Business development 24 November 2016

The challenges of taking an independent retail business online

Search engine optimisation is a frequently overlooked aspect of online retail success

It’s no secret that there are a wealth of difficulties facing the modern independent retailer, mostly due to the advent of online shopping. Here, CEO at Lightspeed, Dax Dasilva, tells retail owners how best to make the switch online.

Customers are able to order products online that arrive within hours rather than days, large conglomerates are now able to target their marketing with surgical precision, and an increasingly globalised market means that offering competitive prices can be almost impossible.

On top of this the average consumer is getting savvier, with a recent BrightLocal report stating that 90 per cent of customers are checking out reviews for shops and products before they decide on a purchase.

Yet, taking an independent retail business online also creates opportunities, as long as the retailer is able to create an online presence.

The irony is that actually taking an independent retail business online is probably the easiest step of all the things you need to do to ensure you’ve got a strong online presence.

You can now purchase omnichannel solutions that do much of the technical heavy lifting, but many brick and mortar stores fall well before this first hurdle. Here are some lessons small company owners could do with learning.

Pick your niche and optimise for it

Coming up with a strategy for your search engine optimisation (SEO) is possibly one of the most important steps when you first take your shop online. SEO is a huge part of getting your website noticed, and there’s a real issue of balance when it comes to making sure you’ve got the right plan.

If your strategy aims for too wide a market, you risk not getting any traffic as the larger more established sites will take your customers, but if you cast your net too small, you risk not getting enough customers to keep your business afloat.

Despite the diversity of offerings within your brick and mortar store, it’s always wise to consider what sells the best and then tailor your SEO towards that. Once your online store is established and successful, then you can start to branch out and optimise for your other offerings.

Optimising for mobile

It’s no longer acceptable to have a desktop-only site. 47 per cent of customers say they expect a website to load within 2 seconds, and whilst mobile users are a little more forgiving, with increased 4G speeds, this will undoubtedly change.

Retailers need to be certain that their sites cater to their mobile audience as well as the desktop. Mobile internet usage is the fastest growing audience, and having a website that people can access on the go, or visit after they’ve interacted with your physical store could be the key between getting a sale or your potential customer losing interest.

Make sure you’re on social media

Social media is an incredible way to not just connect with customers, but alert them on promotions and help establish your identity online. Don’t be afraid to inject a little bit of your own personality into your brand, nobody wants to see a Twitter profile that just advertises product after product, so share things you think your customers might find interesting, be it topics about your industry, or other stories that are trending.

Every company will have its own target audience and want its own distinct feel, so make sure you look at competitors in your industry to see how they interact with their customers.

Creating a content and email plan

The final hurdle most independents face is that they don’t have a basic email marketing plan in place. Email marketing is an incredibly effective for targeting customers who have already shown an interest in your products.

Yet independents need to be aware that you have to have certain elements in place in order for your campaign to be effective. The content needs to be easily understood, it needs to be consistently branded throughout, and it needs to have clear calls to action that encourage a customer to visit your store again.

This could be a discount for revisiting the store in the next month, or simply a competition where a customer can win a prize by entering.

These are just some of the issues faced by independents when trying to take their store online, but having a good handle of these will undoubtedly leave your store in a much stronger position. None of these problems are easy fixes, but they’re certainly requirements for standing out in a market that is continuously evolving.

Dax Dasilva is CEO at software firm Lightspeed 

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