Why Should High Street Retailers Trade Online
How many of you cried when much-loved high street retailers HMV, Blockbuster Video and Jessops closed their doors (*Hand up* Although it seems HMV is back in business). The battle between in-store and online is fierce, yet retailers who have failed to break into the digital market have struggled to compete. As aptly put by Leon C. Megginson (Para-phrasing Darwin) “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.’
#1. Don’t risk extinction – The tip here is simple; explore what digital can do for your retail business.
#2. There’s a LOT of profit to be made when trading online – Global figures vary from site to site, but according to comScore, US sales hit $56.8 million in 2012.
Total ecommerce spend within Ireland was 2.96 billion in 2010 and rose to 4.1 billion in 2011. 2.6 million Irish people who regularly shop online.
#3. While your online store should not be seen as a way to make an easy euro/dollar/pound, it should be seen as a means of accessing an online audience with a view to lowering overheads, building loyalty and adding to your reputation.
Researching your Online Store
Setting up an online store is a BIG decision that requires thought, dedication and solid research. While the costs overall are much lower than running a physical store, success at the initial stage is dependent on financial input and good decisions. But don’t let cost be the ultimate deal breaker, millions of retailers are online and if they can achieve profitability, then they must be doing something right.
Competition: Are there people already selling what you want to sell online? Competition for physical stores is usually geographically located nearby. Competitors for online retailers can be anywhere. Global location has less importance online, although it does throw up issues when sending items and legalities for international trading.
#4. In terms of competition, make a list of brands/companies that sell what you do and look at their web presence – Note layout, design, what they sell, interesting features and product information. Document and go through this with the e-commerce project team.
#5. Pay particular attention to competitor pricing, incentives, discounts and offers – Often, people shop online to purchase at a lower rate, so it’s imperative that you can compete.
#6. How are they performing via social media accounts and search engines? – Is there plenty of activity and a strong following? Always analyse the marketing presence of your competition and take note of what they are doing – well or otherwise. Are they appearing for the searches you wish to appear for?
What kind of demand is there for the products you stock?
#7. Demand may be high in-store, but could be low online – Trends are more rapid online and searches tend to coinside with seasons, events, occasions and pop culture. If you sell fashion-wear, watch the celebs and what they wear and get it online quick smart. Make sure you have enough stock to deal with demand and that this is set up correctly on the website.
#8. It is notoriously difficult to sell one-off, completely custom items online – Not impossible, but difficult. Analyse your business and what you sell to see if online selling will equal online profit. One online business that sells customised items is Irish Made Gifts.
Do you have an online strategy? Is there anybody in the company who is really web savvy who can take ownership over the e-Commerce store and online strategy?
#9. Think of an e-Commerce store like a new branch of your shop – It will need staff and constant work being done to it for as long as it is live on the web. That includes upgrades and fixes, adding, removing and editing products, updating content, optimizing content, graphic design and marketing tasks.
We talk more on ‘Marketing’ further on ….
After assessing costs and deciding on a platform, analyzing your competition and considering who will take ownership, you must then give this person/team the responsibility of creating an online strategy. The purpose of the strategy is to establish the direction of the online business, along with the core objectives and steps to be carried out. A main business strategy is usually teamed with specific strategies for marketing and sales, all feeding into the same overall objectives.
#10. The first step is to devise a strategy.
#11. Customers, message and media are the core areas for strategic development.
#12. A huge part of your strategy will encompass content marketing.
#13. Caireen Wackett suggests unifying PR as part of your online strategy.
#14. Channel marketing allows you to dissect your marketing, so create deep strategies for all online channels:
- Content strategy
- Social media strategy
- Email strategy
Building Your Online Store
It’s easy to get caught up in the design and forget other costs in the process, such as web server space, security certificates, management fees, Paypal, etc. Here’s a set of ‘mini cost tips’.
#15. Your hosting (the place your website is kept) and your domain name (like ‘tweakyourbiz.com’), relates to every website – Letshost (letshost.ie from €18 p/m for ecommerce sites) and Blacknight (blacknight.com from €3.34 p/m for a small shop) in Ireland. GoDaddy in the US. To purchase a yearly domain is around €10. A note on hosting – the type of server you select must relate to how transactions occur. See Tip 8. (All prices correct as of 20th November 2013).
