About a decade ago, shops, malls, showrooms and other store types were effectively the only places people bought products from. But since the advent of the internet into the day-to-day lives of people – better to say, into the lives of consumers – things have changed dramatically. People now prefer to buy more from online shops than ever before and this interest is exponentially increasing by every passing day. Local shops are less preferred while malls & showrooms have entirely become places of leisure. There are several reasons why online shops are rolling over their dominance, the best of which is the price difference. It takes a tip of needle amount of money to start selling online while setting up even a one-room shop asks for a big deal of budget. You can just sign up with Amazon or eBay or Flipkart and start selling your products online in no-time. But for a local shop, you need big land, labor and capital resources to begin with. Plus, it takes a lot of time to set these things up.
But, that’s one side of a coin.
Kinds of local stores
Local stores are essential part of any economy, no matter what the development would be. Everything you see online somehow started there on the land as a local office. Plus everything you buy is built offline and is delivered to you by real people. So, local stores, malls etc. aren’t going anywhere soon. But those quickly connecting to internet and taking their progress to a better level. If you are a local store owner and haven’t moved your shop online yet – now is the best time to do so.
In market, there can be following three kinds of shops or stores:
- Local shops with digital payment methods, like POS etc.
- Local shops with only cash/cheque payments
- Starting fresh with a bidirectional approach.
Local shops with digital payment methods
These are the ones which have moved from being to a basic shop to an adaptive shop. Such local shops receive their payments through Point of Sale systems – i.e., electronically using credit & debit cards or even cash payments. Point of Sale systems are now-a-days an essential requirement for any shop. These shops are mostly the ones which do good at sales and are technically ready to move online. There is a catch. Technically they may be ready to move online but in real life, such shops prefer to stay as they are. The key reason behind this is the risk of ambiguity. Store owners prefer not to find themselves in areas they aren’t expert in. In that case, several case studies and results from some open minded shop-owners can be presented to motivate them to online business. If you are reading this and you happen to be a shop owner of this category – some Google My Business case studies can help you make up your mind. But to be honest, moving your shop online is in no way an ambiguity and in this article I have made sure to answer any such questions that may arise.
Local shops with only cash/cheque payments
These are the most basic type of stores and mostly are found in developing & third world countries. Such stores have limited sale and poor management. Cash only payments eliminate the possibility of extra purchase freedom and decrease the sales. These necessarily need an upgradation as a POS ready store and then these too can join the online machinery. It’s possible for these to skip the POS system, but without being electronically sound – the online business may not last long.
Starting fresh with bidirectional approach
People now know the power of internet and most of the entrepreneur understand how internet and local stores can work together. These are the best people to upgrade & move online and keep their local shop in-sync.
Why upgrade as an online business?
I have already discussed a few things about how online businesses are eclipsing over the local stores and as an internet user – even you can feel it. Every business around you has a website, they sale their products to Amazon, Flipkart and what not. They have ties to courier services for their own sales. They support online payment gateways, their sales database in stored on cloud. These things are easily noticeable and must be a matter of understanding to you as a shop/business owner. Whether you produce product or sell those – you must catch up with the pace of competition, else you’d lag behind in old-age jungles.
To help you decide this “why” question, let’s part this section into four minor parts:
Have you heard of Amazon? Yes? Then you’ve your answer.
But then, did you know how amazon started?
It started like this.
Yours isn’t that bad.
It costs not a penny as compared to the dollar you would spend upon your local shop. So, why is it so tough to start?
The ratio of profit to cost is higher than that’s in any local store. You won’t have to pay for your salespersons, you won’t have to setup a fancy store for the customers visiting. And so on. Plus, as the servicing costs are less, the profit is higher with online stores.
What can you do after upgrading?
Once you decide and do the upgrade, you can run both online sales and local sales. You can manage both in a single database, do accounting and manage sales at one single point of sale system by recording all sales into one database. You can also partner with local courier agents to deliver your products even for those which you don’t sell online. With this partnership, you can save plenty and maximize your profits with each counting sale.
