As evidenced by recent difficulties on the UK high street, and the exponential growth of online sales, digital isn't just the future of retail - it's the present. As a savvy business looking to unlock these opportunities you may be in the early stages of setting up an online store.
Yet while the pressures from competitors may be intense, and your anticipation levels high as you enter the e-commerce fray, it's important to do it right. That means putting the correct building blocks in place ahead of launch, devising a solid strategy and ensuring everything is in order so your products fly off the (virtual) shelves once you're up and running.
What do I need to do before I launch my online store?
The answer? Lots! But among the many ducks which need to be put in a row, here are the most important things to consider before lift-off...
Understand your market - The quickest and most relevant learnings come from assessing your competitors. These may be digital behemoths with a massive product range or smaller e-commerce providers who focus on niche channels - or both. Either way, do some deep-dive analysis into their USPs, websites, customer journeys, and the good and bad of their online store. Thereafter, you'll be well placed to do it all - and do it better.
Measuring performance - You need to ensure you have adequate tracking set up so you can monitor and analyse performance. Google Analytics is one of the more popular means of evaluating user behaviour, although tools such as Tableau are powerful tools when it comes to revenue and click tracking.
Be social - You'll want to build up a social media presence, so you can hit the ground running within the online space. Standardise your profile name or handle across platforms, and put as much effort as you can into engaging with industry influencers and stakeholders so as to boost your following.
Hosting and marketplaces - An important decision to make is whether to host an online store yourself, or set it up on e-commerce platforms such as Shopify, Magento, EKM, Etsy and numerous others. You'll also need to decide into which marketplaces you want to sell. Aside from obvious candidates such as Amazon, there is plenty of opportunity to maximise sales and brand awareness within smaller, more-specialised online marketplaces, and even through social channels such as Pinterest.
Logistics and delivery - The way you handle inventory is important. If you want to store it yourself, you may want to consider shared warehouse space. Alternatively, drop-shipping may be a more cost-effective approach. As for shipping and delivery, they are the lifeblood of any online store. When a customer orders something, can you get it to them quickly? And cheaply? Shipping costs can make or break customer conversion, so strain every sinew to build valuable relationships with these service providers.
Online payment system - A reliable and efficient payments system is non-negotiable. In addition to the usual suspects such as Paypal and Worldpay, there are a number of fintech companies which offer increasingly impressive solutions, such as Stripe. Retail finance is another important string to add to your bow, as point-of-sale finance will almost guarantee an uplift in conversion and sales. Find out more about Lending Works Retail Finance here.
Your website, branding and customer service delivery
As the wheels get into motion for the big launch, there are a few more crucial nuts and bolts which need to be in place. The first is your website. It goes without saying that you should proofread it repeatedly. But grammar errors (check out Grammarly to assist with this) and broken links aren't the only things to look out for. Is the user experience an enjoyable one? Is the site optimised for mobile and SEO? Can the customer journey be streamlined further? Is your content informative, but still engaging and snappy?
On that note, this is also a great opportunity to boost your brand. Once you've established your business tone of voice, combining this with a world-class design can give you the edge over your competitors, and help develop an established brand identity across multiple channels.
Don't underestimate the importance of excellent customer service either. Quick response times and going the extra mile to make a customer feel good when they're in the process of making a purchase will do wonders for conversion. Aside from phone or email, live chats are a very effective platform in this respect, while social media is an increasingly prominent mechanism for improving customer experience.
The final step? Make a fuss!
So, you've put in the elbow grease, and laid the foundations for an online store that customers are going to love. But it's all going to count for nothing if no one knows about it!
Make sure your launch creates a lot of noise, rather than getting lost in it. Aside from the usual methods such as press releases and tweeting, get creative. Discounts and specials are a great way to lure customers in, or perhaps you could set up some kind of contest. And you'll definitely want to get industry influencers talking about it too – incentivise or butter them up if need be.
You may also need to cough up a few pennies for promoting the launch through channels such as paid search. But it's worth it if you get feet through the (virtual) door. Because once you've got eyeballs on your awesome new online store, you'll be well on your way to success.