As another Australia Post van drives up my street, followed by a Star Express truck, it’s easy to see who some of the busiest workers have been on the Sunshine Coast during the COVID shutdown. Shopping online has exploded to service our stay at home lifestyle, and it’s not just physical products taking a slice of the pie. Digital products such as subscription and on demand software and apps, services, entertainment and education has also experienced significant growth.
NAB online retail spending year on year change March 2019 to March 2020
For businesses who have not previously offered an ecommerce solution for their customers, it can be a daunting prospect to transition your business model to selling online. And while ecommerce is a marketing discipline that can take years to master, there are plenty of options available to get started quickly to help make your life a bit easier. In this article we share some tips on key areas to plan for in your business to succeed when making the move to sell online.
So why even sell online?
Before we dive into the tips it’s important to understand the many benefits to selling online.
Trust me…. it’ll help you get through those long nights uploading new products to your website and answering customer emails.
Extending your trading period
Selling online your business is open 24/7 where and when customers decide to shop.
Increasing your reach
If you have previously only serviced a local market, selling online opens up a much wider market opportunity into other cities, states and even globally.
Lowering your overheads
Once established and with the right planning and resourcing it can be more cost effective to service your market online with less staff and operational costs.
Gaining customer insights
With freely available tools like Google Analytics connected to your website, you can measure and understand your customers behaviour and trends to make better informed decisions about your business and what you offer.
Increasing your profits
By opening up new online sales channels you have a new way to reach and sell to a market during and post COVID who may never visit your physical business.
3 key areas to get right to start selling online
- Determine your online business model
- Decide Where to sell and setup the platform
- Provide Customer Service
1. Determine Your Online Business Model
I know you’re excited about making your first sale online though before diving into setting up your ecommerce platform, it’s important that you define and understand your online business model. After all, if you don’t understand it, your customers won’t either and it could be the difference between making a sale or losing them to a competitor.
There is 3 main business models for selling online and you may decide to use a combination of these depending on the nature of your business.
Selling physical products online
Often the first idea that comes to mind when thinking about selling online is this business model.
This is where a physical product that you make or source is marketed and purchased online, then packaged and delivered or collected by customers. Things to consider in this model are your stock levels and storage, how you will package and prepare the orders, delivery timing and costs by region and how you will communicate with your customers during the whole purchase and delivery process.
Another extremely important aspect of this business model is online content to present the product. Given the customer is not able to touch, feel, taste or smell your product, online content needs to paint the picture for them. This includes professional product imagery, video, copy and graphics.
Selling services online
This online business model is where the customer books and pays online for a service to be delivered either physically or digitally. This includes a range of physical services such as health care appointments, trades, tickets to events or travel and accommodation post-COVID.
The other way this model can work is the delivery of professional services such as business consulting or even health consulting via telehealth where you don’t physically see the customer or patient.
An important aspect of this business model is making it very clear how the customer will receive their product and making it easy to book and pay for a time that suits them. This model can also be combined with physical products – eg. You buy a cooktop online, and also purchase an installation service at the same time.
Selling digital products online
The final online business model is selling digital products where the customer purchases a fully digitally delivered product. This includes cloud based software and apps, entertainment such as video streaming services, ebooks and podcasts, on demand education and training courses and memberships to a range of online content resources. Often sold on a membership or subscription basis, the benefit of this model is once the product is created it is easy to scale up to selling large numbers without the logistically challenges experienced by selling physical products and services.
An important aspect of this business model is making the customer feel supported with their purchase through online tutorials, support centres or direct help if they need it.
Whichever business model you choose, don’t forget about your terms and conditions of sale. Selling online you are bound by relevant Fair Trading and Tax governing bodies in the locations you operate in, so make sure you’re playing by the rules and customers clearly understand their rights when making a purchase from you, and that you’re charging the right amount of tax.
2. Where to sell – Online Sales Platforms
Just like the offline world of physical shops and offices, shopping malls and mobile service-based businesses, the online world has similar options when considering where to sell your products and services.
There’s 3 main ways to consider
1.Your own website
Over the past 5 years the barriers for small to medium businesses to provide their customers with a professional online shopping experience have significantly reduced. There’s now a great range of ecommerce fully hosted website builders available for business owners just like you that provide a huge range of pre-built templates and plug and play apps to help you easily sell online.
These website builders take all the hassle out of hosting, security, payment gateways and setting up your shop, and provide a range of free training resources and online community of users and web developers who can help get you started. Many have the option to integrate a shop with your current website and use a subscription model starting from as little as $30/month + transaction fees.
The market leader in ecommerce hosted website builders it powers over 500,000 stores globally.
Easy to learn with a huge range of resources and support, it has an active app marketplace for add-ons to be able to do most things you will need without a web developer. It also allows custom development if you want to put your own special features or designs into play. For a basic setup you simply download a free or a paid theme, upload your content and products, connect your bank account and switch on your store to start selling. Some things to consider when choosing to use Shopify are the costs of apps you might want to use, and the transaction fees charged.