Once your business is online – up & running, you can try various other methods to promote your shop. You can upgrade your business card to provide your shop’s website where people could order online. This will save the trouble for customers to visit the shop in order to buy products. To be honest, websites fulfill the key purpose of business cards – which is to convenience cardholder with purchases and what else can do better than a webpage?
You can print your QR codes/website links to any advertisements you do in your area and as usual it will help you build trust of new consumers and consolidate that of older ones.
How to move your online shop into an online business?
The first thing required to start is intent. There’s not much of capital involved and all it requires is to have proper aspiration. Design a plan, use some tools and you are ready to go.
Plan should be simple and in accordance to your existing business. You can not just be hell-bent on to go completely online at once. The need is to create a proper schematic and take thing easy and slow.
I have seen businesses of both types in my neighborhood, ones with neglecting the needs of online shopping and others with anxious approach to do it as quick as possible. Neither of these are good for a business. Plans should be made planning outputs in 15 days, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months and a year. These help adjust targets if things go even a bit south.
After the plan is ready, all you need are some tools.
Which tools to use ?
Internet is all about web-pages and you’ll be needing some specific of those. You can try your own online shopping website, popularly known as an ecommerce portal and/or third party portals to take your business online. Additionally, you can harness the power of Social Media to lead more conversion and generate more sales once ready to go.
Remember that websites are today’s necessity. Whether you are a blogger or a freelancer, job seeker or business manager, a start-up or a company, everyone needs a website. You may be local & so could be your business but the websites are not local, they are global. They are now the utter symbol of professionalism.
There are hundreds of articles on the internet, convincing you to have a website, irrespective of who you are. They will emphasize on all the requirements one can think of.
- Websites build business values.
- Websites engage more customers.
- Sell at day, sell at night. Websites can help you sell 24×7 – even when you were sleeping.
- Websites are better marketing tools. Have you recently added a new product to your shop? Why bother telling your customers when they visit you? You can notify them anytime you want using the web or app or SMS-notifications. The internet has set new dimensions for marketing & customer reach approaches.
- Websites can help you compete with even the giants. By building a proper website, you are jumping directly to the business of the giant companies. No matter how bad you would do, you will feel valued.
- Websites are a very impressive show-off. What is better than showing off who you are? Create an about page and let the world know why you are important to the world? You can print your web-address on your business cards & posters to impress people even more.
- As long as you remain creative, there are countless amazing things you can do with a website. You can start your own community or social network, share photos & videos, showcase your art and almost anything you can think of.
Let’s see what options you have for websites:.
Own ecommerce portal
I had already written an article on how to start with ecommerce portals, but that was for general needs. For the specific purpose of upgrading a local shop there are some specific inputs that I’d love to share.
Shopify is one ecommerce tool truly dedicated to bridge local shop owner with the power of internet. It can help you upgrade your business go from an unorganized shop to a full-fledged online store in no time. Not just this, shopify is cost effective and also provides Point of Sale systems for those shop which don’t have one. Shopify POS Systems are easily the best choice to integrate both your local and online sales. Plus, it’s more on the easiest side of all as it’s the ultimate solution to those that aren’t tech-savvy. It integrates not only your physical store but also your social media platforms into one to help you sell you better.
Other dedicated tools like Magento can also help you build an online shop and so can website builders including wix, weebly, hpage etc. There are several more ecommerce tools that are worth a try but I can’t recommend them enough as Shopify.
Own ecommerce portals are highly recommended only for those with strong reach or with special variety of products. Alternatively, as a business owner you can sign-up with third party portals, pay their commission fee and start selling without the trouble of setting up an entire ecommerce portal.
Third Party Portals
Websites are necessary and you must have one – even a simple static site. But for those who don’t want to set up an entire ecommerce store as a website, third party portals offer much convenience plus more reach to customers that you could ever achieve as a small business. Site like Amazon, eBay, Flipkart, Paytm etc. have definitive solutions for interested sellers. As a seller you can register your business, upload your product list and start selling in real-time. These third party portals charge their commission for each sale you make that will sum to a big amount if your sales are high but fortunately that’s way less than what it would take to set a new portal for your own.
