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How to Quickly Transition from Brick & Mortar Retail to Ecommerce

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, forcing business shutdowns and strict stay-at-home guidelines, which, if your business has been deemed “non-essential,” can put you and your employees in a bind. Fortunately, shifting to online sales has never been easier, and making the transition now offers three major benefits: 

  1. You’ll be able to keep operations going during the shutdown and make sales.
  2. While business is minimized, you’ll have more time to devote to launching your ecommerce site. 
  3. Experience multiple revenue streams and a larger market when you can open up fully. 

To help you get started, we’re sharing some tips on how to launch or convert an existing website into an ecommerce website quickly so you can not only get through this challenging time, you’re set up for success moving forward.

Brick and Mortar to Ecommerce

Start Planning Your Ecommerce Store

We understand that time is of the essence, but the last thing you want to do is rush a website in a day and hope for sales. The good news is that you’ve already got a great store, inventory in place, and you know your target audience first hand. Use your insight as you build your online store, taking what you learned by working directly with your customers in person and using it to improve the customer experience on your website. 

For example, if you own a clothing boutique, use the best selling color as the featured image for a product. If your customers like to look inside handbags, take interior images of handbags with one or two common items or have an employee model a shoe. 

Check Out Your Competition

You want your customers to have a great experience in your store, whether it’s at your physical location or online. If you’re not sure what a great online experience looks like for you, you aren’t sure if your prices are competitive, or you are clueless about how to set shipping prices, it’s okay to scope out competing ecommerce websites. If you want to take your bookstore online, see what independent bookstores in other cities are doing. Look for: 

  • What do you like about their site? What do you not like?
  • How do they do shipping? Flat rate, per item, or free when you spend a specific amount?
  • How is their inventory organized? 
  • What makes it easy/difficult to shop?

Choose Your Online Inventory

While most ecommerce platforms allow you to import a CSV of your skus that include the name, category, and a description of the product, trying to organize thousands of skus quickly can be time-consuming. We’re going to err on the side of fast so choose a selection of your inventory to sell online. Consider: 

  • Your top 100 items – great for bookstores and comic book shops, hobby shops, gift shops, and similar fields.
  • Your top items in specific categories – great for clothing boutiques (think tops, pants, dresses, shoes, etc). 
  • Seasonal items – Home improvement, garden centers. 

You can also mix and match, for example, featuring top sellers, seasonal items, and an assortment of products from a variety of categories. When you list your products, remember you’ll need to write short descriptions, titles, and post images, so start with the products that have the highest demand and work your way down from there. 

Staying Local or Going National

While the main benefit of an online store is having a global reach, right now you can focus on making yourself available to your current customers and community. This means that instead of worrying about shipping, you can create a pick-up option for customers to come by your store and get their purchase. Once you have the foundation of your ecommerce site up and running, you can branch out to national sales. 

Take Images of Your Online Inventory

You may not have time to stage a professional photo shoot, but since your customers won’t get to see products in person, you still need to make sure to post decent quality images. Fortunately, with the right lighting, a simple backdrop, and the camera on your smartphone, you can get the job done. 

  • Make sure what you’re photographing looks clean, new, and there’s no dust or debris in or around the product or in the background.
  • Include images both in and out of packaging if possible
  • Avoid using a flash, instead either use natural lighting or even a pair of LED desk lamps to reduce shadows and glare. Create a light box by lining a cardboard box, cut it and line it with white tissue paper. 
  • Use contrasting backgrounds so if you have a white object, make sure to use dark background and a white background for dark objects. Poster board, mat board, or even brown kraft paper can be an acceptable backdrop in a pinch. 
  • Don’t add text, borders, or any extraneous props. You want to highlight the product, not distract from it. 

Choose Your Ecommerce Platform

There are a variety of ecommerce platforms to choose from Squarespace, Shopify, Magento, BigCommerce, WooCommerce – those are just a few of the more common options, but there are dozens of platforms available. Factors like ease of use, customization, cost, and integration capabilities will all play a role in your choice. Also, given the circumstances, we know you want something you can get off the ground quickly. 

First, consider what you’re already working with. If you have a WordPress website, we recommend using WooCommerce, a free plugin that turns your existing site into an online store. It integrates seamlessly and allows you to add products and images, payment gateways, and near endless customization, including MailChimp, Facebook, and PayPal extensions.

If you don’t have a website for your shop yet, a Shopify website may be a better option. It’s simple to use, affordable, and you can have it up and running quickly. Like WooCommerce, Shopify can integrate with a variety of apps, including social media accounts and MailChimp, has numerous payment gateways, and makes search engine optimization simple so you can make sure your customers can find your website. 

Building Your Online Store

While your specialty is in running a business, not web design, WooCommerce and Shopify are both incredibly user-friendly and offer excellent tutorials and customer service assistance so building your online store doesn’t have to be time-consuming, overwhelming, and difficult. 

Product Pages

This is where sales happen, so making sure you take the time to create a product page that resonates with your customer is important. But since you already know your customers, you’ve got a head start! Each page should have: 

  • A clear, descriptive name for the product – Think “High-waisted, wide-leg, linen blend pants” over “Khaki pants” or a cute name like “Breezy summer pants.” Clarity over creativity is not a bad thing. 
  • A 1-2 paragraph product description – A good rule of thumb is writing a product description that describes what the problem the customer is having, what the customer’s goal is, and why your product does this. Think, “Tired of sacrificing comfort in order to look professional at the office? Wouldn’t you love to show off a professional, flattering outfit that is cool, comfortable, and fun to wear? These breezy summer pants feature a light, linen-blend fabric and stylish wide-leg, so they’re versatile enough to pair with heels and a dressy top or can be cool and casual.”
  • Images – Use the steps we outlined above to take product photos and post them on your pages. 
  • Meta Title & Description – In order for your products to show up on Google, make sure you include the “meta title” which is how your product is listed in a search engine result page, and the meta description, a short description of the product. Use keywords that describe what customers will be searching for. 

Home Page

This is where customers will land first, so you want it to make a great impression and highlight popular products and promotions. Also, because this is a new website designed to serve a purpose through the coronavirus pandemic, you can also include information about your store, such as “Due to the coronavirus pandemic, our store is closed to in-person shopping, but you can shop online and select curbside pickup for purchase!” 

Contact Page

This is essential for a brick-and-mortar store that also has an ecommerce footprint because many of your customers are going to want to reach out to you as well as get information on when your hours are, your phone number, and other information. Your contact page doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but you should absolutely include:

  • Phone number
  • Email address
  • Physical address 
  • Contact form
  • Store hours

Get the Word Out on Your Ecommerce Website

Now that you’re up and running, it’s time to start selling! If you have an email subscriber list, take the opportunity to integrate your email into your ecommerce platform, then get the word out about your new online store. The same goes with social media – ask your employees to share the news on their social media accounts to drive visibility. For an added boost, offer a promotion or discount code to get people shopping.  

Increase Traffic and Revenue Through Ecommerce

We know that even under normal circumstances, making the shift to an online store can be challenging, especially while trying to maintain your other store operations. Our team at TheeDigital is dedicated to helping small businesses succeed online and specializes in building WooCommerce and Shopify websites that blend an attractive design, excellent user experience, and search engine optimization so you’re always getting new visitors. To learn more about how we can help you establish an online presence, speak to a ecommerce consultant today at 919-336-1790.

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