39 Experts Share Their Best Tips on Moving Your Offline Business Online

Posted on 10/02/2015 by | 0 comments

More and more offline retailers are heading online so that they can take advantage of everything that the world wide web has to offer. But just because you’ve seen a bunch of success with your brick-and-mortar business doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to see the same results online!

Even the savviest offline retailer can see big problems when they head online, like:

  • Frustrating customers by having different products and/or prices online than in the store
  • Underestimating the time and money that goes into building and maintaining a successful website
  • Not understanding the logistics behind a secure, easy-to-use payment processor
  • Not understanding the technology behind all of the fancy bells and whistles (which creates a confusing experience for shoppers!)
  • Facing competition from all over the world, instead of just the local market they’re used to
  • Trying to compete with the dominance of big retailers that can offer lower prices (like Amazon!)

Any of these issues can turn your new website into a disaster, but the biggest mistake offline retailers make when they dive into the web is not thinking in terms of the big picture. Everything your website visitors see, read, and click on — from the layout, to the colors, to the content you use — has to live up to your brand. However, lots of offline retailers are so focused on simply getting online that they put their brand on the back-burner, for example on Flipkart or Snapdeal. They try to make everything “pretty”, without giving any thought to how it stacks up against the brand they’ve worked so hard to create.

Luckily, you don’t have to fall victim to any of these common mistakes!

In order to help you see as many great results online as possible, I got answers right from the horse’s mouth. These 39 experts have all generated big-time results online, and they’ve all passed along the single biggest piece of advice they have for offline retailers who are taking the plunge and going online:

Abhimanyu Rishi - Owner


Keep the pricing unique and affordable, work on margins above 15% and keep out of the discount game. Be profitable.

Adi Bittan - Co-founder & CEO


Your path to online starts with your offline customers.

Leverage your happy offline customers to spread the word about your online offering with a campaign to those in the store encouraging them to share your new ecommerce offering with their networks.

There is no better marketing than word of mouth from happy customers.

Albert Decespedes - Owner and CEO


I started Animation Shops in 1994 as a retail store and ten years later I expanded onto the internet. The vision was to bring our unique type of store to a worldwide customer and to become the leading resource for this type of merchandise. The best advice I could give to someone who is starting out is to first focus on selling your products via an electronic commerce platform such as Amazon or eBay. Test out the online marketplace and take note of the trends of buyers for each product. Analyze which products are in demand while others fall behind. Once you have reached sufficient sales in those platforms and tailored your selling strategy for the web, you are ready to embark on your journey to creating your own selling platform: your company website -- complete with a shopping cart on the top right.

Asheeta Chhabra - Head, Business Development

Chhabra 555

Since the foundation for growth had already been established by offline mode, the soon to-be-online-entrepreneur should solely focus on finding means for business development and process improvement, while the established systems could take care of the daily operations. That level of flexibility and room for innovation is a boon, which is not easy to get. Good planning skills coupled with the ability to set the strategic direction of the organization is one of the key corner stones of any successful entrepreneur. The entrepreneur needs to have the skill to maintain his focus on the top-line as well as the bottom-line, while simultaneously chalking out detailed action plans for the various functional areas.

Blake Janover - Owner

Trusted Nutrients

We were an offline retailer doing about $300,000 a month in sales. We launched on Amazon and within about 6 months, we nearly tripled our gross revenue and even increased our margins because of the lower overhead of selling online. It wasn’t as easy as just listing the products though; we very carefully followed all of their best practices, tracked all of our competitors, and most importantly setup a system to ensure the highest level of customer service possible. Amazon takes customer service very seriously so we made sure to setup a team and a system built upon taking it even more seriously than Amazon. It paid off!

Brad Hines - Founder


My number one advice for anyone with a brick and mortar store looking to go online, is to make their site responsive designed. Responsive designed means that the website is auto-formated for the screens of Desktop, Tablets, and Mobile, automatically.

I did this to Happy China Trading Co., as there is both an SEO benefit to it (makes me come up higher in search results), and as well, that it is easier for consumers to see me as a pro.

All businesses going online need to know this without exception:

Social media is now a needed evil for online businesses, and it takes up so much time, especially as you ad multiple accounts–take those accounts and connect them together with Buffer or Hootsuite. If you still don't have time, use virtual freelancers from abroad to post to social media for you.

