With the global crisis, you can’t just assume the ‘wait-and-see’ approach. Only the biggest players can afford to wait; but they are usually the ones who act, and not wait. Some SMEs have already rebounded, but for others this is happening too slowly or their market has changed so much that it doesn’t bode well for the future. Business coaches tend to say that the crisis is an opportunity to change and develop. Taking the business online or launching a new sales channel may be a big chance for many SMEs. Where to start? How to do that safely, at low entry costs, and win against time?
- Can my business be taken online?
Think which products and services from your offer can be sold online. You don’t need to transfer all your services and products you sell in your brick and mortar shop. Start from selecting the services and products that are most popular among customers or represent a lot of potential for online sales. And how to assess the potential, if you don’t have experience in e-commerce? It’s easiest to do that by looking at your peers: it’s good to learn from others’ mistakes. Focus on finding a niche. A smaller group of potential buyers who look for specific and specialist products or services may be the right direction to go in and prepare a distinctive offer.
It may also turn out that what you can offer online will be a modified version of a service or product that you offer in your brick and mortar shop. For instance, the hairdresser’s may offer a convenient online booking system and vouchers for services, or sell specialised haircare products. An event company specialising in animating children parties may offer ready-made decoration sets, hand-made piñatas, rent or sell costumes but, at the same time, keep the party animation service in the offer. Restaurants that will launch delivery or diet boxes enter into a new customer segment. A tailor shop may start sewing toys, decorations or clothes in short series or in a tailor-made version for a given customer.
Online advice is getting more and more popular If you want to limit direct contacts but you are able to give medical, legal or any other kind of advice over the phone or communicators, that will be appreciated by your existing customers and will attract some new queries as well.
- Do I need a website or an e-shop for online sales?
A website with the simplest solutions that will make online purchase possible will definitely be an advantage, but it will also be a challenge to generate traffic there, and optimise and automate post-sales services by sending invoices or notifications about the delivery status. If this is your first e-commerce experience and you want to invest in your own website on your own domain, it’s worth using ready-made solutions of online shops. The market has a wide range of such solutions (e.g. Shoplo, Shopify and WooCommerce templates from WordPress) and many specialist companies will launch a professional dedicated website with an online shop for you.
Also, you can use alternative channels to sell your products online on popular platforms, such as Allegro, Amazon and eBay. Small entrepreneurs offer their products through OLX or Facebook Market which give them very good local reach. In online sales, it is key to reach your customers and ensure proper pre- and post-sales communication, as it is mostly sales experience and not only the product or service that we sell.
No matter what channel you choose, try to ensure the possibility to measure the traffic and conversion which, over time, will help you understand the needs of customers and optimise sales.
- Can I sell my products online without shipping?
In the planning process, it is key to ensure logistics and think over not only “what,” but also “how” you are to provide products and services your customers purchase. Will it be “click & collect”? Or maybe you don’t want to limit yourself to the local market and what you need is a courier and postal services?
The customer expects that the product will be delivered quickly, even on the same day, especially in the times of the pandemic and changes of consumer behaviours. Food? You want to get your meal within a max. of 60 minutes. Virtual vouchers, e-books and electronic goods have to be available real time; from the perspective of the customer, this means: I pay and I get what I’ve paid for.
“Click & collect” model is a safe and convenient model for a customer who takes time when making decisions, looks through goods available in the offer and then pay and collect things at your shop, at a time convenient for them. The experience of SMEs shows that this is rather an option for the start or it’s one of several to choose from that works best if all goods are in a single place. This is a safe start for a small company, but also a limitation in terms of reach of the offer. However, it may prove effective in large agglomerations or as an alternative to a visit to a brick and mortar shop. A popular version of this are parcel lockers that enable you to freely choose where and when you want to pick up your parcel, an alternative to courier services.
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Assuming that you want to go out of the local market and you will physically send your goods, make sure to check not only the pricing list of the services, but also a couple of other key issues when selecting a courier company. When concluding the agreement, remember to ask about the deliverability within the deadlines declared by the carrier, the additional costs (e.g. COA), the way the courier company communicates with recipients, requirements and limitations for the carried goods and packing methods. It is also important how often the courier will be able to collect your parcels from you.
- Are there any legal regulations which I need to abide by when selling goods online?
Online sales is regulated by law and consumers are protected better than with physical sales. It’s because sales decisions are made based on pictures and descriptions, and not the goods themselves. And so customers may change their mind and return things they have bought. Regardless of whether you start from online sales on your own website or in other generally available channels, it is crucial to remember about regulations which will form a base for returns and complaints, among others. Information obligation and regulations of collecting sensitive data which are binding for website owners (GDPR) are another important matter. Poland forms part of the European Union and single market, and this imposes additional obligations on online sellers. For instance, you can’t refuse cross-border shipping, but you can transfer the additional costs onto the buyer. Many legal offices offer ready-made templates for the documents that secure the interest of the seller without violating consumer rights.
Assuming that you accept online payments, remember that it is important to ensure both security of the solution for the users and transparency of the provider’s regulations for customers. If you select popular solutions, you don’t risk abandoning your basket when in doubt what payment solution to choose. The agreement you conclude with the operator should also be clear to you.
- If everything is ready from the technical, legal and logistics perspective, you face another challenge: how to reach your potential customers and start selling?
It is obvious that before you start selling, you need to make potential customers realize that you’re there. It is crucial that when developing your business, you need to think long-term about sales online; if you decide to launch a website and an e-shop, do that with the positioning perspective at the back of your head. It is about both the technical side and texts. SEO is, however, time-consuming and requires work on valuable content. If you want to let customers know that you are there quickly, focus on advertising. Before you do that, inform your existing customers that you’re launching an online sales channel. Satisfied customers are the best source of referrals and getting first effects in the online channel. This is how you build your personal brand.
For online advertisement, you can choose mainly between Google Ads lub Facebook Ads. If these are your first steps with online advertising, commission construction and management of your campaign to experts. Remember that on the Internet you can measure almost everything, including your effects. Calculate how the money invested in advertising converts into benefits. Test the A/B versions of advertisements and communicators and select the most effective ones. Pricing and special offer policy may also have significant influence on converting interests into real sales. Advertisements with special offers boost shopping.
Also, the internet media, such as portals, blogs and vlogs, may be an alternative or a complement to your marketing actions; they may be channels to transmit information and advertise your business. Sponsored articles or product and service placement in articles or films are a perfect complement to your campaign run on Google or on Facebook; they build recognizability and trust towards the brand, as well as support web positioning.