If your online store has experienced impressive levels of growth, you might be wondering what’s next? You want to keep expanding your business, but it’s important to do so wisely. Before making any moves, it’s essential to consider the needs of your customers and what really makes sense for the next stage of your business. If you’re thinking about expanding your e-commerce store into retail, first make sure your online store has achieved all its capabilities.
Managing e-commerce growth
It’s exciting when your e-commerce store experiences a period of rapid growth, but it can also be very stressful if you don’t have the proper tools in place to manage it. Keep the following features in mind when creating a strategy to handle a surge in orders:
- E-commerce platform: Not only does a good e-commerce platform make your website appear professional, further legitimizing your company, it also helps you to better manage a growing business. For example, the Shopify platform doubles as a Content Management System (CMS), creates detailed customer profiles, accepts currency from around the globe, offers unlimited bandwidth, and so much more. It’s easy to upgrade features as you need them, so your store can grow with your customers.
- Inventory management: The absence of a good inventory management system can bring your growing business to a halt. Paul Demery, chief technology editor at Internet Retailer, wrote the post “How a Two-Store Chicago Boutique Handles E-commerce Growth,” on Chicago-based Merz Apothecary. The store had a difficult time processing more than 200 orders a day, before upgrading to an inventory management system from Celerant Technology Corp. The store can now fulfill up to 1,000 orders per day and the inventory management system offers estimates on how long may take for fulfillment and when out-of-stock items will become available. Not only does this allow Merz Apothecary to increase sales, but they’re also able to provide better customer service.
- Customer service: When customers have a question or concern, they want to be able to contact your company immediately. If your customer service team isn’t large enough to respond to customer inquiries within a maximum of one to two days, expect a lot of unsatisfied customers. As your store grows, your customer service team also needs to expand.
Strategize carefully before moving to brick-and-mortar
If your e-commerce business experiences a great deal of success, you might consider expanding your operations to include a traditional brick-and-mortar store. Many immensely popular e-commerce companies like Piperlime, Warby Parker, Balsam Hill, Clearly Contacts, BaubleBar, and Our Baby Our World have recently begun to do so.
Clearly Contacts is an example of a company that made the transition right. Since its founding in 2000, the company has been very successful, both in its native Canada and throughout the world. However, despite this success, the company only experienced five percent growth in 2012. Roger Hardy, the founder and CEO, decided to open a brick-and-mortar store to gain the business of customers who want to try on frames before buying or don’t want to risk entering prescription data online.
Hardy began his brick-and-mortar venture slowly, opening just one location in Vancouver. The initial store was so successful, that he plans to open a larger one nearby, in addition to other locations in key Canadian cities in Europe. Hardy believes that customers should have the ability to be served wherever they want — in store, online, smartphone — and this attention to customer service may help him to reach his goal of Clearly Contacts becoming the leader in the eyewear industry.
If you’re thinking of expanding your e-commerce business into a brick-and-mortar, take the following ideas into consideration when creating your strategy:
- Create a “guideshop” like Bonobos, where a very limited stock of colors and sizes are kept in store for customers to try on and actual purchases are shipped to their homes.
- Make shopping at your store a social event, creating an emotional experience for customers.
- Choose a location off the beaten path to save on rent, as you can rely on your already established brand to draw customers in.
E-commerce retailers can operate their brick-and-mortar according to their own rules. Many have fewer staff, less inventory, and are only open limited hours — but this is enough to satisfy customers looking for an in-person experience. Operate your store by what works best for you, not traditional retailers.
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