SEO is a key component of making a website. Rather than money blindly dumped into online advertising, spend the time to learn about SEO, implement it, and let customers find you organically. Some of the best tips for this are: have a fast site, a responsive designed one, a blog with frequent weekly good content, a site optimized for social sharing, strong titles to every page that describe what the page is about, and your images optimized too (named descriptively, and with an alt tag descriptively as well.)

E-mail marketing is often the powerhouse of e-commerce marketing. Cultivate a good email list and treat it right and it will be profits for you when you mail it. Alternate between offering your subscribers help, and showing your products.

Carter Hostelley - Owner


I'd recommend you don't wait on building your social channels (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest) for your online retailer. Social media needs to be an important part of your "getting the word out" strategy for your online and offline presence.

Chris Dawson - Owner


Start with marketplaces as they already have the customers who want to buy your goods. eBay is an easy place to start followed by Amazon, but don't forget speciality marketplaces such as Notonthehighstreet or Yumbles if they're applicable to your products. Once you're established on marketplaces you can look at your own transactional website further down the road.

Collin Slattery - Founder

Taikun Inc.

Plan to spend money advertising and promoting your website. Building your website does not mean that people will be coming to visit your website and buying products. Your potential customers do not know your website exists, so you should budget at least 50% of what you spent to develop your website on online advertising to promote the website. To elaborate on my point about advertising, especially with clients who are not so familiar with how the internet works, I like to make an analogy. I compare the internet to the largest city in the world, and your website is located on a tiny, quiet, dead-end street in a far off area of town. There is not going to be very much foot traffic (in this case, organic traffic) coming to your website because no one knows about it.

Advertising will help to jump start the development of a customer base for your website in addition to people who already know about your business. The best avenue for advertising is going to depend on what you sell, but a good place to start is with Google Adwords. If your business sells products that are brand name, let';s say you sell running sneakers, Product Listing Ads are great because they are targeting people who are actively searching for that specific product. For companies who make their own products or where products are not actively searched for by name, a good choice would be to run display ads targeting people who are a member of your target demographic. For example, if you manufacture and sell your own beauty products, a good choice would be to have a display campaign that runs on websites like cosmo which are geared towards women.

Assuming you're working with an individual or company with online advertising experience, the initial spend will also help you progress towards finding campaigns that have a positive ROI. The greatest thing about running a store on the internet is you have access to every little bit of data and can track a visitor from their first point of contact through to the sale, so you can know with 100% certainty if an advertising campaign is profitable. Once you have established an advertising campaign with a positive ROI, you can let it run at as high a rate as possible. If your advertising campaign returns $1.5 of profit on $1 of spend, it doesn’t matter if you're spending $10 a day or $10,000 it will be profitable.

Danise Jarrett - CEO

ELITE Transformations Coaching

Start collecting email addresses of your current customers. Even if you have to have a clipboard on the checkout counter asking them to sign up for email alerts of future sales/specials. You can also put a sign up in the store with a QR code on it for people to scan.

David Lowbridge - Copywriter and Founder


Many businesses who go online believe they will instantly get results. This is not the case, although you may get some good traffic, building an online presence takes times sometimes up to a year. However, the benefits can be substantial and make the whole effort worth it. Therefore, whenever you start your online adventures remember to see the long term goals rather than the short term and stick with it - don't be one of those many businesses who quit before they've reached 90 days.

Before you even start publishing a blog for instance you need at least the first month worth of content (or longer). Every time that you publish a blog post you should be writing a new one to go into the publishing calendar ready to be released at a later date. As the number of published posts increase so will your PageRankings on Google, the number of links to your site and the material available to direct audiences to your website from social media, etc.

You should also treat all the online marketing as one entity. Social media is brilliant for building a relationship with your audience and directing them to your blogs and website which can then be used for collecting emails. Emails are then the perfect platform for selling your products / services. Research found that 39% of customers, who have had previous contact with a brand (usually through social media and blogs) will buy either by direct entrance to the website, email or finding for the product via search engines. These three are the most popular online purchasing paths and therefore concentrating on blogs, social media and email can earn you a significant share of online sales. But only if you invest the time to build the promotional platform for your new online business and give it time.

Deborah Sweeney - CEO


My best advice for offline retailers who are planning to go online is to track ROI. Online marketing can be very expensive and can get away from you quickly. Whether you are looking at SEO, SEM, display, retargeting, etc., it is important to make sure you are tracking your online spend and the return relative to that spend. Do not let the marketing budget get away from you.

Don Davis - Editor in Chief

Internet Retailer

Any offline retailer thinking of selling online has to know what it can offer online shoppers that others can't. Do you have unique merchandise? Do you have unusually deep expertise about a particular category of products? Can you use your stores in some way to provide service that buyers of your products need? (Tailoring for dress apparel, for example, or design advice for do-it-yourselfers?)

