Making the Move. Tips for Taking Your Business Online.
You’ve achieved success in the brick-and-mortar world, and are looking for a new challenge. One that will open your doors to a virtual world of potential customers, 24/7 – and position your business for the future, look no further than extending your business to the Internet.
According to results from the 2015 holiday season, online is the place to be. MasterCard® SpendingPulseTM, which tracks consumer spending, found that overall retail sales were up 7.9 percent from 2014 – with online sales enjoying a 20 percent increase. Adobe Systems found a similar pattern, estimating that on Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday, consumers spent $11 billion online, a 15 percent increase year-over-year.
With all its expected growth opportunities, moving online is not as simple as just building a website. Here are a few things to consider.
Define your niche. Determine specifically what you are selling, how, and to whom. You must take the time to determine why a customer would visit you and what sets you apart – differentiate yourself by product, price or service. Solve a problem for your customers – a problem no one else is addressing.
Put together a plan. While not as exciting as designing a web presence or choosing items for your inventory, putting together a solid business plan is essential to your online success. Without one, you run the risk of overspending, losing focus and struggling to deal with the unexpected challenges that crop up in any business.
Build a strong technology foundation. Online shoppers will not tolerate an online store that is not secure and authentic, or a checkout process that doesn’t work. Your website must be user-friendly and include the latest ways to pay. Most online shoppers will not jump through hoops to make a purchase, they’ll just visit another site that is easier to use and appears safer. Don’t give them a chance to abandon their shopping carts by making the process too difficult.
Use social media. Include social media elements within your shopping experience. Allow customers to review your products and services. Many people are influenced by the opinions of shoppers like themselves, and will check out a product if a friend mentions or links to it. You should also extend your presence onto popular social media channels to allow conversation there. Remember, once you open a communication channel via social media, you must be ready to respond when needed to answer questions or diffuse potential problems.
Watch for Fraud. While the ongoing shift to chip cards in the U.S. is expected to reduce in-person credit card fraud, it’s likely to trigger an increase in online fraud. In all major countries that have transitioned to chip cards, in-person fraud declined and card-not-present fraud skyrocketed as fraudsters turned their attention from the more secure in store chip card process to the less secure online shopping experience. The trend is expected to repeat itself as the chip card transition continues in the U.S.
Don’t be afraid to keep changing and learning. Technology, business threats and customer taste will keep changing, and so must you if you want to be successful. Do your homework to stay one step ahead of the latest trends.
For additional information, The U.S. Small Business Administration has a number of tools and resources available for starting an online business.