E-commerce seems to be everywhere these days. You can’t go online without seeing article after article proclaiming that e-commerce is destroying brick and mortar stores. It can be difficult to decipher accurate information from manipulated data being spewed by alarmists on the internet. However, there is some truth to these overly apocalyptic statements. Studies predict that 55% of internet users will be digital buyers by the end of 2017. Not farfetched given how the data has been trending in recent years.
However, that’s not to say consumers are abandoning physical sales altogether. While the National Retail Federation expects online sales to grow by 8-12% in 2017, but brick and mortar retail still comprises the vast majority of sales and is expected to grow 2.8% in the same period.
So why is e-commerce important? It is a rapidly growing consumer outlet that isn’t showing signs of slowing down. If you’re selling something, and plan to continue doing so for the foreseeable future, you’ll want to pay attention to e-commerce and become an active participant as soon as it’s feasible for your business.
Advantages Of E-Commerce
There are many reasons the world, or those with access at least, seems to gravitate towards e-commerce. As a commercial outlet, the internet can provide business with benefits like wider reach and decreased business costs. All of these pros can add up to have a significant impact on the business as a whole.
Here are a few of the major benefits e-commerce can provide:
Attract New Customers
Online retailers have greater visibility to a wider audience. Whereas a physical store may only be known to passersby, an e-commerce store can be accessed and viewed by an unbounded number of internet users. Some of the best ways to attract new customers using the power of the internet include:
Search Engine Results If your site is optimized properly, you can reach a slew of new customers via their search queries on engines like Google and Bing. The more optimized your site is, the higher up in the results it will display and the more new customers you can attract.
Social Sharing If customers are happy with your products, social sharing makes it easy for them to share their satisfaction with friends and family. This functions in the same way as word-of-mouth does for physical stores, but with the internet, consumers can provide a direct link to the product on your site. Now other consumers know exactly which product their friend love and exactly where to find it, no fuss.
No Geographical Limitations
Similar to it’s ability to attract new customers, e-commerce theoretically allows you to sell to customers without geographical limitations. Now this, of course, depends on how far you’re willing to ship a product, but the opportunity is there.
Unlike a physical store, the internet, and therefore your e-commerce store, is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days per week. This makes your store and it’s products more accessible to consumers. E-commerce can also be accessed anywhere with internet capabilities. Consumers no longer have to spend time and money traveling to your location.
The power of customer analytics can help you refine everything from the products you offer to the way you market those products. You might be able to gather some customer information in a physical store, but it would be labor intensive and potentially inaccurate. With e-commerce all you need to do is drop a piece of code into your HTML markup and the rest happens automatically. Here are some examples of the type of information customer analytics could provide:
- Demographic Data
- Products Purchased
- Products Viewed
- Products Shared
- Referring Source
- Time Spent on Site
- Mobile vs Desktop Views
- Time of Purchase
- And More!
All this data can then be analyzed to help you make decisions about your business.
Automation of Discounts
E-commerce allows you to automate discounts and sales. You can set discount codes on the backend of your site and create expirations for them. This mitigates the possibility of mistakenly accepting an expired coupon which could occur at a physical store.
You can also immediately notify customers of any sales directly on the site. Each product is clearly marked without much manual labor as is required in physical stores.
In general, an e-commerce store will have lower operational costs than a brick and mortar store. You won’t have the overhead cost of real estate and the associated costs of maintaining a physical location. In addition, inventory can be automated with a web-based management system and help to decrease inventory costs.
You may also have to employ less people as you won’t have a store that needs to be managed during opening hours. Typically, small physical stores will have at least two people on staff which are paid an hourly rate. In theory, a small e-commerce store could be managed by a single person, likely the owner, for just a few hours each day.
How To Get Started In E-Commerce
If all that sounds good to you, you’ll have a couple things to take care of before you can get started.
Choose a Platform There are a ton of e-commerce platforms currently available. Each one has it’s own set of advantages and disadvantages, including specialty markets, so make sure to do your research before selecting one. It will be hard to transition once you have your site setup. Some of the most popular platforms include Magento, WordPress, Shopify, and BigCommerce.
Register Your Domain If you can’t do so through your platform, you’ll need to purchase a web domain. Again, there a number of web hosts available so be diligent in your price comparisons.BlueHost is a very popular and affordable web hosting company that also registers domain names. Squarespace also has this capability.
Design Your Site Using your platform, design and create the basic layout of your site. You’ll want to consider what your selling and the aesthetic you’re aiming for. You may decide to use a template or theme provided by the platform rather than creating your own, just be sure it is consistent with your brand. You want your site to stand out and be recognizable as associated with your company specifically.
Post Products Once your site is designed and ready to go, be sure your have high quality product images and detailed product descriptions to post. You want to give customers a real idea of what they are getting when they buy your product, as one of the disadvantages of e-commerce is the inability to interact with a product prior to purchase.
So while e-commerce may not be the be-all and end-all in retail or general commerce, it’s worth your attention. There are many advantages for your business in dealing with e-commerce and it’s a marketplace that is growing at an incredibly fast rate. It may be an investment initially, but it will be worth your while.