Everything Retail Stores Starting an Online Business Need to Know

It’s time … Well, it’s been time, but now it’s really time. You’ve done the legwork and put in the effort to open a physical retail store. Maybe it’s doing well. Perhaps it’s wildly successful. Hopefully, it’s not hurting.

No matter the state of your store, you need an online presence.

Don’t worry if you haven’t a clue how to start an online retail business. We’ve put together this article to highlight key considerations for retailers who are looking to start an online store.

Aligning E-commerce And Point of Sale Platforms

Before getting into software and platform specifics, it’s important that you think critically about what/where your primary revenue stream will be in the next three years. Do you see an opportunity to focus heavily in online sales?

Are you planning on relying on in-store sales as the bulk of revenue for years to come? Is there another channel that you’d like to prioritize such as social selling, marketplaces or maybe even subscriptions?

According to Laith Murad, CMO at POS and e-commerce platform provider Lightspeed, it’s important that your new system enable all of these sales channels.

“Shoppers buy everywhere and you need to be able to provide that for them,” says Murad.

“An online store is most effective when combined with a brick and mortar store for the strongest brand experience. We know from Google that 1.5 billion people every month visit a physical location that they searched for online, with three out of four visiting within 24 hours.”

While enabling all of these sales channels is ideal, you still need to analyze where the bulk of your sales will come to prioritize your investment. Another huge influence on your investment is the software you’re currently using, if any. We know that 64 percent of single store retailers aren’t using POS software.

According to Jordan Brannon, president at Coalition Technologies, a leading provider of online marketing services to small and midsize e-commerce retailers, e-commerce integrations and needs should be highly prioritized when considering new software for your retail business.

“Many retailers prioritize POS over e-commerce and find that they shortchange their operations overall because the POS they pick is not well suited to support or integrate with higher volume e-commerce sales and the needed integrations to tie the systems together.”

Jordan Brannon, president at Coalition Technologies

Even if you’re adopting your first POS system, you need to weigh heavily the e-commerce features and/or integrations the system offers. Along the same lines, a component that’s a must-have for your next retail software investment is an open API.

“If either the POS or e-commerce solution does not have an API,” Brannon says, “consider it a non-starter. A pre-built app or extension, or direct integration should also be prioritized between the two, since that can mean a savings of tens of thousands of dollars.”

Brannon’s focus on open APIs and direct integrations highlights the importance of a complimentary relationship between a POS and e-commerce platform. You have enough to worry about as a small retailer trying to launch an online store. You don’t need to be managing two disparate systems while getting your online store off the ground.

Key Capabilities for Your E-commerce Software

Now that we’ve covered integration requirements between your POS and new e-commerce platform, let’s dive into Murad’s and Brannon’s must-have e-commerce software features. These features will increase efficiencies when managing your online store, freeing you up to spend more time with customers and employees.

Abandoned Cart Management

Save an account of the items still in a customer’s cart when they leave your site.

“If you are a physical retailer launching a store,” says Murad, “you can relate this to a customer putting down a shirt, pants, home gift, etc. and walking out of the store. In the digital world, the advantage is that technology allows for follow-up emails, and even messaging that stops a customer from leaving the site, even when they hit the back button.”

“Shopping cart abandonment is an enormous point of opportunity or weakness for e-commerce store owners,” says Brannon. “Most e-commerce stores will only have a 3 percent to 5 percent conversion rate, which means that 95 to 97 users out of 100 won’t buy. Shopping cart abandonment features or apps can bring back an additional 3 percent to 7 percent, dramatically increasing sales without a change in traffic.”


Marketplaces

Sell across all channels and marketplaces that your customers use.

“Marketplaces and social sales channels can be a fantastic new front for many retailers,” says Brannon. “Amazon is, in my opinion, now the second leading search engine behind Google—perhaps first when considering online sales. If you can make Amazon work for you with their various requirements and margin cuts, you’ll likely find it a great avenue to grow your business.”


Mobile Design

Websites don’t just “work” on mobile unless your platforms optimizes them accordingly.

“Considering that an increasing amount of shoppers are being more active on their mobile devices, it is critical to have a mobile specific site, or adaptive site, depending on the type of store and complexity of product,” says Murad.

“In today’s world, we have quickly moved to a mobile first approach to design and product, which will continue to grow. This allows discovery and growth in either e-commerce transactions or physical store visits.”