#16. Payment Gateways have a cost too and these allow you to transact via credit cards and debit cards – Paypal (cost options), Realex, Worldpay, Sage pay.
#17. Dependant on your set up and platform, you may require a payment system like Magento or OS Commerce to create an e-commerce website.
#18. Look at your SSL Certificates (security) – They are required by law if you’re processing transactions on your website and you are storing card details (if only for a short while). This cert is a warranty and to create a secure page for transactions (it encrypts the user details – https). This applies if you use Realex, WorldPay or Sagepay. If you ONLY use Paypal and a user is transferred to the Paypal website to conduct the actual transaction, a SSL cert is not required. If you need an SSL cert, you also need a dedicated server (non-shared) and these will cost more per month. Thawte and Verisign are the main SSL cert providers and the cost is around €250 – €900 for the year (All prices correct as of 20th November 2013).
#19. Plus of course there’s your development costs (from around €1500 up) – Shop around and spend time chatting about the project needs, projections and scale-ability – the right development should suit your needs, understand the specification and be knowledgeable enough to recommend.
Platforms? So you’ve checked out the competition, you’ve investigated who you’re about to compete against and align with in terms of searches, but which platforms did they use? Would you know what they were? There’s choice for a reason and generally this is down to: Style, options, integrations, cost/payment options, open source, future-proofing and usability. WordPress, OpenCart, Shopify and Drupal are all stellar eCommerce platforms, but each has different strengths and weaknesses depending on your specific requirements. The tip here is to use the skills of a web consultant to provide a neutral viewpoint, OR speak to developers who cover various e-Commerce CMS and always ask for examples so that you can see what their final product looks like.
#20. Ask about each platform – what it costs, what it can do, how easy it is to update the products and landing pages, will it integrate with Mailchimp (or other) for email sign ups? How do you upload products? Can you automatically sync with parcel companies, or can you set up exactly the type of shipping you need? Is there a dashboard for analytics and sales? How far can you customize your store? Is there a set up cost? Are there recurring fees for the platform usage or for add-on products? All critical questions that can be answered with the aid of a consultant or sales person at a development agency.
#21. Take a look at the platform sites too and make notes – check that they have what you need. Below are some of the main ones.
#22. Research WordPress – WordPress is one of the most popular platforms and is extremely user friendly. You can edit standard themes, or purchase professional themes (and have these customised).
- Theme Forest
- Elegant Themes: WordPress as standard is fine for basic websites, but it’s the ‘add ons’ that give it an edge for e-commerce shops.
- Woo Commerce: Has the most incredible themes for styling your website
- WO Commerce is a plugin that will provide additional e-commerce functionability
#23. Research OpenCart – OpenCart is a fully inclusive e-commerce platform with many features as standard. You may need to pay for ‘Extensions’ for custom/enhanced features.
#24. Research Shopify – Shopify is the shop for beginners ….and experts. Easy to set up and includes a secure shopping cart and SSL certificate (security payments). If you have a retail outlet, then Shopify’s POS system will sync your entire inventory, prices, etc.
A GOOD design can make or break an e-commerce website. There are a wealth of elements to consider when developing a website.
#25. When planning the design of your website, you will need to take into account:
- Navigation and usability
- Stylistic elements (and branding)
The trick is to create a balanced website that meets the expectations of your target market. From a user perspective it should be clear what you are offering and the purchasing process should be seamless.
#26. Further tips on design:
- Branding and what to focus on
- Design for the shopper
- Gallery of inspirational e-commerce websites
Look at some of the high street retailers and popular online stores:
#27. Use keywords to investigate competitors – If you sell baby clothes, search baby clothes and see what results pop up. Those near the top (not including ads or large brands) are worthy of deeper analysis and work as useful sites to share with developers. This applies to naming conventions too – note what competitors are calling similar products and compare against your keyword research data.
#28. Statistics show that products WITH images are more likely to sell – so upload an image (ideally a few) for each product you sell. Fashion retailers in particular will use function-ability to zoom in and videos to show the products in action.
#29. Just because you sell it in-store doesn’t mean you should sell it online – Also, there are limitations in-store (space) that can be overcome when selling online. Some items are difficult to ship due to bulk or break-ability. Be selective with the items you sell and clear on where you can ship them. Stores such as Littlewoods Ireland and Next offer store pick up.
