For many brick and mortar small business owners, the challenges transitioning an existing brick and mortar store to online sales can be daunting. Beyond the technical aspects of building and maintaining the online store, there are also the challenges of managing orders and inventory; handling customer queries, complaints, and reviews; and properly marketing the store.
Ecommerce vs Brick and Mortar
The first step in embracing Ecommerce is in understanding both the differences and similarities between brick and mortar, and online business. In most regards, they are more similar than different and with the right mindset, your current business experience and understanding of your customer base will be directly applicable. But let’s go over some fundamental differences that may not be too readily apparent.
The World is Your New Customer Base
For most every brick and mortar business, the customer base is basically only people who are in the vicinity of the storefront. Some businesses serve the local community, some are focused on tourists or visitors from elsewhere, and some a combination of both. But an online business can serve anyone anywhere in the world! You can think of it like opening a new store in every town on the planet where there is a computer.
If you’ve ever had a shop full of customers while the phone is ringing off the hook and then a delivery guy shows up, then you know how frustrating it can be to have your attention pulled in too many directions. One huge advantage online stores have over physical stores is that the vast majority of the communication and fulfillment is asynchronous – meaning you don’t have to respond right away as you would if someone was on the phone or standing right in front of you.
This not only will make the transition into online sales easier for you and your employees, but you will find that as your online business grows, time can be used far more efficiently. For example, if your online business begins to take off, you can bring in a nighttime online shipping manager and crew to process orders and prepare the next day’s shipment for pickup. This frees up the day to devote to in-store customer service and sales – and means that your business can generate revenue 24 hours a day, yet you can still keep your same physical business hours for your walk-in customers.
Lower Overhead and Higher Profits
While adding an Ecommerce aspect to your existing business may require a large initial outlay of funds, the maintenance of the technical aspects of an online store are relatively inexpensive compared to running a brick and mortar store. Labor is also used more efficiently since there is little time spent creating and maintaining product displays and engaging with window shoppers. All you really need is a computer, some table space, and additional storage space for shipping supplies and inventory (you may find you need a lot more inventory to handle the additional sales!)
In many cases, online retailers utilize drop shipping opportunities with distributors and manufacturers taking away the hassles of physically handling goods and keeping inventory. This strategy can come with its own set of challenges though, depending on shipping and payment agreements with the other party. So do your due diligence before signing up with a drop shipping program.
Retailers adding Ecommerce to their existing physical stores usually recoup the investment in web development and related online sales costs pretty quickly. If the existing website and hosting for the physical store is modern, fairly robust, and can support an online store, this can considerably help to keep the costs of adding an online store to an absolute minimum.
Challenges for New Online Business Owners
Without a doubt, the biggest hurdle for brick and mortar store owners entering into the world of online business is marketing. This is what can make or break any online business and with so much of commerce taking place online these days, the competition for new eyeballs is furious.
If your brick and mortar store gets a degree of tourist traffic or even the occasional traveler from other places, then you already have your foot in the door for building an online audience. The key will be focusing on social media – utilizing both organic engagement and paid advertising. It can take a long time to build up on online following, so patience is everything. It will become apparent pretty quickly that your most valuable marketing asset is your time. Use it wisely and know that the more time you put in, the quicker the results will come.
For stores with little online presence and only a local clientele, it can take quite a long time – even years – before an online business begins to really take off. Spending heavily on online paid advertising is the most effective way to jumpstart an online business, but it can be ridiculously expensive and once the ads stop, so does the new business. We encourage our clients to take a much more cost effective and patient approach where any money spent is actually a long-term investment into the success of the online business. This is done through carefully crafted content, a strong focus on search engine optimization (SEO), and close monitoring of analytics. Just like building a clientele for a brick and mortar business, creating a following online will take some time and effort – and a firm belief that if you build it, they will come.
Technical Issues in Ecommerce
Probably the biggest deterrent to any brick and mortar business owner thinking about adding an online sales component is the technical side of the equation. Setting up an online storefront with a safe and secure payment gateway can seem daunting. Especially when you take into account that you will be handling your customers personal and financial data. Scary stuff!
This is where hiring a professional can really save you a lot of money and grief in the long run. If mistakes are made in setting up the store (for example it being set up on an outdated and insecure platform) then all that initial outlay of money and time was for nought. You not only want to have your store set up securely from the get go, but you also want to make sure it is very user friendly for you and your staff. Having the ability to manage the store with your existing staff without having to call the developer for help every few days is critical to your bottom line. Make sure you have a good developer in your corner who is well versed in both Ecommerce and online security.
If you need help adding ecommerce to your business, the Blink;Tech team can help! We can handle all aspects of bringing your online business to life including building the store, keeping it secure, and helping you market your new business. If you are ready to take the leap into online commerce, give us a call at (941) 548-9950 or drop us a note below!