According to Forbes Magazine, U.S. retailers received about half of the footfall that they expected during the 2013 holiday shopping season. In the same period, Amazon reported their best Christmas shopping season ever in 2013. So, it could be said that shoppers are continuing to migrate away from brick-and-mortar stores in favor of the online experience.
Larger retailers have already taken note by integrating eCommerce into their sales strategy so they can take advantage of the huge 25% annual growth seen in online sales. According to a recent study from Gartner 30% of small businesses with a web presence generate more than 25% of their revenue online– so eCommerce isn’t just for the multinationals. If that isn’t convincing enough, here are 4 more reasons why small businesses need to seriously consider eCommerce.
eCommerce Isn’t Just for Purchasing Online
A recent Wall Street Journal article noted that 70% of shoppers prefer to shop with their favorite retailer online rather than in store. When retail consumers aren’t shopping online, 89% are using the major search engines to find information before they go to make a purchase in store. According to a recent study from Accenture, shoppers are “show rooming” online across all product categories except for groceries prior to purchase, and 78% of shoppers have spent time on a retailer’s website before going to the store and making a purchase. By making this information easily accessible online for customers, they’ll be even more likely to make an in store purchase with you.
Consumers’ Shopping Behaviors Have Changed.
Shopping takes time. Yet, people are busier and more time poor than ever. Online shopping offers the convenience of finding difficult to locate items faster, with no crowds and the ability to shop without ever leaving your home. Small retailers need to follow the lead of bigger retailers by enabling customers to buy their products in a few clicks, 24 hours a day. One key consideration of online retailing, much like a brick and mortar store- is to make sure you are easy to find and purchase from. Do this by investing in SEO, optimizing your checkout for conversions and offering multiple payment methods you’ll make your online shopping experience as convenient as possible.
Online Shopping is Social
We used to go to the store with our friends to get their suggestions on what to buy, or to ask if something would look good on us. Today, we can still be social when we shop, even if we’re alone at home on the couch. Top eCommerce retailers offer consumers real-time suggestions for products based on our previous purchases, and from our browsing behavior. At the same time, past customers are leaving reviews about their shopping experience every day on any number of review websites.
Once we find what we like, it’s simple to share the information. Leading social websites like Pinterest let us search through photos that are tagged and linked to shopping ideas and products to share our favorites with our networks. Because of this ease of access, more and more qualified buyers are now coming from social media.
To capitalize on this continued trend, small retailers must find ways to incorporate social media and social buying into their marketing strategies- often in creative ways and with limited budgets. A good strategy is to target niche groups of consumers online like Facebook groups or specific hash tags with posts. By prioritizing research early on in social strategy you’ll more likely see valuable returns
eCommerce Provides Better Customer Service.
Good customer service is crucial for sales success. Customers want their questions answered quickly, their problems fixed, and their shopping experience to be easy and enjoyable.
As a small business you don’t need to go to the same lengths as the larger multinational retailers to successfully drive online sales. However, following these tips will get you started in the right direction;
- Get back to customers as quickly as possible. Providing a fast response is critical to customer loyalty. Waiting a few days to respond means that you will have lost your opportunity to leave a positive impression.
- Treat customers well both online and offline. Examples include offering a free service, upgrading a customer’s delivery method for no extra charge, or even including a hand-written “thank you” note with the delivery of a product.
- Offer a generous returns policy. Never argue about a return, and have a 100% guarantee of customer satisfaction with your products.
- Be prepared to support customers in ways you might not have considered before. Accept that things can and probably will go wrong. The wrong product might be delivered. Maybe it doesn’t fit or work or maybe it was broken or damaged during delivery. Whatever the issue make sure you put the customer satisfaction first and don’t sweat the small stuff.
- Treat each customer as an individual. Don’t forget that each customer has a unique story. The way to forge an ongoing relationship is to make them feel valuable and provide a personalized service. Simple things like including their name on all correspondence, or providing them with recommendations based on previous purchases will go a long way.
As a small retailer you can take your sales to the next level with your own online store. More importantly, by having an online store- your customers will know that you care about their shopping experience. If you provide an outstanding service they will become repeat customers and start to spread the word as brand evangelists on social media. Branching out online will not only give you the ability to capitalize on these benefits, but having an online store will also allow you to grow quickly and with scale your business with more agility.