By Jonathan Mark
Annual e-commerce sales are growing every year — between 13-17% year over year for the past five years. Annual retail e-commerce sales in the US will come in just under $400 billion by the time 2016 is over. That means that while your brick and mortar store might be succeeding in your region, there is a huge portion of the market that you’re not able to attract. Expanding into e-commerce opens up a new, untapped market of potential customers who may not live near one of your stores, or who may simply prefer shopping from the comfort of their homes.
Considering taking the leap into e-commerce but unsure of how to get started? Below are some recommendations for how to expand from an exclusively brick and mortar brand into the world of e-commerce.
1 – Create an e-commerce strategy
You may be eager to get started and dive right into designing a website, but the best approach to transitioning your business online is to take the time to create an e-commerce strategy. An e-commerce strategy will help you do the following:
Identify your online customers:
You may know your brick and mortar customers very well, but the needs of that brick and mortar customer are different than those of an online shopper. Whereas your brick and mortar presence is likely localized in one city or region, when you expand to e-commerce, you’ll be shipping all over the country and maybe even internationally as well. An e-commerce strategy will help you decide if you need to update your messaging or marketing initiatives to speak to your new online audience.
Plan for future marketing initiatives:
Once you know who your online customers are, your e-commerce strategy can help you determine how best to market to them. A strategy will help you assess the digital marketing methods available and answer key questions like: will you advertise online? If so, what kind of landing pages do you need to build in order to align with your advertising? What will your messaging be? Will you be able to handle customer service issues via social media?
Create a content plan:
Finally, a good strategy will help you plan the content you need to create for the launch of your e-commerce site. Depending on how extensive your product offerings are, your e-commerce site will likely have many category pages and even more product pages. The strategy process will help you determine how to speak to your products and product benefits in the digital space.
2 – Build an effective e-commerce website
With a good strategy in hand you can confidently move on to the next phase: designing and building your e-commerce website. Even if you already have an informational brand website, it will need to be redesigned to accommodate e-commerce. Finding a vendor or agency who understands e-commerce is key – they’ll know the ins and out of e-commerce web design so you can be confident that the website you’re getting is one that will perform well. Here are some key elements to keep in mind:
Your e-commerce website should reflect the look and feel of your brick and mortar stores. There should be unity between the aesthetics of the offline and online sides of your business. If you sell luxury goods, your website should feel high-end. If your brand has a playful aesthetic, your website should too. Your website also needs to effectively convey your brand story to an audience who may never have the chance to enter one of your stores. What makes you unique? What are the principles your brand is built upon?
Your e-commerce website absolutely must be optimized to perform on all devices. In 2016 emarketer estimates that an average of 29% of all e-commerce sales in the US will take place a smartphone or tablet. Since you’ll be starting from scratch with your e-commerce site, you’re in a great position to make sure the needs of mobile users are addressed. Invest in responsive web design for a site that satisfies all users.
3 – Reassess your social presence
Now that you’re expanding into e-commerce, it’s worthwhile to reassess your social media marketing efforts. Your digital audience will likely grow with your expansion into e-commerce and that means updating your social presence to make a wider audience feel included.
Create new content:
Even if you’re already creating custom content and sharing it on social media, it’s probably geared towards your brick and mortar customers. Think about what types of content your e-commerce customers will be interested in and start creating and promoting that content at the time of your launch.
Consider how your messaging on social media should be updated to appeal to your entire audience, both e-commerce and brick and mortar. Make sure to update your calls-to-action to drive people to your website as opposed to driving them to find the nearest store. If you’re having an in-store promotion or event of course you can and should still promote it on your social channels, but most of your posts should link back to your website, with a call-to-action to shop when applicable.
If there are social platforms you haven’t yet expanded to because it didn’t feel natural to do so without an e-commerce website, consider creating a presence there now. Maybe it’s a Pinterest board that highlights a new collection and the inspiration behind it, or a series of videos on YouTube that demonstrate product benefits or features.
4 – Promote your website
With your e-commerce site fully operational and your social media channels buzzing, you can start promoting your e-commerce business with the goal of building awareness and excitement.
PR and Promotions:
A new website launch is a great opportunity to do a publicity blitz. Put out a release to coincide with your website launch and think about ways you can entice new customers. Maybe you offer a limited-edition product tied to the launch, or create a product bundle that is available at a reduced price for first-time customers.
Consider launching a paid search campaign to start introducing your e-commerce presence to new audiences. No matter what you sell, there’s search traffic out there looking for your products and now that you are e-commerce-ready you can begin getting out in front of those searchers with targeted ads. You can also advertise on social media and take advantage of the ability to build brand awareness by targeting users likely to be interested in your products or your brand.
It’s also worth looking at ways you can promote your website to your brick and mortar customers with in-store display and printed collateral. After all, they may shop with you more often if they have the additional option to shop online. There may also be ways to use your e-commerce presence to improve the in-store experience. Don’t have the right size, color, or model in stock? Offer to ship it free from the website.
5 – Maintain
After all the hard work of launching the e-commerce arm of your business is done you still need to think about how you’re going to maintain your momentum. Websites require maintenance, both on the technical and content sides, and online marketing initiatives need to be monitored and optimized by digital experts. If you want to ensure that your venture into e-commerce is a success, you need to invest in a vendor or agency team who will do the work well and achieve the tangible results.
The transition from offline to online can feel daunting, but remember that you’ve already done the most difficult part – creating a brand and products people love. The transition to e-commerce is all about translating everything your offline customers love about you so that it will appeal to a broader online audience. Start by creating an e-commerce strategy that can be used to inform the development of a website that reflects your brand values and is optimized to convert. Reassess your social media efforts to make sure they’re aligned with your new direction and then invest in some promotional activity to launch your e-commerce business with a bang. Finally, don’t forget to put a plan in place to maintain your momentum and keep the e-commerce sales rolling in.
Jonathan Markis the Group Director of Media and Marketing Services at Blue Fountain Media.