Get Your Business Online with E-Commerce Basics

Been shopping lately? Online or in person?

A shift in the traditional in-store shopping experience continues. In fact, 2016 was the first year that more consumers went shopping on the internet than in stores, with 51 percent making their purchases online. That’s up from 48 percent in 2015, according to analytics firm comScore in its annual survey of consumers.

And more shoppers are using their smartphones to search and make online purchases. Social media is influencing buying decisions, with 23 percent of people having made purchases through social media sites.

E-commerce, or online shopping, is a huge opportunity for small retail businesses, especially those in small or rural communities. E-commerce can help specialty business such as those that sell regionally specific products or those that might not have a storefront.

For your small business, my advice is to look before you jump into e-commerce. Think about your business goals. Developing an e-commerce presence, like building a bricks-and-mortar storefront, requires thought and planning. Both are essential for success.

You need to start thinking about the following questions and answer them thoughtfully:

▪  What are your business goals?

▪  How does e-commerce fit into it?

▪  Who is your ideal customer?

▪  If you were your ideal customer, what would you look for when visiting the website or getting a message from you?

▪  When customers land on your page, what do you want them to do?

▪  What methods can you reach customers with?

▪  What products are you selling?

▪  If an online store, what shopping cart solution are you using? How do you accept payments? Charge tax? Ship?

A website is indispensable for businesses today.

Remember, it’s your digital storefront that’s open 24/7. It can answer your customers’ questions when they need it. Plus, it’s cost effective. You need the following for a good website:

▪  Be visually appealing to users.

▪  Share great content above the fold.

▪  Include a call to action, contact information and FAQ.

▪  Load each website page in less than four seconds.

▪  Be mobile-ready.

▪  Have an e-commerce platform ready with product listings, shopping cart, payment ready, and SSL.

▪  Include a regularly updated blog.

Once you have developed a solid website, decide how you are going to promote your online shop. You can use emailing or SMS-text marketing to get your message out. Email and/or SMS-text marketing is sending a commercial message, typically to a group of people, using email or text.

Here are two terms you need to know: open rate and click rate. Open rate is the percentage of recipients who open the digital correspondence, while average click rate is the percentage of recipients who act on your call to action. The average open rate for retailers is 22 percent, and the average click rate is 3 percent. Or you can use social media to share information and deals with your customers.

A word of caution regarding your email or SMS-text marketing. It must be permission-based. Spam is illegal. Your business can lose customers, and worst case, be fined for spamming. Every message you send out must include an opt-out. It is best to go with a reputable provider like MailChimp or SlickText.

Online shopping is where customers are shopping. Regardless of size or location, with foresight and planning, you can reach your customers.

This column was originally published in the Lexington Herald-Leader on February 26, 2017 and nationally distributed to over 300 media outlets through the Tribune Content Agency.