Does your retail store need an ecommerce website? 8 things to consider

So you have a physical retail store or maybe even a chain of stores, but as a small business owner with a never-ending to-do list that keeps you busy way past store hours, you haven’t quite made it to one item on your list – launching your online store.

It’s no secret that today’s shoppers are changing the way they shop. Consumers know about your store before they ever step foot in your doors. They are influenced by online reviews, their friend’s opinions, and a brand’s online presence more than ever. Online sales continue to rise steadily and now account for 10% of total retail sales. Even purchases on smartphones are rapidly increasing. Unlike most physical stores, online stores are open 24×7, so that must mean more sales, right?

So you ask yourself: Do I need an e-commerce website? Will this be a sales channel that will drive significant sales or at least drive shoppers to my physical store? Here are a few considerations when you are contemplating starting an e-commerce store for your brick & mortar store.

Do you have time to create and maintain an online store?

Thanks to e-commerce platforms like Shopify as well as players offering lightweight online stores for small retail shops, no longer does it cost 5 figures to launch an online store. The financial cost to get started and monthly fees for most e-commerce platforms are relatively affordable. Where an online store costs you… is time. Will you or someone on your staff have the time to add images and detailed and helpful descriptions for all of your products?

And this initial setup is just the beginning. You’ll need to be able to keep your online product information up to date as you add or delete items from your physical store’s shelves. Retail stores that have a high turnover, especially apparel stores, can find it difficult to keep their e-commerce site’s products current.

Do you have a considerable social media following?

Most small retailers understand the power and importance of a solid social media presence, and we at ShoppinPal have seen a lot of awesome retail stores doing this right. But out of all your likes and followers, how do you measure the effectiveness of your social media efforts? It’s no secret that it’s much easier to click on a link and buy online than to remember to stop by the retail store to buy an item later. Giving your social media followers an instant way to buy from you the very moment that they become interested in your item online can prove to be a massive opportunity to monetize your hard-earned traffic on popular social networks.

How much of your website traffic comes from outside of your city?

Most small retailers that have yet to launch an online store at least have a website so shoppers can get basic information about the store. So where are your website visits coming from? Using Google Analytics, you can quickly see how many of your visitors are local and how many visitors are outside of your city. If you have a decent number of non-local visitors finding you, launching an e-commerce store should move up on that never-ending to-do list.

Are your products easy to ship?

Selling online means you’ll be shipping items to your customers. How easy are your products to ship? If you sell large or heavy items, you may not be excited about this. You do have a couple options though. 1) ask your suppliers if they’d be willing to dropship some of your hard-to-ship items so you can collect the money and avoid the hassle. 2) offer your shoppers the option to buy online, but pick up the items at your store. More and more shoppers appreciate and take advantage of the in-store pickup option.

Do you have time to pack and ship online orders?

So you have products that are actually easy to ship? Awesome. So who has time to actually pack up these orders and ship them out? This is a great problem to have. Just make sure your team knows how online orders will be fulfilled. We find that many of our retail clients have one employee that is the go-to person for anything and everything relating to the e-commerce store, from maintenance to fulfillment.

Do your POS for in-store sales and e-commerce store for online sales play nice together?

Streamlining operations is key given the complexities of running a retail business. Make sure that the e-commerce platform you choose to power your online store works seamlessly with your store’s point-of-sale system so that your product information and inventory levels can be synced across channels. Cloud based POS systems, such as Vend and Erply, make your life easier because their rich API enables easier sync between the POS and your web store.

How much do you want to pay for your online store?

Whether you decide to use a free, open-source e-commerce solution like PrestaShop or decide to use a web-hosted e-commerce platform like Shopify, there’s a cost involved. A free, open-source solution will cost more upfront for a web developer to get your store open. An easy-to-use e-commerce platform like Shopify and Big Commerce will charge you a monthly fee to run your store. These solutions have gained popularity because of their ease of setup, ready-to-go online store templates, customer support, and the ability to get an online store up and running without being a developer. Monthly prices will vary depending on the number of products as well as certain features that you may want, but the price range is typically between $30 and $200 per month. For smaller retail shops, this monthly cost can be uncomfortable without knowing how much monthly revenue their online store will generate, in which case choosing an e-commerce store that offers performance-based pricing instead of a monthly fee may be a better fit.

What ROI will be worth the effort?

More revenue is great. So, how many dollar signs do you have to see from your online store in order for the effort to be worth it? Are you just measuring the revenue that comes from online transactions? There may actually be a lot of benefits that won’t show up there. Is your online store actually helping you drive more in-store traffic? What about the shoppers that never considered shopping with you due to your lack of an online store but now love your products?

If you have an established brand, your e-commerce site can be a destination that shoppers actually seek out. In this case, you’re sure to see a good level of sales coming from your e-commerce store. However, if you don’t have an established brand, you’ll quickly find that the world of e-commerce is extremely competitive. In this case, you should look at your online store playing a supporting role to help increase your physical store’s sales.

Something else to consider: Shoppers tend to purchase high-value items such as designer clothing, antiques, jewelry, furniture and cars at a physical store. But does this mean that they don’t visit the e-commerce store? Absolutely not. In fact, the more the item costs, the more online product research is done by the shopper. So even though the actual transaction may take place online, your online store still plays a significant role in the purchase process.

Bottom Line:

Whatever your goal – to add a sales channel or drive more shoppers to your physical store, an e-commerce store is imperative. Whether you and your staff have time to manage the online store will determine which e-commerce platform is best for your retail store. Picking a solution that integrates seamlessly into your operations and requires very little maintenance is the key to doing this without going crazy!

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