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moving your business online

Moving Your Business Online

May 2020
Liz Noli Roberts

The Covid-19 outbreak has forced many businesses to close their doors to customers. Whereas some cafes and restaurants can offer delivery services, other shops that rely on footfall have been left in the dark as to when they can reopen their doors again.

However, there is a solution. You can move your business online. This depends on the type of business you run, but if you’re a small takeaway/restaurant/cafe that doesn’t usually offer delivery, you can sign up to popular online platforms such as UberEats or Deliveroo. If you’re a small retail business, there are a number of DIY e-commerce options to consider: from selling on Amazon to launching your own website or simple social media integrations.

This might sound like a challenge, but we’ve put together some suggestions to help you get on your feet.

Research your options

Before you think about moving your business online, make sure it is a viable option and you have all the logistics in place. For instance, if you want to ship products across the nation, think about which courier will fit best with your business, and how much shipping will cost so that you know how much to charge for delivery.

Where will you store products that need to be shipped? If you already have storage space, great! But if space is an issue you may choose to store your products at a storage facility such as Big Yellow. However, if you sign up with an e-commerce company such as Amazon, they will often store your products in their own warehouses to be shipped.

DIY e-commerce

If a DIY e-commerce option would work well for you then spend some time researching the different types of online marketplaces. Each one works slightly differently. For example, Amazon is seen more as an online retailer whereas eBay is mainly used for people selling second-hand items or run auctions.

As the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon offers you the opportunity to reach its massive audience, currently estimated at over 200 million visitors each month. Access to this vast marketplace doesn’t come cheap, however. While it’s fairly straightforward to get set up to sell on Amazon, the fees are high when compared with other e-commerce options. Depending on the value of your products, and volume you’re able to sell on the platform, the benefits of Amazon may be well worth it. Make sure you’ve read through all the Amazon terms and fees before deciding if it’s the right choice for your business.

Shopify has different plan options, from very basic to advanced. Most businesses will find that the Basic Shopify plan provides everything they need to get started with an easy-to-use e-commerce site. This includes integrations that allow you to plug your social media channels into your new site and access to a POS app that you can use when face-to-face transactions are safe. If you’re not sure about whether you’re ready to jump into maintaining a full e-commerce site, the Shopify Lite plan enables you to sell on Facebook, Messenger, and via their POS app. Be aware this option does not include a web store, and social selling is limited to Facebook only (not Instagram), but it is very affordable.

Big Commerce is an alternative to Shopify that’s definitely worth a look. While its Standard plan is about the same monthly price as Shopify’s Basic plan, Big Commerce does not charge for transaction fees. They also provide integration options with Amazon, eBay, Facebook, and Instagram which allow you to manage orders across all these channels from your Big Commerce account – a time-saving feature that will appeal to busy small business owner-operators.

If you’re a small local business with a Facebook page, you may want to use Facebook’s built-in Shop function to enable the people who already follow you to buy from you there as well. While this is a very quick and easy way to get started with selling online, for most businesses a Facebook Shop is a short-term solution, and not suitable as your only e-commerce presence. Many e-commerce businesses maintain the main website store and use their Facebook Shop to feature a smaller, selected inventory specially curated for their followers on Facebook and Instagram.

If your product range consists of handmade items, vintage goods, and craft supplies then Etsy could be a suitable e-commerce option for you. You can easily connect with other makers, small business owners, and shoppers who all share a passion for unique and homemade items. Setting up a shop is straightforward. You don’t need a seller's license and it doesn’t cost a thing to create your shop. However, be mindful that you will be charged a listing fee, transaction fee, and a payment processing fee. Etsy also takes 5% of every transaction fee including the delivery price you set.

eBay works in a similar way to Amazon and Etsy except there are selling limits on newly registered accounts. According to eBay, this is designed to help you grow your business in a manageable way. eBay adjusts your sales limits by reviewing your account every month. They judge your account based on sales volume and feedback you’ve received from buyers.

Customer Service

Now is a crucial time to pay attention to your customer service. Many businesses make the mistake of launching an online shop or sales campaign, only to be overwhelmed by queries from prospects and complaints from customers. Make a plan now for managing communication, and monitoring any new channels you’ll be opening up, including social media inboxes. Engaging early with customer queries is the best way to contain problems before anyone posts about a negative experience on social media.

