Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers were moving their spending online.
Ecommerce sales now represent a significant chunk of overall retail sales growth in the U.S. $600 billion in online sales made up 56% of overall retail growth in 2019, and that number could soar to as high as $6.5 trillion in 2023, according to projections.
The pandemic has accelerated the growth of ecommerce due to shutdowns, limited hours, and reduced capacity in stores across the country. Research from Software Advice found that one in four small and midsize retailers have launched an ecommerce store as a result of COVID-19.
Having an online store is not just an additional revenue stream for your retail business—it’s essential for survival. This article covers key considerations when starting your ecommerce business, with a focus on the key tech you need: ecommerce software.
Choose an ecommerce platform that integrates with your tech
Before launching an ecommerce store, you may be thinking, “How am I supposed to connect my ecommerce store with my brick-and-mortar store? Do I need to hire someone to help me integrate the two?”
One easy solution is to find an ecommerce platform that integrates seamlessly with your in-store POS. This critical integration will set a foundation for the success of your overall retail business operations.
The biggest mistake retailers can make when it comes to picking out an ecommerce platform is to ignore the need to integrate it with their existing POS and techstack.
Many retailers prioritize POS over ecommerce and find that they shortchange their operations overall.
Jordan Brannon, president at Coalition Technologies
Our recommendation: Prep for your pick
There are a few steps to take to ensure this integration is seamless:
List your existing techstack. You want your channels to communicate seamlessly with one another, so that a purchase on your ecommerce system automatically updates your sales, inventory, and customer data. This minimizes manual labor and human error.
Ask your vendor about what an ecommerce POS integration would look like. Whether you’re adopting your first POS system or looking to upgrade, talk to your vendor about how your online store would connect to your POS and what necessary hardware and software you’ll need. Depending on your needs, you may need to update your POS systems to manage transactions online and offline.
Ask about an API. “If either the POS or ecommerce solution does not have an API, consider it a non-starter,” says Brannon. “A pre-built app, extension, or direct integration should also be prioritized between the two, since that can mean a savings of tens of thousands of dollars.” You have enough to worry about as a small retailer trying to launch an online store. You don’t need to be managing two different systems while getting your online store off the ground.
Pick the features that matter to you in an ecommerce platform
Picking software with the right set of ecommerce features will let you spend less time managing your online store and more time with customers and employees.
Below are a few core features you should expect in any ecommerce system.
|Feature||What it does|
|Inventory management||Tracks quantities and locations of products. Your ideal ecommerce system should sync with in-store and online sales to create one transparent inventory for all channels.|
|Order fulfillment||Manages the logistics of moving an order from inventory to delivery. Includes estimating shipping and handling costs.|
|Shipping management||Populates shipping and handling rates. Sends customer delivery information to third-party shipping providers.|
|Cart management||Enables visitors to save and manage items for purchase during the online shopping process. Supports checkout and purchase completion.|
|Marketplace integration||Grow your business by managing the sales of products across ecommerce marketplaces such as Amazon, Ebay, and Etsy.|
|Mobile commerce||Nearly 60% of searches are done on mobile devices. Having a platform that allows customers to easily access your website and make a purchase on their mobile device—either on a browser or app—is key.|
|Customer relationship management||Provides email marketing, search engine optimization tools, customer/product reviews, social media integration, and customer profiles.|
|Backend integrations||Having apps that “talk” to one another can go a long way in unifying in-store and online purchases. Some popular types of plugins include email marketing, accounting, customer management, and loyalty management.|
Our recommendation: Narrow your search even more
To further narrow down your search, start looking beyond features and capabilities. Other things you’ll need to consider include:
Pricing and payment methods. Does monthly or annual fees work best for your business? Are there additional fees associated with your platform that you need to know about? You’d also want to decide which forms of payment you’ll accept from customers.
Level of customer service. There comes a time in every business when your website will crash at the worst possible time, leading to a loss of revenue and—worst of all—unhappy customers. Having someone to help get things up and running whenever you need is crucial for your ecommerce business.
Things to ask: Does the vendor provide 24/7 customer support? What types of support are offered? Will you be able to contact them via phone or live chat? Make sure you understand what you’re getting before signing on the dotted line.
By integrating in-store and ecommerce channels, you can:
- Deliver a unified shopping experience
- Digitize time-consuming internal tasks
- Automate key business processes
- Personalize customer experiences
These benefits likely seem attractive—let’s see how they might be attainable in practice.
What does unified retail look like?
Let’s start with an example of Lindsey who’s shopping for a new furniture set at Love2Seat.
- After making her purchase at the store, the sales assistant takes her email address and creates a customer profile, which Love2Seat’s marketing and customer service teams can now access.
- Love2Seat’s marketing department follows up with a personalized 25% off welcome email with other similar furniture product recommendations to match her latest purchase.
- The offer couldn’t be more timely. Lindsey makes a discounted purchase of a side table to compliment her new couch set.
- The new side table arrives but much to her disappointment, Lindsey discovers a scratch on the surface of the table. She calls customer service who is then able to resolve the issue based on her purchase history and details. A new side table is delivered, along with discount vouchers for their online store.
The above is an example of what unified retail looks like, and the level of customer experience you’ll be able to provide customers with both in-store and online retail options.
Our recommendation: Consider the future of your business
A unified retail experience is a journey, not a destination. Here’s what you’ll be thinking about down the road:
Shared customer data on a single platform across channels. Prioritize customer experience by ensuring that all customer interactions across channels are connected. This means sharing data on one platform with visibility across sales, customer service, sales and marketing in order to cultivate a personalized experience for your customer.
An ecommerce/POS platform with AI-driven automation. Predictive intelligence can help you target the right customers, know when and where to reach them, as well as what deals and information are the most effective and useful for your customer.
A scalable platform. As your business needs evolve, you’d want to consider a platform that grows with you–one that allows you to introduce new applications and websites without slowing down the rest of your business.
Ready to start your search for an ecommerce platform?
Visit Software Advice’s ecommerce software directory to read what real buyers are saying about the software you’re considering.