You should assume you're not going to be able to sell at lower prices than huge online retailers like Amazon or Walmart.com. And you're not going to match the assortment of eBay or Amazon. But that doesn't mean there isn't a lot of opportunity online. Many small store-based retailers are succeeding online by offering a very deep assortment of products in a specialized category, by providing expertise not readily available about a type of product or combining product information, imagery, videos and reviews on a web site with personal assistance in stores.

Any retailer that has built a successful business with bricks-and-mortar stores knows something about his or her category. That expertise will be their biggest asset when they go online. And the Internet will allow them to reach a far larger audience than any store, or chain of stores, can serve.

Information is power. What retailers know about their business is what makes them successful offline, and what will allow them to multiply their success online.

Dr. Arpan Kar - Editor

Business Fundas

For offline retailers, the first thing is to identify the scope and align the web enablement strategy with the business scope. Allow me to elaborate on this.

For example, if it is a small retailer with probably an access to few hundreds of customers (or maximum few thousands), then it may make sense to move to an e-market portal, which is operated by a third party like Flipkart). For such small retailers, it would not make sense going solo, and have a very small presence on the web, which would barely convert into any sales revenue. And if revenue does not come in, very soon, all the hoopla about moving towards e-commerce would die. Again, the scale we may be talking about (in terms of hundreds of customers) would be for fast moving consumable items. The scale for a small business for commodities and consumer durables would be in the order of thousands. What we are basically looking into is the number of transactions per week, to make it a viable web enablement strategy. This strategy would be typically helpful for firms with few hundreds of transactions per week.

However, if the retailer is big, and already has access to a large database of existing clients, going solo may be the alternative to choose. So these larger retailers could set up their own website using a content management system like Wordpress or Joomla, and have a dedicated team to manage the web enablement initiative. The existing customers may need a suitable motivation to move towards the web enabled platform. So suitable incentivising strategies would be needed. Further, the inherent systems withing the organization may need revamping and realignment to accomodate the change in business processes. This strategy would ideally be for firms with over 10,000 transactions per week. This will help the retailer to get the initial visibility on the web, cross the critical mass, and then reach out to many other customers with similar interest in the product portfolio.

Eric Erickson - Owner


The most important piece of advice I can give someone who wants to go online is to have good security measures. Spend the money on good software that will help you to not get hacked and give your customers peace of mind so they feel comfortable shopping on your site.

Hetal Shah - Blogger


It may possible that online sell will take time to start, but don't lose hope. Your e-commerce website is an online asset for you, so get the best out of it. And try new ways of online business promotions, instead of old traditional methods. Make a strategy and think out of the box for web promotions.

Iswarya - Blogger


The one piece of advice that I would like to share with a retailer going online from offline is the price matching criterion. Nothing can piss off a consumer like price difference. The reason why customers like to visit and purchase instead of from the shop is that they get rewards and discounts and the price is low online. Find out your target audience and build their trust.

Jake Finkelstein - Founder & CEO


"The online landscape allows you to leverage the wealth of data that traditional retailers have about their customers to vastly improve your targeting and message relevancy. By putting data such as email addresses, geographic location and purchase history to work, retailers new to the digital space can significant increase the frequency of purchase and add significantly to lifetime value of their customers."

James Bregenzer - Owner

Bregenzer Group LLC

Used properly, an ecommerce website can be an important part of a company's marketing mix. Used incorrectly, though, an ecommerce website can be a black hole--one that business owners invest thousands of dollar in without any results. To maximize their return on investment, the single piece of advice I would offer small businesses to maximize their return on online investment is:

"Focus on sales, not clicks."

One of the biggest issues ecommerce website owners face is misalignment of objectives. Small businesses want to sell their product or service. Yet, they often measure success in clicks, friends, followers or some other metric other than sales.

Gaining a certain number of followers or achieving a target click-through rate can be productive short-term objectives. However, the final objective of running an ecommerce website is sales, full stop. Don’t lose sight of this.

In general, the Internet and social media can be especially effective tools for generating sales. But, like all tools, they have to be used properly to produce the desired results.

Jennifer Colgan - Owner


My single piece of advice - research your ecommerce site provider thoroughly before building your website. Most of the items I sell are highly personalized, so I needed to find a provider that presented personalization options in the best way for my business. I tried out several providers before deciding on BigCommerce.

