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From Offline To Online: How To Start Your E-commerce Store

From Offline To Online: How To Start Your E-commerce Store

One sure sign of e-commerce success is that your online and offline operations will start to feel like a connected whole -- something you manage with smart use of data, and where customers have a consistently excellent experience no matter which option they choose.

It’s easy to look at a lineup of customers forming at the checkout line and get a sense that your business is thriving, just as a near-empty store might trigger worries you’re hitting a low point. In either case, however, there’s a whole other group of customers and potential customers you’re not able to see — the ones who would gladly give you their business if there was an e-commerce option.

At one point, e-commerce was almost treated as an afterthought by many small and medium-sized business (SMB) owners, who might have been more focused on setting up their first physical location or headquarters and meeting their initial customers in person. Today, however, the rise of digital channels means people are living more of their lives online — and that includes browsing and shopping for services. SMBs, meanwhile, are realizing how cloud computing can give them new ways to expand a company’s reach.

To be fair, ‘e-commerce’ isn’t necessarily limited to facilitating financial transactions online. Many retailers and other firms got their feet wet by bringing inventory information to their site, allowing customers to look up product details and pricing as a way to get them into the store. Even if there hasn’t been a “buy” button on your site until now, hopefully you have a digital presence that at least helps customers understand what you have to sell and why they should purchase from you.

Although the next step will involve using the right technologies to collect credit card or other payment information, as well as the logistics involved in fulfilling online orders, there’s still more to consider. Simply building an e-commerce store and hoping the world will come is a recipe for failure. So is ignoring the potential impact on cross-selling or higher-value sales opportunities. Then there is the question of how you will create a great customer experience before, during and after an online purchase is made. Let’s look at each of these areas as you assess your e-commerce readiness:

The E-Commerce Marketing Plan

By now, there’s nothing very revolutionary about launching an e-commerce option for customers, so running an ad campaign about it might not make a lot of sense. On the other hand, there are lots of other ways marketing tactics can be used to raise awareness about your e-commerce store, generate demand and in some cases even use it to help reinforce your brand’s purpose.

Start by thinking about your typical or target customers, and how they might be using your site today. What kind of journey will they undertake as they move from one page to another? When should the ability to buy online be introduced, and what’s the minimum number of steps involved in completing a purchase?

Now do the same exercise for those outside your typical or target customers — how might someone who discovers you purely via a search engine result, for instance, gain a great first impression about your products, services and the ability to buy them with little more than a click of a mouse?

Next, consider all the channels you currently use for marketing and how you might weave in details about e-commerce options. This is just a sample:

  • E-mail: Ensure that you not only include a URL or button to your e-commerce store, but also some simple copywriting that reminds customers how they can buy online, particularly if there is a discount or any other benefit to doing so.
  • Social media: Use Twitter, Facebook or other relevant channels to let people know about recent items added online as well as in-store, and especially any e-commerce exclusives, such as items that are out-of-stock in physical locations.
  • In-Store: Some SMBs use strategic signage on shelves, racks and other key locations to let customers know how they can find even more items through their e-commerce store. Encourage your associates or other staff to use their smartphones or tablets to show the online store to customers when certain items can’t be found, or items that might be complementary for them to consider later on.

This doesn’t have to create a lot of extra work, particularly when you use marketing automation tools such as Marketing Cloud to manage the process.

The Sales Plan

Just as e-commerce capabilities are no longer merely a “nice-to-have” for SMB owners, the way you sell online should be approached strategically with an emphasis on data-driven thinking.

If you’re already using a CRM like Sales Cloud to get a better sense of what’s driving physical purchases, for instance, you should begin planning what new information you want to collect to maximize online revenue from Day 1. Some of the data you’ll work with to hone your e-commerce strategy may be quite different, but many of the goals — such as increasing your “share of wallet” among your best customers — could be the same.

Also bear in mind how you’ll blend online and offline customer experiences. A customer might do a fair bit of research online and even make a small purchase via e-commerce but is then interested in something larger that requires more customization or consultation with one of your expert staff. There should be quick and easy ways for them to reach out by phone, text, social media or any other channel within the e-commerce store whenever they choose. Simple processes for passing on these kinds of leads will also help make your sales team more excited about recommending e-commerce for smaller purchases.

The Service Plan

For a long time, people were a little reluctant to buy things online because it felt a little mysterious. Compared with the comfort of dealing with sales people in “real time,” e-commerce could seem risky. Most organizations have since recognized that buying online not only has to be easy — it has to include some reassurance that those purchases will be backed up by outstanding service and support.

Do a self-assessment of what you see in terms of product returns or troubleshooting from items purchased at a physical location today. How do customers tend to reach out — in person, by phone or some other channel? Are there peak times when you need to deal with a lot of service issues? Are there any patterns or trends in the problems you’re resolving? (If you already use something like Service Cloud, this kind of assessment becomes a lot easier.)

Now consider the service experience customers will need to have through your e-commerce store. This could include information about support capabilities or warranties that are presented upfront, special product protection that is offered at the “shopping cart” stage, as well as self-service tools or quick contact mechanisms if they need to revisit the store, if they need to ask a question or make a complaint later on. Your end goal should be making each e-commerce customer feel like an individual you care about, rather than one among many customers demanding support.

Over time, one sure sign of e-commerce success is that your online and offline operations will start to feel like a connected whole — something you manage with smart use of data, and where customers have a consistently excellent experience no matter which option they choose.

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