“There are almost no non-mobile friendly sites out there now,” says Brannon. “It has increased costs in design, development, and marketing, but there are ways to mitigate some of those (use of themes, mobile apps etc) effectively. I would encourage most retailers to consider a mobile-first strategy, especially in consumer products.”


Back End Integrations

Optimize inventory and shipping and a whole host of other critical capabilities across channels.

“Inventory management that allows clear visibility both online and offline is crucial,” says Murad. “Even if you don’t have an online presence today, it is important to begin to build systems that talk to each other, so you can clearly see stock levels, purchase patterns, as well as match both in-store and online purchases to single customers.”

“[Retailers] may want to consider how their POS or accounting software handles taxes, and shipping rate estimations and how that is supported or not supported in their e-commerce solution,” says Brannon.

“If they’re also using multiple warehouses for inventory for e-commerce and storefronts, they need to consider if their e-commerce solution will be drawing from the total inventory or particular locations only.”


To put these capabilities into context, think about how they positively impact specific steps in the online purchase experience.

Purchase Process for Online Stores
Other key features to keep in mind include:

 

SEO optimization Ensure your pages are optimized to be discovered by key searches on Google and marketplace search engines.
Audience segmentation Segment website audience based on demographic data like language, currency, regions, and customer types.
Product search Enable tags and labels so that customers can easily discover new products on your store’s site.
Flexible pricing Easily adjust and offer discounts on prices for sales and special events.

 

An Online Retail Business Is More Than Just a Website

Starting an online retail business is more than just launching a website, to the degree that we’ve intentionally omitted that part from this article. It’s a process that’s based largely on what platform, domain provider, and host provider that you choose to go with.

And as such it’s largely a one-off project (but do please feel free to reach out to me at justinguinn@softwareadvice.com if you have questions about this part of the journey).

What we want you to get out of this are the key features and considerations that need to be made regarding your software investments. These will have far greater impact on your operation than a URL ever will. But again, your business (be it online and/or in-store) is bigger than the software that powers it.

“It starts with customer management,” Murad says. “Understanding who is shopping, how often, what they are buying, and being able to recognize and remember their purchase history, tastes, etc. This will ensure that you and your team always keep the customer top of mind, and the insights will help with future merchandising decisions as well. Integration with loyalty systems is also important, to be able to say ‘thank you’.”

It’s crucial that you keep the customer experience in mind throughout the purchase journey, be it in-store, through your site, or through some other channel.

Customer Experience Roadmap

Process for continually refining the customer experience

The above customer experience roadmap highlights the necessary steps for measuring and optimizing your operation’s customer experience. This should be a perpetual process for your operation. It’s less a process and more a culture you can build your employees around.

And the same mentality is true for ensuring that your social media strategy is optimized to bring in the most revenue.

Social media marketing is a critical step for your store, physical and online. Social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter give you greater reach than anything else. These platforms are already optimized for mobile, and you can now sell directly from them (depending on your e-commerce platform).

This checklist will help you optimize your social media marketing efforts:

Download checklist

But just because you’re starting an online business doesn’t mean you can’t meld the experience together with your current physical store.

“More and more,” Murad says, “we see physical retailers with an e-commerce presence, having customers ‘pick-up in store’. This is a convenient way for consumers to shop, without the hassle of delivery, but also ensuring the merchandise they want is in stock. It’s also great for a retailer because they can add that personal level of service along with any other product suggestions in a way that is more difficult—but not impossible—in a digital environment.”

And while “buy online, pick-up in store” is an easy trend for a small retailer to employ, Brannon emphasizes a focus on future interplays between online and in-store experiences.

“Small business retailers need to be watching ‘augmented retail’, my take on augmented reality,” Brannon says. “How can you take some of the advantages of e-commerce and bring them in store? How can you reverse that process and take the in store advantages to e-commerce? Are there ways to show/accommodate more of the in store experience on the site? Can you get some of the advantageous content from an e-commerce site to the store (reviews, coupon codes, membership programs or rewards etc.)?”

Next Steps To Get You Selling Online

Now that you’ve seen the key feature and considerations you need for creating an online store as well as a couple omnichannel ideas, what’s next?

  • Explore user reviews from your e-commerce peers and check out our Reviewer’s Choice rankings to see just how these systems stack up against others.

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