#30. When adding products, the description must cover all details – sizes, colors, important details, materials, etc. Also include reviews and sharing buttons to encourage visitors to interact and make purchasing decisions.
#31. Conversion optimization is the process by which the path of a sale is analysed and adjusted to increase total sales – The steps from selecting an item to entering details and making the purchase are all points that a user can ‘drop off’ or cease to continue the sale. Keeping this process simple will help the sales progress to completion.
#32. Use user accounts to store details and save time on repeat purchases – Wish lists are also handy for users to store items and purchase later.
The User Experience
The trick to creating a lively and profitable e-commerce store is to provide a positive user experience. The user should have no issues navigating the website, finding what they need and making an efficient transaction.
#33. Some simple tips to help users navigate.
#34. Knowing what NOT to do in relation to the user experience, is just as important as knowing what you should do.
#35. The user experience ties in with design, and an effective experience – it helps to keep your bounce rate (those that click on the site, then instantly off the site) low.
#36. Track the user experience and understand the behaviours of visitors better by filtering results – In your website analytics and consider eyeball tracking research.
More on monitoring and analytics later …
Marketing (On-site) The phase ‘build it and they will come’ is a memorable one. Unfortunately, it definitely isn’t the case with a website. In a sea of sites, how will your website impact and grab the attention of prospective customers? Marketing your website using both online techniques and offline techniques will
#37. We may keep harping on about strategy, but all roads do lead back to planning – Planning how you will strategically deliver results means analyzing what you need to achieve and pinpointing how to get there.
#38. Is it just good old design that makes one site stand out from another, or is there a magical extra that adds some buzz? – An overlay of marketing-orientated messages will aid the experience and ensure customers are knowledgeable of offers, promotions, competitions and much more.
#39. Multi-channel marketing in retail is all about touch points – From the website to mobile, the physical store and offline media like catalogues. With each channel, there is opportunity to cross market and sync online and offline.
#40. Marketing encompasses the clever use of feature-rich additions and ‘add ons’ – like slides (that change and link to website pages), the ability to add voucher/promotional codes when purchasing online and the use of store credit. Highlighting savings like free delivery for purchases over €/$/£ XX can quickly turn up the volume of a total sale.
#41. Click and Collect is by far one of the best offerings – allows you to purchase online and choose a store to pick up the item from.
#42. Clever marketing is fresh and themed – using seasons and events as a steer for content is excellent at driving real-time sales like Littlewoods adding a Christmas background image and additional menu.
#43. Customized content utilizing user accounts or past behaviors (big data) not only improves loyalty, but also drives consistent sales.
#44. Interactive Marketing techniques support online efforts like BA’s new outdoor adverts.
Mobile and M-Commerce
The use of mobile devises and tablets is soaring across the globe and retail is especially popular on devices. Eric Daly (DMI Mobile Marketing Conference, Dublin 2013) noted that 82% of people have researched a product via their mobile and 67% that view a mobile-friendly site will most likely buy/use the service.
#45. Plan your mobile website strategy – (that darn word again!) Mobile websites require slicker menus and a cleaner feel. The screens are much smaller too.
#46. Get the right information on mobile commerce and preparing your website (m-commerce)
#47. Understand what responsive design is and what it means for mobile websites.
#48. Optimise for your mobile website users.
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Content is king online, that’s the layout of content, content formats, how content is formatted, how copy is written and how well optimized your content is. Unique, well-written, branded copy with prominent calls to action. Consistent tone of voice
#49. Create a content strategy – According to a report by the Content Marketing Institute, nearly half of B2B marketers have no content strategy and more than half of B2C marketers haven’t one either. Content calendars, collaboration tools and measuring results are top notch tips … And even more content strategy tips.
#50. Writing content is an art form, but you can learn how.
#51. High quality content means merging SEO techniques with your writing to ensure you rise above your online competitors.
#52. As search engines adore fresh content, it makes sense to use a content stream as a way of producing consistent content – One that springs to mind is blogging. Blogging tips are rife, so here are a good few posts with the best tips:
- 13 Blogging tips
- Blogging Tips for Small Businesses
#53. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) impacts on purchasing patterns – this report by Nielson shows that half of all [surveyed] respondents (50%) said they would be willing to reward companies that give back to society by paying more for their goods and services. Be aware of CSR and how to publicize the good social work you are doing as a company.