Jessica Dewell - Chief Purposer

Red Direction

The one thing: Maximize opportunity by being as thoughtful and deliberate when starting your business. Online is not an add-on or a standalone department. It is a compliment to every single program and process you have to delight customers.
  1. Step by step to success tends to leave out critical components: the teams personality and original vision (and how that translates to an online experience).
  2. Social Media is part of an experience. It is not a set-and-forget posting/sharing system.
  3. The original story of the offline business has an online compliment. How that looks is as unique as the reason for building the business in the first place.
(Copying other people’s processes will dampen results.)

Joan Jacobsen - Owner


I know it's only been three months for me since I've gone live with my online shop, however my advice would be to "don't quit your day job". Stick with the brick and mortar store, selling exclusively online is extremely competitive and difficult. Unless you have a successful and popular business, than it would be advantageous to have both available to all customers.

John Olson - CEO

Graystone Industries

The best advice for companies looking to take their products online is to think "bundling". With Amazon dominating single sale items any company who joins the internet fray now needs to think about bundling 2 or more items together into a package deal. It benefits in multiple ways
  1. Offers consumers a slight discount for purchasing multiple items while increasing on line sales dollars
  2. Products are likely not to be found bundled on Amazon so less competition
  3. Saves the seller quite a bit on shipping the bundled items together
  4. Increases sales and profits by offering items together that consumers would typically buy separate
  5. Often helps inventory by moving slower selling items paired with good sellers.
In our own web site Graystonecreations.com we found many years ago that offering complete pond and waterfall kits allowed us to greatly increase our sales while benefiting the customers by offering an all-inclusive package. We have plans to pair more items together like different water treatments as our split tests on Ebay have shown customers are responding well.

Jonathan Lacoste - Founder


Our quick piece of advice would be just to know who your target market is. There are lots of easy ways to waste advertising dollars online if you don't know exactly what you're doing. Also, online advertising makes it very easy to test different strategies so don't be afraid to try different tactics.

Liz Jackson - Owner


For offline retailers planning to go online, my one piece of advice would be to create a simple, very user friendly website. Many online retailers make the mistake of making their first website too complicated and to difficult to use. A simple, streamlined process makes all the difference when it comes to increasing sales and building a brand. I would also recommend they do the same thing with the mobile version of their site. More and more people are using their mobile devices to complete purchases. An easy-to-use mobile site is essential.

Maciej (ma-chi) Fita - Managing Director


Don’t assume that all you need is a "website". Your online approach needs to be just as strong as your offline. Your website is an extension of your brand and your image. If you have an amazing experience in the store it needs to be carried over to your website as well. Your website is a direct reflection of your brick & mortar locations and often times it will be the only interaction a customer has. You have to make it count.

Manuel E. Fernandez - CEO


After a decade of doing offline business (I own a Paints and Lacquers business), and having tried going online a few times (none of them successful enough to keep on going), I believe the most important thing to consider when going online is: Are your customers looking for you (or competitors) online right now? If you believe the answer is a resounding “YES!” then I would suggest following these steps: - See if competitors have websites, or are selling their stuff on Ebay-Amazon-Etc. (No pain, just Google it) - Check out the number of bids/visits (Ebay and Amazon) Comments, product ratings and in general any proof that actual people are buying.

Check the number of hits their website has, for reference only. That´s because hits or visits doesn´t necessarily mean sales. If you find that people are actually shopping online for your kind of product, then you´ll have the most important question of any business covered: Will I get customers if I go there?. Once you have your answer, and if it´s positive, then you´ll have to do a little work to go online. But it´s not that hard, really. And there is a LOT of info online about, well, how to GO online! I´d recommend reading Jim Cockrum, Tim Ferris and Michael Port.

Michael Epstein - Owner


Don't assume customers will automatically find you online just because you build a website. You have to create an online marketing strategy and use your physical location to support that strategy. Unlike physical locations that might have foot traffic or drivers passing by, with hundreds of millions of internet sites it takes a comprehensive strategy including tactics such as search engine optimization, social media and paid advertising to drive awareness of your site. If you don't invest in marketing, the time and money you spent to build your site will likely go to waste.

Michael Lazar - Growth Hacker

TrueShip Shipping Software

Plan like you have never planned before. Explore your options with website design, branding, online marketing, social media and public relations to create a strong plan-of-action for your future online endeavors. Assess your cost and consider the long term investment and ongoing maintenance costs so you are not shell-shocked after the fact. Be sure that you incorporate integers that range from how your site looks, to whether or not it will be mobile optimized, all the way down to your order and fulfillment process and how those factors can be integrated into your solution seamlessly and cost effectively once you have gone online.

