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Have you found that you need to bring your physical stores online? You’re not alone. The retail industry is recognizing that COVID-19 has really just accelerated an already-existing trend. In 2017, a report from Credit-Suisse estimated that by 2022, 20-25% of malls would shut down as a result of anchor store closures and year-over-year decreasing amounts of foot traffic.
But after the pandemic began, in just the first two quarters of 2020 alone the move from brick and mortar stores to e-commerce was dramatic. According to Forbes, e-commerce sales rose by $52 billion from February to June. And the fast-growing BOPIS trend grew by 195% during just the month of May.
Which means that there are a lot of physical stores out there that are adding on e-commerce components, or even making the switch entirely.
There are plenty of long-term benefits to bringing physical stores online.
An online extension of your physical store will enable you to:
- Diversify and expand your customer base.
- Retain loyal customers used to shopping locally at your physical stores, assuring them access to their favorite items from a favorite store.
- Sell your products 24/7, instead of just during store hours.
- Lower inventory costs with continuous tracking that allows for more accurate re-orders.
- Stay ahead of future shopping habits, as e-commerce adoption rates continue to soar and the shift to online shopping becomes permanent.
- Increase scalability: Online stores have smaller overhead and a much wider customer base. They also surface tons of quality data you can use to enhance your store’s marketing campaigns, optimize your inventory for best-sellers, and diversify products to test new opportunities.
Potential costs of building out your e-commerce site.
WebFX estimates the total cost of building an e-commerce website will range from $3,000 for the rudimentary basics to $27,000 for a fully robust system that can handle annual sales of $1M or more. Here’s a breakdown of their cost estimates:
What’s required to bring a physical store online
1. More technology
You will need a different, bigger tech stack.
Your store may have a website, but if it’s not already set up for e-commerce you will need a lot more than a WordPress site and an in-house point-of-sale system for transactions, bookkeeping and inventory control. There’s no avoiding the up-front investment required to bring a medium-to-large physical store or store network online. However, most of these technologies are subscription-based SaaS, rather than modules you need to purchase and install on your own system.
Here are the minimum elements you’ll need for a good e-commerce tech stack:
- An e-commerce shopping cart platform like Magento, BigCommerce, or Shopify to house your online storefront
- A marketing automation suite that includes email, social media management, and dashboards to coordinate product listing ad campaigns
- A perpetual inventory system that automatically tracks inventory to orders as they’re received, 24/7. Skubana offers one of the most popular apps for this.
- A product information management (PIM) system such as Plytix to serve as your master source of truth about each product, and ensure that all product data you send to Google Ads or other channels is complete and of high quality. Incomplete or erroneous product information is one of the main reasons products get returned by customers, and it is a great way to lose out on future sales.
- A product feed syndication service that can take your product listings and perfect them to the unique requirements of individual marketplaces and sales channels. This is Shoppingfeed’s specialty; we offer product listing services for more than 1,000 sales channels across the globe.
2. A shipping and fulfillment partner
Get your fulfillment house in order.
If you already have a warehouse supplying your physical stores, it can double as your online fulfillment center as well. Amazon and other big e-commerce companies are sometimes using physical stores as warehouses – their own, or those of another brand that’s had to shutter operations. This also helps avoid more layoffs from the retail operations, as employees can be transitioned to online fulfillment and customer service roles.
Make sure your shipping times, and any shipping charges, will meet customer expectations.
Since the pandemic began and everything was disrupted, customers have lowered their expectations somewhat. They know to anticipate supply chain bottlenecks and delayed shipments in transit by independent carriers. This bucks a trend that had previously been taking hold, where customers spoiled by Amazon Prime policies were coming to expect fast AND free shipping for their online orders. But fulfillment company ShipStation has now spotted a new trend: some customers show willingness to pay a premium for faster delivery. But they also note that for longer ship times of 10, 14 or more days consumers still expect a slow delivery to be free of shipping charges. For more on the free vs paid delivery question, see this article.
3. More digital marketing channels
Set a budget for product listing ads in search engines like Google and Bing, on social media, and wherever people in your target demographic spend most of their time online. You might also consider channels like shopping comparison engines, affiliate marketing and ad retargeting platforms.
Expand your online footprint quickly with social media.
Reach your followers via Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube or TikTok – whichever is most suited to your target customer demographics. This is what’s traditionally called social media marketing (SMM). All of these media offer product listing ads, and three of them–Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest–have also created direct sales channels for selling products without the customer ever leaving the app. Users can “Shop Now,” place an order, and return to browsing through their favorite media posts. This direct-purchase feature is part of a newer trend towards Social Commerce, which is different from SMM because the product sale takes place inside the app, rather than an ad redirecting to your online store.
The best options will require some research, budgeting and market evaluation to decide on the technologies and selling partners you’ll need for your e-commerce operation. But in the end you’ll find it was well worth the effort.
My mission at Shoppingfeed is explaining how to leverage e-commerce platforms and SaaS technology to e-merchants who just want to run their business and make more money.
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