This year’s pandemic was unexpected for most of us, particularly brick-and-mortar stores and restaurants. And while it turns out that big-box retailers like Walmart and Target are doing quite well 7 months in, a lot of local and small-business shops are hurting while others have closed for good. For some, that’s because they weren't ready with e-commerce when the shutdowns happened.
Why You Should Add E-commerce to Your Brick-and-Mortar
Taking your store online has both short-term and long-term benefits, the most obvious benefit being that having an online retail presence means you can still generate sales if you need to close your physical location. Even now, when most stores in the U.S. are open with safety precautions, shopping as we knew it before has yet to make a comeback. Providing a way to purchase online allows customers to continue to support you until they feel safe coming in.
For those who are able to shop in person, an e-commerce channel affords you the advantages of omnichannel retail — offering both a physical and an online store. This gives you the option to offer BOPIS (buy online pick up in store) and to allow online returns and exchanges in store. Ultimately, providing a variety of options for your customers makes for an easier — and more satisfying — shopping experience.
Another plus: e-commerce allows you to expand beyond your local customer base. All people need is an internet connection and they can browse your store from anywhere in the world.
Leading up to 2020, e-commerce was already rapidly growing. Consumers spent $601.75 billion online with U.S. merchants in 2019, an increase of 14.9% from 2018. That growth trajectory was expected to continue even without a global pandemic, and at this point online retail numbers for 2020 have far bypassed all projections.
For retailers who have yet to add e-commerce as a channel, it’s clear that now is the time. And the good news is that there are several free or inexpensive tools that can help you get a simple online store up and running quickly.
Basic Tools for Your E-Commerce Store
Different businesses have different needs, but we’ve used these tools with both B2C and B2B clients to help them add e-commerce to their offerings.
The disclaimer with Shopify is that they only offer a free trial for 14 days, but given the ease of setup and the popularity of the platform, that will likely be all you need to convince you to become a paying customer. From one platform you can sell products to anyone, anywhere — whether that’s in person with point of sale or through your website, social media, and online marketplaces. There are built-in tools that help you execute digital marketing campaigns, a simple dashboard that gives you critical insights, more than 4,100 app integrations, and 24/7 support.
For your free trial, visit Shopify and choose your store name. This will become the URL or domain name that your customers will use to shop from your store. It’s best to start with the Basic plan and then upgrade as needed. While you need to add your credit card or PayPal address, you aren’t billed for the trial period and are sent a reminder when the trial ends.
If you’re interested in Shopify, let us know — we’re Shopify Partners and can help you get started!
HubSpot is an all-in-one CRM, marketing, sales, and service platform that can help you generate and capture leads, accelerate sales, and organize your customer data. It even integrates with Shopify so that you can continue communicating with your e-commerce customers via email and chat in order to encourage repeat business and provide customer service.
While HubSpot’s basic tools are always free, they are also responding to the pandemic with additional free tools and solutions. For example, they’ve made their paid embeddable meetings functionality and quotes feature free for all users, and they’ve reduced the first-year cost of their Starter Growth Suite (the plan we normally recommend to businesses who are looking to increase leads and sales) from $112.50/month to $50/month. And, of course, the CRM will remain free for everyone, giving you access to everything from email tracking reporting dashboards to ways to manage and organize your contacts in one easy-to-use database.
If you’re interested in HubSpot, let us know — we’re certified Gold HubSpot Solutions Partners and can help you get started!
Google's Tools for Small Businesses
When it comes to inexpensive e-commerce tools, Google is a treasure trove of options. First and foremost, you can ensure your business shows up on Google Search and Maps with Google My Business — which includes your business hours, phone number, website, and directions — by creating a free profile. Then, using G Suite, you can create a customized email address and claim file storage, calendar, docs, and a variety of other options.
When you’re ready to start advertising, Google allows you to create online ads that will help your business show up when people use Google Search and Maps. With Google’s ads, you only pay for results, whether that’s clicking over to your website or calling your business. Use Google’s Keyword Planner to discover the most searched words and phrases related to your services and products. This helps you ensure your online efforts and e-commerce store are being optimized.
Speaking of being optimized, Google Analytics is a popular way to get a detailed picture of how your e-commerce store is performing and how visitors interact with your website — including their geographic location, sessions, and conversions. Not only does it give you insight into the source of your website traffic, but it also lets you see which channels generate the most leads and sales. And if you’re using HubSpot, there’s a nifty integration.
Last but certainly not least is the power of simply getting your business name out through content marketing on social media, whether that’s through Facebook posts and Instagram stories or videos on LinkedIn. There are plenty of options to advertise on these platforms — and you’ll probably see accelerated results if you pay to play — but you can also build brand awareness, drive traffic to your site, and make sales without ever spending a dime.
In fact, it’s projected that 90% of businesses will be using some form of social media for customer communications by the end of 2020. And customers who experience positive interactions with a company on social media are around three times more likely to recommend your brand.
Consider implementing video, as it creates the most engagement on Instagram, gets 10 times more engagement on Twitter, is shared 20 times more than any other kind of post on LinkedIn, and garners up to 8 billion Facebook views per day.
The key — whether it’s sharing a post about an upcoming sale or a video demoing a new product — is to build a relationship and make sure that the content that you put out on your channels is timely, engaging, and relevant. You don’t have to have a profile on every platform. Choose the most relevant platforms for your business, then create a social media strategy tailored to your customers and the information that will be most valuable to them.
The Bottom Line
Having an e-commerce store lets you reach a wider audience, especially when that audience might not want to take the risk of shopping in person, given the current situation. Even after the pandemic has subsided (and let’s hope that’s soon!), retailers who offer both physical and online shopping options will be the ones that come out on top.