stage to the next. Provide relevant information during the journey as well, such as your return policy and delivery options.
There are many details to consider when forging your e-commerce strategy to make sure that your online customers will get the most from their shopping experience. From the big-picture issues like consumer preferences to the smallest details, such as keeping a consistent look and feel across your site, it’s crucial to think about every stage of the shopping journey. Simplifying each of those elements can turn first-time customers into loyal repeat purchasers. By examining your options and constantly revisiting your e-commerce strategy, you’ll put yourself in a strong position for continued success.
Greg Liset is head of e-commerce at Barclaycard