How to Get Started in E-Commerce
In a continued effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, local and state governments have issued orders for nonessential businesses and establishments to close their doors. These orders, combined with the lack of consumers shopping in physical stores, have had a major impact on small businesses across the country. For brick-and-mortar small businesses that suddenly need to transition operations to e-commerce during this unprecedented time, there are several steps they should take:
1. Set up an online platform.
Begin by researching the platforms available to determine which best fits the needs of your business and your budget. If your business is transitioning to online for the first time, simplicity in functionality both on the back end and customer-facing features will likely be paramount. A good rule of thumb when deciding which platform is best for you is to keep in mind the following:
- How many products do you plan on selling? If you’re not planning to sell a lot of products, a simpler plan with lower rates may be suitable.
- What features do you need? Many businesses find it beneficial to include features that contribute to positive customer experiences, like customer loyalty plans, abandoned cart recovery, and more.
Note that during this time, your business may not have the luxury of conducting extensive research on multiple platforms. Fortunately, there are providers that offer out-of-the-box functionality that will enable you to get your basic store up and running quickly. Once you’ve identified a platform that works best for you, the next step is to decide on your domain name and get your account set up.
2. Determine which products you’ll sell online.
Given the timeliness of your efforts to transition store functions to e-commerce, it’s important to prioritize which products you’ll be selling online. You'll want to ensure that your most profitable and/or in-demand products are available for purchase when you launch your website. It can feel like you need to have every product in your store available immediately, but it’s important to get your online operations up and running then begin fulfilling orders while adding additional inventory.
3. Diversify your payment methods.
Setting up your accepted payment methods is a crucial part of converting a browser into a buyer. Consider which payment methods are the most commonly used by your customers, and accommodate for the largest number of customers. Thankfully, most e-commerce providers offer integrations with the most common payment methods, such as Visa, Mastercard, PayPal, Apple Pay, and more. If you’re still unsure of which payment methods you’ll need to accept, a good rule of thumb is to incorporate the same payment methods you offer through your in-store point-of-sale system.
4. Set up your shipping and returns functions.
Once you’ve outlined your products and set up payment methods, the next step is to ensure you can get products to customers. Your e-commerce platform capabilities should include shipping options, transparent shipping cost throughout the shopping experience, drop-shipping, printable shipping labels, and pre-setup shipping providers.
If you’re fulfilling orders yourself, consider using a shipping app, which helps automate shipping for merchants of all sizes, and offers small businesses discounted shipping rates with USPS, UPS, and FedEx. You can also leverage your storefront as a temporary fulfillment center during this time — it serves the dual benefit of getting products to your customers quickly while simultaneously ensuring all that in-store inventory doesn’t go to waste.
5. Plan your online marketing strategy with social media.
It’s critical that businesses overcommunicate the change in operations to ensure regular customers are aware of the new selling channel, and to capitalize on the expanded customer audience you can now reach. Use social media to tell your story and highlight the characteristics that make your small business stand out to consumers. Not only are consumers turning to social media to learn where they can continue making regular purchases during this time, but they’re especially inclined to support small businesses.
Another option when using social media is to go beyond your marketing efforts and consider using social selling platforms as a complement to your newly formed online store. Social media platforms are no longer just an avenue to increase brand awareness, but an opportunity to connect with consumers and make sales in the social threads they're already sifting through.
6. Preview, test and publish your store.
The final step to bringing your store online is to ensure every function of your site is operational. Double-check each function by asking yourself these questions:
- Does my checkout work? Make sure transactions are processed across all payment methods; your shipping options and charges are correct and visible; the items and price in your cart are correct; discounts/promotions apply correctly; and tax is calculated once customers enter their location.
- Is the content presented in a professional manner? Proofread all copy for spelling and grammar, and check multimedia content to ensure it's displaying correctly across the website.
- Does my store work on various channels and internet browsers? Test your online site for functionality across channels to ensure that you’re not turning away potential customers who are unable to access your site. Mobile is an important experience to always get right.
E-commerce provides a viable alternative that allows business owners to keep their operations up and running. Fortunately, the technology that exists today allows even the smallest of businesses to quickly ramp up online operations, reaching a broader audience and incorporating all the necessary functions needed to provide a comprehensive, frictionless online shopping experience.
Megan Higgins is the general manager of marketplaces at Avalara, software for automated tax compliance.
Related story: 2020 Retail Technology Report