Virtual Retail: Transitioning From Brick-and-Mortar to Online

From staffing and inventory to space rental, running a brick-and-mortar store can be costly. Moving your retail store to an online presence can save you money and allow you to expand your business. Here's how to transition from brick-and-mortar to online.


Online Platforms

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When it comes to choosing an online platform for your business, you have numerous options for your retail shop. Hiring a web designer to create a customized e-commerce website can give you exactly the finished product you want to see, but there are also downsides to this level of customization. Hiring an experienced web designer can be both time-consuming and expensive for your business, costing you a large amount up front and regular website maintenance charges for years to come.

A simpler and cheaper option for getting online is to use an out-of-the-box e-commerce website service. This provides you with options for templates, fonts, and color schemes, so you can make easy choices about how you want your site to look. You can even establish this e-commerce site as a standalone website or as a plugin to your preexisting page. For this product, you'll typically have to pay a monthly fee ranging from two to three digits to keep your e-commerce portal up and running.

Product Descriptions

Describing and picturing your products on your new e-commerce site is critical, since your customers won't be able to see or feel them in person. You don't have to break the bank to get good photos, though. While you can hire a professional to photograph your products, you can also save money by shooting them yourself with a reasonably priced camera and good light. If you choose to photograph your products yourself, be sure to shoot multiple angles so your customers can really browse your shop.

Writing product descriptions is another task you can take on yourself as the business owner. As a general rule of thumb, it's best to keep product descriptions on the short side while still providing enough details to entice a customer to make a purchase. Be sure to include measurements, colors, and other key features to describe the object accurately.

Payment Systems

Just like e-commerce platforms, retailers also have many choices for payment systems. Though you may find a more customized payment system that works well with your business in the future, many experts recommend saving time up front and simply signing on with PayPal. This is the largest and most widely accepted third-party processor, and it's a payment system that works for countless retail businesses. Since PayPal is known to be reliable and secure, you can trust the system to process your customers' money and deposit it into your pockets securely.

If you find that PayPal doesn't meet all of your retail needs down the road, your business can apply for a merchant account with one or more of the major credit card companies. This will allow you to accept credit card payments directly from your customers without involving a third party. Though credit card companies do collect a small percentage and a standard fee for each purchase processed, this is an unavoidable cost of doing business online.

Customer Service

As your business grows, you may find that it's harder to keep track of each and every customer. Before you get to that point, set up a customer relationship management (CRM) tool. A CRM streamlines data collection from your customers so that you automatically possess their contact information and purchase data. CRMs can also automatically process customer inquiries, complaints, and suggestions so that your staff members don't have to take the time to address each one themselves. Great CRM tools also store information about customer shopping habits and preferences, which becomes data that you can use for future marketing endeavors.

While you may think about phone-based customer service by default, be sure to consider other important methods of addressing customers as well. A live chat feature on your website can allow customers to submit questions and inquiries that arise during that critical time when they're attempting to make a purchase. Also pay attention to how you address social media customer service, another key outlet for customer feedback.

Social Media

While a brick-and-mortar retail shop may be able to get away with not having a social media presence, it's a necessity for an online business. Do some basic research to determine the top one or two social media platforms for your industry. Facebook and Twitter may be the two best-known platforms, but image-based platforms Pinterest and Instagram continue to grow more important in the retail sector. Whatever you choose, remember that many clients won't know that your business exists without a social media presence.

Of course, social media isn't as simple as just logging in and setting up a profile. It's an active tool that you'll need to manage on a constant basis to make the most use out of it. Begin by posting updates, stories, and product images regularly to shape the personality of your business and give your customers content to engage with. Don't forget to interact with your customers and encourage them to click-through to visit your e-commerce site. Social media offers countless opportunities for online businesses to establish brand recognition and convert casual visitors into paying customers.

Manage Success

All of your hard work doesn't mean much if you're not keeping track of your metrics. The accepted analytics standard for every industry is Google Analytics. This powerful tool tracks your website visitors and page views, along with more complex information like which pages received the most visitors, and what path customers took as they clicked through your website pages. Be sure to set up Google Analytics at the outset, and you'll have all the information you need waiting for you.

Making the jump from a brick-and-mortar shop to an online store is a big decision, but it's one that can save you tons of cash along the way. Follow these steps to build your business and make a successful transition to online retail.

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