Going Digital: How Brick-and-Mortar Retailers Can Set Up an Online Shop

Ron Dodby Ron Dod

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Everyone knows it’s happening. The statistics speak for themselves.

Brick-and-mortar retailers are experiencing severe challenges in the face of the digital eCommerce revolution. In 2018, at least 13 different major retailers declared bankruptcy. Among the big brands that survived, many were forced to shut down stores across the country. The phenomenon has become so widespread that media outlets have dubbed it the “Retail Apocalypse,” proclaiming that another 75,000 stores will close down by 2026.

Fueling the collapse of brick-and-mortar locations is the ever-increasing demand for quick, convenient and customized online shopping experiences that continue to deliver tremendous year-over-year growth for eCommerce stores.

However, amidst the carnage, some retailers are finding ways to adapt and evolve with the times. Many of the previously purely physical outlets are expanding their presence into the digital realm. By doing so, merchants are saving their stores from a financial catastrophe as Amazon and other digital natives force corporeal closures.

For those who feel the storm approaching and are ready to move their goods online, here is how to make the move to selling products online.

Signs that Time Is Running Out

Understandably, some may be hesitant to make such a major leap in business models. 

We get it. It’s scary.

sand running through hourglass

However, far worse fates await those who fail to heed the following signs that it’s time to go digital.

Shrinking Sales

When contemplating moving to a digital format, retailers should examine their sales numbers.

If merchants see a consistent uptick in revenue, their time and energy very well might be better spent on enhancing their current tactics. 

However, if sales figures continue to fall, it is high time to explore alternatives that might be more lucrative. 

Through launching a digital storefront, many sellers can supplement their sales and maintain operations while figuring out how to grow digital sales to eclipse physical purchases and reduce business expenses.

Competitors Go Online

While consistently following in the footsteps of rival brands is never a wise decision as a business owner, it is crucial to keep tabs on the strategies oppositional businesses employ and if those tactics produce growth.

If retailers see many of their competitors setting up shop online, that is a sign that it is a good idea for them to do the same.

An Appetite for Expansion

Not all reasons for going digital are negative. Some merchants might have a firm standing in their communities, yet still desire to grow their business to reach new audiences in new locations. 

However, opening more brick-and-mortar shops is a resource-heavy and risky endeavor. Setting up an online store, on the other hand, is a comparatively quick and inexpensive process.

An eCommerce store enables retailers to open their doors to global possibilities while employing a fraction of the time, energy and finances needed to do so in the physical world.

With that said, let’s explore the necessary steps for setting up an eCommerce store.

signs that time is running out graphic

Select a Sales Platform

One of the most critical decisions sellers will make in their move online is which eCommerce platform they will utilize.

There are many considerations to mull over when sifting through the top eCommerce platforms

The chosen service provider or platform should be capable of displaying products appealingly, possess a user-friendly interface for visitors and administrators alike, feature analytics data, provide robust SEO elements and anything else that retailers deem necessary.

Some other things to consider when picking the right platform are:

  • The cost of site ownership
  • Ease of use
  • Extent of customization options
  • Scalability limits (or lack thereof)
  • Number of products that can be hosted
  • Security options
  • Technical support options
  • Mobile adaptiveness
  • Third-party integration options

Do not make this choice lightly as this is the backbone of the brand’s online existence. 

Determine the Domain Name

The next challenge (and challenge is the right word) is to craft and obtain a domain name that speaks to the brand and/or the products it sells.

entering domain name concept

Practically speaking, there are two ways to approach this task:

  1. Cultivate a clever, catchy, SEO-oriented domain that speaks to the audience’s needs (e.g., www.runningmate.com for athletic shoe retailers)
  2. Simply use the company’s current name

Each of these approaches has its respective pros and cons.

SEO-focused domains enable retailers to rebrand their eCommerce store and craft an online existence that is optimized for search rankings. On the other hand, all the brand awareness a business has built over the years is lost.

When sticking with the brand’s current name, it may not be optimized for online experiences, but those who are familiar with the brand can find it easily.

Pick Which Products to Place Online

Physical retailers often possess a wide array of products. However, it is a foolish decision to immediately place all the items a retailer offers online at launch.

Ideally, merchants should curate a selection of merchandise that appeals to a broader audience. For those who sell an assortment of products, try to narrow down the online inventory options to the top 100 best-selling items for the business.

