E-commerce, is not a ‘new’ thing, and not even a ‘trend’ any more. It may be so for some companies here in Malta as some did come in late to the game, but in reality, e-commerce is now a must.

The share of consumers that switched to buying online is now in the range of 15 to 17% globally. Even that sounds quite low, think of it as a 15 to 20% drop in your sales. How would that feel? Can your business survive such a drop? Possibly… Do you want to though? Absolutely not.

Setting up an online store has in the last few years become a relatively simple matter. But the downside of it is; How do I make sure what is the best solution for my specific business needs? There is unfortunately, no straightforward answer to this. Therefore, I am writing some thoughts here about this topic and addressing also some untold truths on the topic. If you are currently thinking of going down the e-commerce route, this article is for you.

E-commerce will immediately boost my sales

Whilst there is no denying that an online store, will greatly facilitate the way that clients will do business with you, it doesn’t mean that once your online shop is launched, you can’t just sit back, relax and watch the sales numbers grow. An online store without proper marketing is nothing. If people don’t know about your shop, they will not buy. Many companies invest a lot of money to build a top-notch online store but then fail to budget for its marketing. The truth is, that there are hundreds of online shops selling probably the exact same thing you are selling – so standing out from the crowd is never easy. Setting up an online business has its perks, but must also be treated as an offline business.

Takeaway: Plan ahead. Budget for the construction of your online shop but also for its marketing. 

I will use only social media to promote my online store

We are constantly inundated with ads on social media. So it’s fair to start thinking that social media is the marketing holy grail.

The truth is, that it is not. Whilst there is no denying that via social media, you can do highly effective marketing campaigns that will expose your products and services to a potential customer, but social media marketing doesn’t essentially work for everything and everyone.

Social media, for most businesses, is an important part of their marketing mix – but companies and business owners should not forget other areas such as email marketing, search engine marketing, search engine optimisation and even some traditional marketing options.

Takeaway: Definitely don’t miss out on opportunities of marketing on social media, but to not make the mistake of using only that.

I’m selling my products on social media or other marketplaces, I don’t need my own website.

Whilst this approach works for some time, this is very much a short term approach. A long term business strategy should include building your own online store and brand presence so that people can do business with you directly rather than a marketplace.

When you have your products in a big marketplace such as Amazon, Alibaba, Facebook etc… you will gain immediate access to thousands and thousands of possible customers who may potentially be looking for your product. However, the moment that your business starts expanding, your needs will grow as well, and this is when you will need some customisations, deeper analytics and various other requirements that such sites will not be able to provide.

Additionally, there is also the issue that if you only sell via one or more of these platforms, if suddenly, they decide to change their policies in any way (pricing, allowed/disallowed products etc.) your online store could take a tremendous hit or have to close down overnight.

Takeaway: Enrolling to sell within marketplaces is a great start, but while you are increasing business this way, work on your own platform to start selling independently. 

The e-commerce platform doesn’t matter

Nowadays, there are so many online shop platforms that can make the building of an online shop a breeze, the decision on which one to go for is actually rather critical.

Platforms such as Shopify and Wix are popular options, and they allow you to build your own online shop with great ease. It is a great short-term, low budget option for anyone that wants to dip their toes into building an online store with the least investment.

The reality is however, that this is very often a short-term option. Through experience in developing several online stores for local and international businesses I have seen that many business owners, outgrow what these platforms provide very quickly. We have seen companies having to migrate to a more robust and full-featured system within their first year of operation, and in some cases even after a few months.

Other bigger and more full-featured platforms such as WooCommerce or Magento are examples of great platforms that can give you a lot more than what Wix and Shopify can, but since these platforms are generally more complex, you will need to invest more time and resources to get them up and running.

Takeaway: For a short term, low budget or perhaps a business that is at a very early stage, Wix and Shopify platforms, should work, but be prepared to invest in a more fully-fledged solution for a more professional online store.

The online shop: Set it and forget it

Many business owners think that setting up an online shop is a one-time investment and once set, it’s just profit all the way. This is not the case. Many low-cost web development companies advertise their e-commerce building services with one flat fee, and therefore it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the quoted price is the first and last investment in the online store.

Think of an online store as a brick and mortar shop. In a traditional shop, things break, things need replacing, you have service fees for water and electricity, you need staff, insurances, and the occasional maintenance and upgrade to keep things fresh. Your online store should be treated in the exact same way.

Once the online shop is built and launched, most companies will not need to invest further… but as needs grow, traffic starts increasing, the number of sales increase and new feature requests are required, there will be a time where additional investment may need to be made. During heavy periods such as special occasions and holidays, certain stores may also experience very heavy traffic flow, and therefore in such situations, it is important that the servers that run the website are equipped to handle such loads.

Takeaway: Your online store, is like your physical store. It sure costs less to operate and requires a much smaller investment than a physical store, but don’t forget that some maintenance and some upgrades from time to time, will be required.

We will handle the online store like our shop!

Planning your back-end operation and optimising it for a different workflow is essential task when launching a new online shop. It is however an area that is very often overlooked. Whilst in many aspects an online store is considered a virtual version of your check out counters, you will need to consider the critical differences between them. Whilst a counter transaction can be fairly quick, and once it’s done the client is out of the door… an online transaction is where the bulk of the work starts.

You have to think of the item pickup, packing, delivery and so on… and if the people at your check out counters are busy all the time, they will not be able to also handle your online transactions. What do you do when the ordered item is actually out of stock? You will need to hire additional staff to deliver, or use a logistics company to handle the delivery of the item/s to the customer. You have to account for delivery issues and items that could get damaged in transit or incorrectly delivered items. You will also encounter an increase in the volume of customer contacts either by email, phone or social media encountering issues with the product, either to malfunctions and/or queries about the proper functioning of your product. In some industries, you will also need to account for the 15-day cooling-off period, return policies and so on.

We have seen very well known companies locally that have rushed into creating their online shop, and failed to plan their back-end operation, resulting in hugely delayed (2 to 3 weeks delivery time!) for client orders and then ending up in a situation where customers end up angry, requesting refunds and order cancellations which will make the situation a lot worse.

Takeaway: Pre-plan about how these situations are going to be handled so you don’t have to take critical decisions on the fly. 

Conclusion

In today’s business environment, an online store is a necessity, not a luxury. The first step that we recommend in the creation of an online store is to get to know your target audience very well, and build an online store and marketing strategy that fits such a customer. Partnering with the right experts in this journey is critical, so if you need some help or are thinking of getting started in this online journey, do not hesitate to contact us so that we can have a quick call and see how we can assist you further.

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