With the COVID-19 pandemic still looming over much of the United States, physical retail stores are making an overwhelming shift to online sales. Ecommerce adoption rates are already said to be 10 years ahead, with market share up 11% in the U.S. after just eight weeks. However, for many of these merchants, this may be their first foray into ecommerce. Truth be told, selling online isn’t a simple extension of your brick-and-mortar business; there are several factors that can throw a wrench into your plans if you’re not aware of them ahead of time.
To help you avoid rushing into ecommerce without a proper strategy in place, here are the five most common mistakes that brick-and-mortars should avoid when moving their operations online (and how to prevent them).
1. The Shopping Experience Is Unintuitive
A common mistake that many newcomers make when transitioning from physical retail to ecommerce concerns the design of their website. This is especially true for those who don’t have experience with web design – it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of ways you can customize your site. Whether it’s because of too much information or lack of information, a website that’s difficult to navigate is not going to attract business. In fact, 88% of online shoppers won’t return to a website after a bad user experience.
While it may seem tempting to add as many features to your online store as possible, you’ll want to avoid making the customer’s shopping experience too complex. On the other hand, making it too simple could diminish the potential it has to generate as much as 80% of your total sales. Remember that your store’s design and function isn’t about what you personally like. It’s about what your customer needs and wants in order to convert.
Carry over this thinking to your site’s design on all devices. If your online store isn’t responsive, that kills its usability immediately. According to research, 85% of consumers want a company’s mobile site to be just as good, or better, than the desktop version. Test out your site on multiple devices to ensure that users can easily shop from anywhere.
2. Images and Videos Are Low Quality
If you’re moving from physical retail to online selling, you may not be used to taking high-quality photos and videos of your products. Unfortunately, you can’t rely on the fact that customers can see your products on a shelf when selling online.
Pictures are of utmost importance. An overwhelming majority of shoppers (about 93%) consider images essential in purchasing decisions. Naturally, this means that your photos, images and videos should show off your products in detail to make the online shopping experience as close as possible to what customers can find in your brick-and-mortar store.
Above is a great example of a product page with high-quality images from Filippo Loreti. This page includes pictures of the watch from several different angles, on and off a wrist, and a 360-degree view.
Here are a few ways that you can improve the quality of your online visuals:
- Use high-resolution photographs.
- Take pictures of your products from many different angles.
- Add visual control features such as zoom and rotate.
- Record a short video showcasing the product and how it looks in 3-dimensional space.
- Create a size comparison photo/graphic to give customers an idea of scale.
- If you’re listing to third-party marketplaces, like Amazon, heed their image requirements and take advantage of features like enhanced brand content (EBC).
3. Inventory and Shipping Are Disorganized
Inventory management can easily get complicated when you transition online. You are, after all, selling on an entirely different channel, while still pulling from the same inventory that you use for your physical store.
To make matters more confusing, you now have a store that’s open 24/7. It’s therefore absolutely critical to be tracking your inventory at all times. If your inventory doesn’t automatically update with every purchase, you could easily end up overselling.
Rather than manually counting all of your inventory, integrate an automated system that connects your physical operations with your online store’s inventory. There’s a variety of inventory management software options available, including QuickBooks, Oracle NetSuite and Zentail.
Shipping is a challenge all its own, it all comes down to planning and organization. Without the right approach to your shipping, you could end up with expensive shipping rates, long delivery times, lost packages or even damaged orders that can lead to costly returns.
On the topic of returns, many new merchants neglect to write a returns policy that helps their business retain a profit while also keeping things easy for the customer. Offer the best solution you can to your customers while also being upfront with what your business can accept in the case of a return.
To streamline your shipping efforts, keep in mind the following:
- Avoid over-sizing your packaging. While you should protect your products, larger packaging costs more to ship, meaning you’re paying for empty space. Choose the right-sized box to fit your product while leaving enough space for protection.
- Protect your products when packing for shipment. To avoid damage throughout delivery and upon arrival, be sure to sufficiently pack each shipment to keep the product safe. For example, wrap glass products in thick paper and utilize cardboard stabilizers to prevent the glass from breaking.
- Don’t offer free shipping for every order. It’s tempting to want to compete with Amazon’s free shipping promises, but you may lose money if you’re taking on the cost of shipping for every order. Enforce a free-shipping threshold for customers to meet before they qualify for it.
- Keep customer information organized. Manually entering all customer information could result in a variety of mistakes. To avoid these, enable an address verification system and utilize CRM software to ensure all information is accurate before shipping orders.
- Update customers frequently. When customers shop online, they want to know as much about the status of their order as possible. Let customers know when their order has been received, when it’s been shipped, the delivery date estimate of their order and when it’s been delivered. Over-communication is better than the alternative, as sellers witnessed during the early days of the pandemic.
- Consider a 3PL. If you’re lacking warehouse space or staff to handle order fulfillment, a third-party logistics partner is a good option. Most high-rated 3PLs can help you deliver orders quickly across various channels, like your webstore, Amazon, eBay and Walmart Marketplace.
4. Customers Feel Ignored
Your online customers have different needs than the customers you’re used to seeing in your brick-and-mortar establishment. This is for two main reasons: customers expect fast response times at all hours and consistent contact from multiple channels.
In contrast to your physical store, your online store is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Because online shoppers expect instant gratification, they may be annoyed at having to wait for a response from your team regarding any questions or issues they have, even if they’re contacting you outside of normal office hours. In fact, 88% of customers expect a response from your business within 60 minutes, and 30% expect a response within 15 minutes or less.
This may be overwhelming for a small business with a limited staff, and an impossible target to meet. To help mitigate this problem, be clear about your office hours on your website and how long the typical wait time is before customers should expect a response.
Also, automation can save you here; set up a simple automated message to send to customers who are contacting your business informing them of when they can expect an answer or where they can find it themselves.
Note that customers always prefer to have options when it comes to contact methods. This includes email, contact forms, phone, live chat and social media. Make sure to not only offer a few (if not all) of these options, but to also clearly state them on your website. If not, customers may be frustrated and leave: 54% of consumers find that lack of contact information on a merchant’s site reduces their credibility.
Make sure to avoid the inverse of this problem: note the opportunity for greater exposure through your existing customer base. Proactively reach out to customers who already know your store by collecting their emails, asking them to leave reviews and offering promotions for repeat orders.
5. Choosing the Wrong Website Builder
The website builder that you choose to build and manage your website is an important decision. It acts as the foundation of your website and needs to be stable in order to support your business’s online presence.
Your platform decides the performance, reach, appeal, design and ultimate success of your online store. If you end up choosing the wrong platform, your site may turn away customers and result in a tedious migration to a new one that better suits your needs. This is why it’s important to get it right the first time.
There’s a wide variety of ecommerce platforms available on the market to choose from, so you need to pick the one that matches your business’s needs regarding your own skill level, the platform’s ease of use and the features included. Every business is unique and has specific needs for operating both online and physically. For example, you may want an ecommerce platform that directly integrates with a POS (point of sale) system so that your online orders and physical retail orders stay consistent with your overall inventory.
The best way to avoid the wrong platform is to do your research. Evaluate all the options you have available to you that fit within your budget for online operations and directly compare all of their features and flaws. Look into user reviews to determine the quality of the platform’s service and performance, and make an informed decision based on what you’ve found.
Expanding your business to ecommerce may seem intimidating, especially with all of the potential mistakes that we’ve lined up in this article. But rest assured that you can avoid making these mistakes. With the right amount of research, organization and setup, your business’s online presence can be just as profitable as your brick-and-mortar (if not more).