Natalia Burina - Owner


The single piece of advice for offline retailers who are planning to go online is to build an online community of buyers. Social media such as facebook, twitter, instagram and pinterest are a great way to start. The hardest part of selling online is getting enough traffic to the website. If an online community already exists, it can be turned into online buyers. Other cheap strategy for building an enthusiastic online customer base is to simply start sending out well-crafted and relevant emails to existing customers.

Nicole Beckett - Founder


Don't forget about the conversation. A lot of offline retailers think that going online means tapping into the best technology. They figure that if their website looks "pretty", they'll succeed. Of course, you need a website that looks professional, but that's not all you need! You may be "talking" to your visitors in a different way than if they wandered into your store, but you have to talk to them nonetheless. Whether you use written sales copy, a welcome video, or a combination of both, you have to make sure your web visitors understand how you can make their lives easier. Create content so that each visitor feels like he's having a one-on-one conversation with you. In the end, that conversation will play a much bigger role in your online success than any fancy tools will!

Puneet Verma - Owner


Now days there are many marketplace which you can prefer like amazon, ebay, shopify and kartrocket etc. But it's always better to have own e-commerce website for long run. For small budget you can go for e-commerce website development on magento community edition (free) and for good budget you can go for custom e-commerce website development.

Richard Mangahas - Owner


My one piece of advice to anyone wishing to move offline to online is to spend money on a good copywriter. People viewing shopping online generally have two purposes research (including price comparisons) and knowingly making a purchase.

When researching, customers are already in the frame of mind of purchasing, but are usually missing that little push to make them hit the Buy button. A good copywriter provides that push. So save money on advanced web design, SEO, and other "latest" high tech ways to increase sales. Good word of mouth and good copy can accomplish a lot.

If I were to offer a second piece of advice, it's to build a list with all of your customers. Money is best made not by making initial sales to your customers, but in the follow-up sales. Establishing a relationship is the best form of advertising. Many people starting off do not like the idea of building a list because they don't want to be seen as a spammer. To the contrary, if you provide good content and you are a service/product the customer is interested in, they will likely welcome your email!

Shareina Chandler - Owner


The best advice I can give is to consider SEO in as many website decisions as possible. Do everything to ensure that your website can be found on Google. Make sure that the copy on your website is SEO friendly, with lots of good keywords so that people searching for your products and services can find you. Also, don't be afraid to test things out, moving buttons and playing with visual aspects of the site, making sure to monitor responses so that you go with the best possible version of the site. That's my advice!

Sree Vijaykumar - Managing Director


Go online because your store customers are there as well. So, think omni-channel from day one, not online as a separate venture. Use online to improve the customer experience, use your existing assets (eg: stores to facilitate deliveries and returns) and get a leg up on the competition.

Steve Goedeker - Owner


You'll make many mistakes when building your e-Commerce site, but the most important thing is to have a great designer with a good eye. Your site needs to be welcoming, easy to navigate, and clean. Without that, you have nothing to build on.

Varun Krishnan - Owner


Tell the truth to consumers about the product and not try to hide facts as consumers are smarter than offline retailers these days. Also include some freebies to make the buyers coming back.

Will von Bernuth - Owner

Block Island Organics

Don't reinvent the wheel when it comes to getting up and running. Whether it's a shopping cart, an email marketing system, a credit card processor or something else, someone has invariably already figured out how to do and has a service or product for it. Leverage these systems as much as possible. Then, if your eCommece endeavors bear fruit, you can work on customizing the systems to your every need. If you want to take this advice to the extreme, start by just selling your products through Amazon. Their system will get you up and running in a few days and includes everything you need.

Wojciech Gryc - CEO

Canopy Labs

In today's ecommerce climate, make sure you try third party ecommerce platforms before trying to build your own. Between the dozens that exist out there today (Shopify, Magento, Websphere Commerce, etc.) you can find something that likely fits your industry and technical requirements without building it in house. We still run into offline retailers who try to build a solution in-house only to have it take much too long (6-12 months at least), and then also become dismayed as many popular marketing apps do not work with their home-grown systems when they launch.

Bottom line — taking your business online involves a whole lot more than just building a website. Now that you’ve gotten expert advice that covers every nook and cranny of the web, you’re ready to tackle it!

Loved this expert advice? Share it with your friends so that they can make the right move onto the web, too!

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