Selling online: 10 tips for online success

We’ve given the Australian Retailer’s Association enough grief over their misguided tax concession claims in recent weeks, so I thought we should now turn our attention to more positive steps to get our retailers online and on song.

So here’s a guide to how you can use your existing ‘bricks and mortar’ stores to gain a real advantage over your online competitors.

Before we start though its worth re-emphasising just how much of a head start ‘traditional’ retailers have over their online counterparts.

This advantage cannot be emphasised enough. Just put yourself in the shoes of the online start-up. In most cases and in no particular order they need to acquire:

  • a brand
  • trust
  • stock
  • picking and packing capabilities
  • storage
  • customers
  • traffic
  • retailing expertise

…all of which traditional retailers already have.

So for you the notion of making the step into the online world is a comparatively simple one. All you need are the tools and experience to translate this ‘physical’ world experience into online success.

Don’t underestimate too, how much a professional website can actually increase the sales of your physical outlet. Because despite the healthy growth in online selling, the vast majority of the population still prefer to buy the old way, even if they use the web to do their research in advance of travelling to the store.

What many retailers don’t grasp is that even if you don’t actually sell the product online, having a professional website with lots of product information and pictures will still drive plenty of enquiries to your physical store.
So here then are 10 great ways to succeed in selling online.

1. Immerse yourself in learning

Once you decide to join the online world, take advantage of what it can offer. As we pointed out last week, the web is bursting with brilliant information on all the tools, techniques and tips to operate a successful eCommerce website. Dive in and immerse yourself in the information and make sure you schedule time to do this on a regular basis.

2. Get a scalable website

There are few things worse when getting started online than to find out that you have very quickly outgrown the website that you’ve pumped your hard earned into. To avoid this frustrating and expensive scenario, it’s important to invest in a website that is ‘modular’, ie. you can add new functionality, content and/or design elements easily and affordably. If in doubt about this, get some independent advice!

3. Gather customer email addresses at every opportunity

Email is not only your website’s closest promotional ally, but also your physical stores. So rather than the sacrilege of letting your customers and even browsers out the door never to be seen again, do all you can to entice them to sign up for your email specials and newsletters, thereby starting and ideally keeping a lifelong relationship with them.

4. Email, email, email

Whenever else have you had the opportunity to promote to hundreds or thousands of prospects for a matter of cents? Email is the real ‘hidden gold’ of the internet. Spend an evening brainstorming what you could offer in your emails and then work out ways to integrate them into your email ‘shots’.

5. Offer multiple payment methods

As outlined above, just because prospects have found you online doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to buy online. Give them as many payment options as you can think of because they all have different preferences.

6. Plan a 12-month program of promotions

The fortunes of most retailers ebb and flow with different times of year. So to reduce this roller coaster effect, plan your promotions well in advance and execute them to create demand when there usually isn’t any.

7. Make your web address prominent

Just by making your web address prominent within your store and across all of your communications, customers will understand that you have an online presence worth visiting and will soon use it and tell others about it.

8. Give a voucher for use online

To encourage physical customers to use and in turn create lip service about your website, offer them a discount voucher for their first online purchase. It doesn’t have to be a cash discount – it could be a useful accessory or other product.

9. Hire a web savvy shop assistant

The reason most online competitors have stolen the march on you is because they understand the web and how it works. But you can just as easily up the ante by hiring a shop assistant who is not only capable within the store but with the online world as well. Then instead of them reading a book or dusting non existent dust, they could be engaging with prospects online and otherwise improving your web presence on your behalf.

10. Get into social networking

If you have managed to attract regular customers, you’re in great shape to woo them via online social networking as well. It costs nothing to set up a ‘business’ page within social networks and even by inviting your friends to ‘like’ or endorse your store, you are getting your name out there and reminding people of your products and your brand.

Then it’s just a matter of getting into the habit of using these networks to tell everyone about pretty much anything of interest to them. You’d be surprised how a simple message can attract many, many social networkers and their own contacts.

In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.

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