#54. Don’t forget product reviews!
#56. Content is just restricted to text, multi-media is encouraged to attract and keep visitors entertained and interested – Videos, photos, presentations, etc. all fall within this category.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is all about being seen in (search engine results pages) SERPS for a user search – The ideal scenario is your site being top for all desired searches….. but to achieve this result takes a whole lot of online genius….including the following:
#57. While search engine algorithms constantly change (see tip 58), the inclusion of high-value keywords is still a strong part of the content writing (and guiding) process – MOZ has some cool tips here on keyword research, plus a SEO Starter Guide.
#58. Staying up-to-date with search engine changes – Like Google’s latest (Sept 2013) algorithm Hummingbird, will help you maintain those prominent spots.
#59. Lots of wonderful tips on SEO and how to drive traffic to your online store.
#60. And the effect of social media on
#61. For developers, much of the SEO foundations are built in at the beginning and via technical tools.
Security – We have grown to depend on the internet and technology. I can hardly remember the days before mobile phones or even the basic dial up connection. But with technology comes great responsibility (or.. something like that). Fraud is rife. According to Nominet, 12 million items of personal data was traded online Jan-March 2013 alone.
#62. For start-ups, fraud is a topic that can overshadow the excitement of an online store build – Trustev provide some great tips on fraudulent activity. They also offer an e-commerce verification service.
#63. WordPress is just one of many platforms available to you as a store owner. It’s important to stay aware of how to secure your website against hackers.
#64. Top tips for securing your website files (or checking your development team have!)
Innovation and Trends
Being innovative and trend-driven can leverage you as a brand or business, buy you some serious PR love and inspire a following online.
#65. Innovating means evolving and educating yourself with all the ecommerce consideratiosn and trends, so take a deep breath ..
#66. Guerilla marketing promotes the idea of free and low-budget marketing.
#67. Look to the big brands for innovative retailing:
- Tescos launched virtual stores in Korea and Gatwick Airport
- Burberry unleashed a digital store [VIDEO]
- BA got interactive with outdoor advertising
- Click and Collect took on a life of its own
- Amazon PrimeAir (drone deliveries)
Repetition breeds loyalty, so it makes perfect sense to bring repeat visitors to your site. But what is it that brings them back and again and again…?
#68. When considering loyalty schemes, make a checklist and truly understand your audience.
#69. Loyalty offers reward customers for purchases – A substantial amount of big brands have a loyalty card to reward loyal customers and this approach can be further used to push online sales by handing out in store online order incentives, or mailing them to recipients.
#70. Add visitors and customers to your mailing list – This can be an email sign up box on the website, plus you add a checkbox to the check-out process. You could even send a follow up email with confirmation of their order AND to see if they wish to sign up. The idea is to create a number of touch points for sign up (but don’t overdo it!)
#71. Exclusive deals for loyal customers make your customers feel special – You can send them invites to launches and store events, competition entries, deals, announcements and all sorts. The very best exclusives are those which allow customers to really interact with the brand. Ensure you monitor the results and responses to evaluate success.
#72. Coax them to follow you on Facebook, Twitter, etc – So that you can keep them apprised of everything that’s happening with the store.
#73. Personalise communications like Amazon – Amazon sends emails to customers about similar products to what they have purchased to encourage a buy. This data stems from a user account with purchase history.
Monitoring and Analytics
To understand how well your e-commerce website is performing, monitoring all visitor activity is essential. You can monitor what happens on your website, what brings customers TO your website and the retail online space in general.
#74. Create an analytics account – Google Analytics is publicly available and easy to get started on.
#75. Explore all the web analytics solutions – Like Webtrends, Enterprise Marketing Management (Coremetrics) and Adobe Marketing Cloud.
#76. Set up e-commerce tracking – Then evaluate what you want to analyse like total purchases, purchases by categories, profit, etc. You may need to customise a little to obtain the correct results. You will definitely need to add custom code to the website.
#77. Conversion optimisation – As mentioned before is about optimising the check out process to limit the number of drop offs and increase the number of sales. Analyse your check out process and use analytics to monitor drop offs.