Australian founded, Big Commerce had a huge revamp in 2016 and is now globally powering over 100,000 stores and giving Shopify a run for it’s money. Transaction fees are included in their monthly subscription and some of the functionality that Shopify makes you pay for an app is included out of the box. It’s worth considering as a solid option that can scale as you grow.
One of the most popular website builders on the market, Wix was late to the game when it comes to their ecommerce offering though are quickly developing their functionality and capability. Starting as one of the world’s most popular website builders, it is easier than Shopify or Big Commerce to quickly build great looking content pages and then add shop pages to this. It is suited to smaller shops selling under 100 items and a cheaper option than Shopify or BigCommerce, though does not allow integration with an existing website.
Although a hosted ecommerce website builder is an easy off the shelf option to get started selling online, some business like to have more flexibility and customisation in their online shop which is where Woocommerce comes into play.
The leading choice to integrate an online store into a WordPress website, Woocommerce provides limitless ability to customise your store. A much steeper learning curve than the hosted web builders previously mentioned, you may need to engage a website developer to assist in getting things looking and working exactly how you want it to. Some businesses prefer to have this full control and customisation over how their online shop functions, though keep in mind that it’s your responsibility to setup payment gateways, take care of the hosting and security for your store, so if something goes wrong it’s on you.
2.Third Party Marketplaces
Although it is recommended to have your own branded website to sell your products, it’s also worth considering third party marketplaces that attract millions of shoppers each and every day.
Think of this like setting up a shop in a popular shopping mall. You don’t pay rent to the landlords though they will take their cut through subscription fees to list your product, transaction fees and in the case of Amazon even provide a service to warehouse and ship your product for a fee.
The benefits are the active shoppers these ecommerce giants attract, though they can also be a great testing ground for your products and services prior to building out your own website. Though keep in mind that each of them is a different system you need to learn how to use and optimise and is certainly not a set, forget and count your orders type of operation.
Some of the top third-party marketplaces for Australia to review depending on your product and services offering include:
Catch.com.au: Daily offer-based marketplace you can list and sell your products to engaged group of bargain hunters.
Amazon Australia: Global leader entering the market and quickly becoming a dominant channel.
Ebay Australia: Auction based site though has gained popularity for branded stores offering buy-now pricing.
Etsy: creative and arts focussed marketplace for handmade customer and unique products such as art, crafts, jewellery etc.
Udemy: Global marketplace for selling online education courses.
Booking.com, Airbnb: For accommodation and tours post-COVID.
3. Social Selling
The final online sales platform available is social media. With the dominance of Facebook and more recently Instagram as a communication and marketing channel, it was only a matter time until they started to look at taking a piece of the ecommerce action.
Facebook and Instagram both allow business owners to setup their products, pricing and promote them via their business pages and right into their posts. A product catalog feature allows you to either upload your products or connect directly with your product inventory in Shopify, Big Commerce, Wix and WooCommerce mentioned earlier in this article. That way, when you change a product on your website it automatically updates your social stores.
When a customer clicks on your products they are taken to your website store to complete the transaction though in the US, trials have commenced for the transaction being completed within Facebook and Instagram, so it’s only a matter of time until the feature is rolled out in Australia to provide fully functioning stores in social media.
3. Give Outstanding Customer Service
Selling online doesn’t mean you can switch off the phone and go and play golf while the money just rolls in. Quite the contrary. There are many new challenges you will encounter when selling online relating to how the customer thinks, acts and makes a final decision to purchase.
In the space of the 1-2minutes a potential customer is on your website they will be thinking:
- Is the site secure for my contact and payment information?
- I like the look of the product but will it work for what I have in mind?
- Can I get a refund if I don’t like it or it doesn’t fit?
- Can I try before I buy?
- How quickly will it be shipped?
- Is there any hidden costs?
- Can I get it cheaper elsewhere?
- What do other people think about it?
And the list goes on….
The ability to read a customer that you are talking to and solve their barriers to buying is much harder online unless they reach out to you. So, make sure you’re available when and where they need help, and that they know there’s a real person and support available to them right throughout the customer experience.
Be accessible: Phone, Email, Contact form, Live Chat, social media channels, instore
Let them test: Provide samples, tests, demos, free refunds
Give them confidence: Show testimonials from other customers and provide videos of the product being used
Once you are setup and selling online, don’t stop there. You’ll need to attract traffic to your stores through google, social media, email and advertising but that’s a topic for another article.
Good luck with getting yourself setup to succeed selling online. If you are looking for some additional resources take a spin around the Sunshine Coast Council’s Level Up Program website for further resources and ongoing training opportunities. http://levelupsunshinecoast.org.au/