When making the selections, aim to harvest products that are:

  • Top sellers in the brick-and-mortar location(s)
  • Receiving special requests several times per month

By taking this approach, merchants can start out appealing to a broader audience rather than an extremely niche subset of customers. As time goes on, retailers can refine their offerings based on what sells online and get more specific with the audience they serve.

Spy on the Competition

Again, it isn’t the best decision to always be one step behind rival brands. However, when first starting out online, it is necessary to take a look at what competing sites are doing to get a gauge for how to offer a fair yet competitive price for products, the type of messaging used to move merchandise, the UX design elements deployed and other factors that might contribute to a brand’s success.

look at competing sites quote

Conducting competitive research on other eCommerce stores is a vital component to establishing what works, what doesn’t and what areas can be improved.

Design a Beautiful, Functional Storefront

Retailers who aim to bestow their brick-and-mortar’s namesake upon the newly minted eCommerce store should aim to mirror the physical experience in some ways (font, colors, etc.) to provide a sense of familiarity.

While it is essential that a site is aesthetically pleasing, it is necessary to understand that this does not mean elaborate, ornate, garish or any similarly used motifs.

The fact is that simplicity is in and that many consumers prefer functionality to creativity in design. Therefore, there is no need for a flashy website.

That said, eCommerce stores should still look elegant and professional. Therefore, it is essential for merchants moving into the digital space to procure a talented website development team capable of producing a slick and intuitive site experience that keeps consumers coming back for more.

One key area that should receive special attention is mobile responsiveness.

According to Statista, mobile sales accounted for roughly 40 percent of all online retail spend in 2018. Moreover, this is particularly important given that Google implemented a mobile-first index last year as well.

If this isn’t evidence enough for mobile’s importance, according to 2018 data from Google, consumers are 62 percent less likely to buy from websites that provide a poor mobile experience. 

sketch of website wireframe

Merchants who fail to cater to both desktop and mobile audiences lose out on untold sums of revenue and repeat visits.

Perfect the Product Pages

Product pages are the bread and butter of any eCommerce store.

Digital shoppers rely on and demand high-quality images, product videos, in-depth descriptions and customer reviews to adequately inform their purchasing decision. Therefore, it is vital for retailers to implement these elements.

Moreover, given that product pages make up the bulk of eCommerce websites, these pages are what will provide much of the site’s SEO value by integrating targeted keywords aimed at purchase-ready consumers. While a review section will help give some SEO juice to these pages as well, the real value comes from the product titles and descriptions.

Use this real estate wisely.

Start to Optimize for Search

In addition to optimizing product pages for search relevance, retailers should also take aim at key areas to boost their performance in the SERPs. This means optimizing a page’s URLs, title tags and meta descriptions in addition to crafting content for the site with blog posts, videos and similar customer-facing offerings that get Google to take notice. 

optimize product pages for search relevance quote

The most urgent of these pieces is the product descriptions, title tags and meta info. While the latter two do not directly impact SEO performance, they do influence clicks which helps to improve rankings.

As a site starts gaining traffic and earning sales, merchants should aim to capitalize on the momentum and seek to optimize conversions

Explore Conversion Optimization Tactics

In both the physical and digital world, converting visitors into loyal customers is the name of the game. It is this drive that grows a business.

While the conversion optimization rabbit hole is deep, some simple ways new eCommerce store owners can begin the process is to:

  • Survey Customers: Ask for feedback on products, website copy, UX experience and other elements that impact how visitors perceive a site.
  • Employ Google Analytics: Identify where visitors are dropping off and aim to improve those areas of the site.
  • Minimize Load Times: The fact is that slow sites lose sales. In fact, in the world of eCommerce, if a website takes more than three seconds to load, would-be customers will bounce.

Even though the site is essentially brand new, it is vital for merchants to begin the optimization process as soon as possible to flourish in the hyper-competitive world of eCommerce.

build your business online screen

Making the leap from bricks to clicks is no small matter. It requires a dedication to the learn the ins and outs of the digital sphere, its best practices, optimization tactics and potential for growth. 

While there are undoubtedly many things to take into consideration when making the move to an eCommerce store, the process outlined above should aid many retailers in making a smooth transition that will enable them to prosper in online retail.

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