39 Experts Share Their Best Tips on Moving Your Offline Business Online
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
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
Asheeta Chhabra - Head, Business Development
Blake Janover - Owner
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
Chris Dawson - Owner
Collin Slattery - Founder
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
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
Don Davis - Editor in Chief
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
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
Hetal Shah - Blogger
Iswarya - Blogger
Jake Finkelstein - Founder & CEO
James Bregenzer - Owner
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
Jessica Dewell - Chief Purposer
- 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).
- Social Media is part of an experience. It is not a set-and-forget posting/sharing system.
- 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.
Joan Jacobsen - Owner
John Olson - CEO
- Offers consumers a slight discount for purchasing multiple items while increasing on line sales dollars
- Products are likely not to be found bundled on Amazon so less competition
- Saves the seller quite a bit on shipping the bundled items together
- Increases sales and profits by offering items together that consumers would typically buy separate
- Often helps inventory by moving slower selling items paired with good sellers.
Jonathan Lacoste - Founder
Liz Jackson - Owner
Maciej (ma-chi) Fita - Managing Director
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
Michael Lazar - Growth Hacker
Natalia Burina - Owner
Nicole Beckett - Founder
Puneet Verma - Owner
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!
Sree Vijaykumar - Managing Director
Steve Goedeker - Owner
Varun Krishnan - Owner
Will von Bernuth - Owner
Wojciech Gryc - CEO
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!