To be clear, you need to know that there is no such thing as the ‘perfect’ or the ‘best’ ecommerce platform, own or third party. However, based on goals, resources and preferences an appropriate ecommerce platform can be chosen.
Major social networks like Facebook provide stunning selling solutions for local businesses and recently these have grown to be a favorable source to boost sales. But for these to work best, you will need an ecommerce site – own or third party as products cannot be directly purchased from these social networks.
Local SEO & Advertising
Websites or not – local SEO is very important for any business right now. If you don’t have your shop registered on Google My Business listing, it means you are losing a lot of local consumers. Plus, this listing is entirely free so what should stop you from trying? Google My Business listings help your business appear in Google search, maps and Google+. Plus, after the listing you can try advertising methods that Google offers to boost sales, let more people know about your place and much more.
There are various others tools that can help you put your business online for nearby customers to find.
As we are talking about advertising and promotion, tools like Google Adwords & Facebook Ads can never be neglected. A basic understanding of how these advertising tools work is important. Additionally, you can try content promotion to spread out your business to more people and generate backlinks to generate more people to your products. Locally you can buy newspaper ads and spread the business on the ground level.
Does my business need a mobile app?
That depends upon the growth you are into. Mobile apps are worth try but there is no need to invest much on apps if you are an upcoming business. You can just make your website responsive, convert it as a progressive web app – and you are good to go. Your site should load fast on mobile devices and that’s the only requirement. If you a seller on Amazon like sites, you already have an app. But if you are not, it’s not that necessary to hire an app developer, build an app and then do unnecessary work on updating it with each site update. People use Google to find products and Google shows websites – not apps to list those products.
In short, if you are big company, you can have an app. If you are not, make your site mobile ready.
How to get payments?
When you sell a product in your physical store, you get payments in form of cash or directly into your bank account from your POS provider. Online payments work the same ways – more or less. You have options of Payment Gateways (PGs), Direct bank transfers (DBTs) and even Cash on Delivery (COD) in almost every ecommerce tool mentioned above. So, fortunately it will be nothing new that you don’t know about. If set on your own site Payment Gateways charge a minimal amount per transaction and send money to your bank account at a recurring basis. Direct bank transfers are nowadays quite popular in countries like India and unlike Payment Gateways these are almost real time. Cash on Delivery is an effective solution to build more consumers but is riskier than either of PGs or DBTs.
As a shop owner, you are used to people paying upfront and getting their products right away. In online business, you’ll have to deliver those products. There are many advantages plus some risks involved with delivery of products.
Advantages include the efficiency of product selling, no need of having a fancy showroom and higher level of customer satisfaction. But in online store, you may need to guarantee returns. After the return of a product that has been opened and used, the quality of product may fall by a big margin. Sometime the consumer can also refuse the receiving of the product, resulting in loss of money in form of packaging and delivery.
There are some ways you can ensure such issues are as minimal as possible, including quality upgradation, not allowing Cash on Delivery and not delivering to an area specific. All these can be handled by your ecommerce tool or third party seller you are affiliated with. You can use Cash on Delivery alternatives to reduce risk on getting forfeited money and can even disable the option to pay via cash if needed.
You can hire bulk SMS providers nearby or use various online SMS marketing tools like Jook SMS to let your customers know about the latest offers, provide notifications about their orders, shipment status etc. Bulk SMS tools are easy to setup and aren’t as costly as these used to be.
Making your shop better
Product marketing is a useful tool to enhance the sales of your products and should be used as much as possible. This includes professional branding, product redesign and quality packing on production stage. Once the product has finished and ready to sale – you can use graphic designers and photographers to make your products as candid as possible. You can use the designer graphics to promote your products both online and local. Good thumbnails and clear photos of products increase sale by a high margin. Write good call to actions and headlines to attract more users and make them believe that this is the only product they needed to buy.
You should read the product reviews and online feedbacks to improve your product quality and adjust the marketing strategies accordingly. Focus on improving customer experience by answering their calls & emails. You can also call them back after each delivery to make sure that your product met their expectations. To be honest, whether your product is good or not, taking feedback after every delivery will reduce the chances of the product being returned by around 300%.