#78. Track what streams bring traffic to your store – Like searches (SEO), advertising like PPC adverts, press releases, blog posts, banner adverts, emails, Facebook, Pinterest and websites you feature on.
#79. Using packages like Hitwise Experian – It adds an additional layer of intelligence to your consumer insights, it also lets you track vital data that you couldn’t access any other way like industry research and store traffic counting.
#80. Remember to filter out traffic from you and your team, so that your analytical reports are accurate.
#81. Append tracking code to your marketing campaigns to track them independently – Use the URL Builder to set them up.
#82. Connect your Google Analytics and Google Adwords accounts – So that you can clearly see the contribution that your advertising makes to overall clicks and sales.
#83. For the more advanced, pay attention you’re your ‘multi-channels’ – Build custom reports on what channels pre-empt a purchase or which contribute (and how).
#84. Always assess metrics from ALL your campaigns like Facebook ads, Adwords ads, YouTube videos.
Adding a Touch of Social
#85. Use instagram to give your online store and customers a more real visual feel – ask purchasers to send pictures of themselves with products on via instagram hashtag or crowdsourced picture contest so you get a lot of visual content from buyers and then give them money off their next purchase if they show the product in use
#86. Ikea are exceptional at being social – Their ‘Share Space‘ website allows customers (and prospects) to share their own photos. That means that your customers become content curators for you!
#87. Experience marketing is highly entertaining and can be enacted in the ‘real world’ – It’s a prime social way to advertise your e-commerce store, although does take a huge amount of planning and training.
Going Forward – International Expansion
Selecting where to expand your e-commerce store may seem simple…..isn’t the website public after all? But your website is just the ‘front interface’. Selling internationally is a huge decision and you need to know the market.
#89. Assess your offering against the marketplace – Is there demand for your products? Are they amenable? What are the postage costs and can you transport them easily? Are there legal terms pertaining to your products, i.e., medication?
#90. Local, local, local. That’s the mantra for international expansion – don’t be a US website in Asia, be an Asian website from a US company. Keep all your international content local including products (as in, acceptable, useful and demand-driven for that location), currency/ies and legalities.
#91. Fraud detection and restrictions on promotions by country – these are additional features you’ll need to set up for an international store.
#92. Understand local cultures – Determine whether there’s a need to translate the website into the local or dominant language.
5 MUST HAVE E-commerce Site Tips from Store Owners and Agencies
#93. While Paypal is a fantastic tool for small businesses starting off, it can be a barrier to e-commerce – Many people don’t have Paypal accounts and don’t realise they can pay with Paypal without one. This could cost you sales. It can also imply ‘cottage industry/amateur’ to some, which turns some customers off. If you are looking to give the impression of serious e-commerce I feel getting a merchant account/payment gateway on your site is worth the time and money. Shop around and haggle on rates.
– Kate Hyde, Managing Director of Henparty.ie
#94. A rule to use when selling is that if something is new and unused sell for 50% the original price and if something is used sell for 33% of the original price. If something is not selling for you, reduce your price!
– Jill Holtz, Owner at My Kids Time
#95. Presumer / pretailing online helps you get people to input directly at buying or making stage before the eproduct comes to market – use crowdsourced models like fundit.ie for example to create impetus for a new crafted range or get people to input the trends they want to see in the next buying round.
Elish Bul-Godley, Copywriter and B2B Events Professional
#96. Make sure your customers always know exactly what is happening with their order – If it’s a gift let them know that it has been delivered.
– Amanda Webb, Owner of Spiderworking.com
#97. Ensure photography is really good, description is concise and yet contains all necessary details, as few clicks to purchase as possible – Have the pin it button now beside each product so people can add it to their own wish list on their Pinterest board if they don’t want to buy it now, (rich pins now for Pinterest too will include price details and stock levels etc and will update as necessary)
– Lorna Sixsmith, AKA IrishFarmette
Ultimate Guides and Reports
Ultimate guides and in-depth reports may take a while to read, but they contain juicy information on the retail space and e-commerce.
#98. Read the Ahain Group: E-commerce and the Digital Dynasty Report.
#99. Read Retail Excellence: Europe B2C Ecommerce Report.
#100. Read Econsultancy: How the Internet Can Save the High Street.
Phew! Any more tips to add?
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