TIP: Your customers will inevitably have questions. To minimize your time spent replying to individual queries, create an FAQ page or section that covers the basics (such as shipping fees, the areas you service, etc.) on your eCommerce site. If you have a Facebook Shop put your FAQs into a Note on your page. Then create a pinned post on your page to let people know they can review your FAQs with a link to the note.

Keep SEO in Mind

Whether you have your own website or decide to sell your products through an online marketplace, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a key marketing tool that can help you grow your business.

The first step you want to take for both channels is keyword research. Using free SEO tools such as Ubersuggest by Neil Patel allows you to look up keywords you want to be searched for as well as search volumes. You want to focus on long-tail keywords (specific, detailed search queries). People usually use long-tail keywords to find products online, for example ‘size small ladies formal trousers’.

For online marketplaces, drag your product titles out a bit. Format your title like this (some fields depend on your product listing): [Brand] [Feature] [Material] [Key Ingredients] [Product Type] [Model Number] [Size] [Package Count] [Colour] [Flavour]. This includes all vital elements of your listing as well as any keywords you want to be found for.

Here are some examples of good online marketplace listings:

Having an FAQ page on your website can also help to improve your SEO ranking since Google values that your website is focused on helping people to get all the information they need before buying from you.

Mix and match, test and learn

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for e-commerce. Getting your first online store set up is just the first step! Don’t be afraid to adapt and adjust as you learn more about the process. Test different platforms to find what works for you and your customers. You may find a combination of more than one works best for your business. During this time, listening to your customers on your social media channels is key – their feedback can help point the way forward.

Tracking Results and Reputation

Set yourself up with a Google My Business account so that your customers can leave reviews that can be seen from the Google search results. Asking your customers to leave reviews might be daunting so try offering an incentive or enter them into a prize draw run by you as a thank you.

If you want to track web visits, clicks, popular pages, transactions, and more, made from your own website then set yourself up with a Google Analytics account. Most of the key tracking data can be found on the overview page but if you want to look at your site in more detail you can use the behavior, acquisition, and conversions tabs. The behavior flow (which can be found in the behavior tab) shows you where your audience landed first on your website and the journey they took until they dropped off. Many e-commerce platforms have their own built-in analytics tool; however, Google Analytics offers more robust ways of analyzing your data. For this reason, both Shopify and BigCommerce support Google Analytics integration.

If you have a local business Facebook page, by default, customer reviews are displayed in a tab on your page. Bear in mind that you do not have the option of editing or hiding any bad reviews here. For this reason, many business owners choose to remove the Reviews tab from their pages. A better way to manage your reputation on Facebook is by collecting positive customer feedback and sharing it in posts on your page.

Which Out-of-the-Box eCommerce Option is Best for My Business?

Here’s a quick overview of some popular eCommerce options. All of these will allow you to get set up with your first virtual shopfront within 24 hours.

*Amazon fees cover referrals as well as transactions and are variable. When you sign up for an account, you’ll be able to review the current fee schedule. Bear in mind fees apply to each item sold, rather than the value of the total order.

**eBay has a number of varying fees, depending on the number of items you sell, whether you’re selling by auction or fixed price, and the product category. It’s so complex that many eBay sellers use specialised calculators like Salecalc that help you figure it all out!

Walk-through 1: Creating your Amazon shop

Ready to become an Amazon seller? Here’s a quick-start guide to help:

1) Are you a basic seller or a professional seller? If you plan on selling less than 35 products a month then you’d class yourself as a basic seller. If you sell more than that then you’ll want to sign up as a professional seller. If you sign up as a basic seller, this will cost you 75p per item sold + additional fees*. As a professional seller, it will cost you £25 a month + any additional fees*.

2) Create a business account. Once you’ve selected what type of seller you are, you can sign your business up with an Amazon account. This is similar to setting up a personal account. When you create an account you must have a business name and address, mobile or telephone number, and a chargeable credit card & valid bank account.

3) Set up billing and deposit methods. Amazon needs your credit card details in case they need to charge you any advertising fees or if you’re registering as a pro seller. They will also need to deposit your funds into your account once you’ve made a sale.

4) Amazon delivery. You can calculate how much delivery fees will be by using the Amazon Fee Calculator on their website. This will tell you how much you will be charged for delivery, depending on your product category, the number of items and item price, amount the customer will pay, referral fee (this varies by product category), and how much will be credited to your account. You can also create an account without using Amazon’s delivery service if you prefer to have someone else handle them. Amazon will send you an email once a product has been ordered. You’ll then have 2 days to dispatch the order.

5) Start selling! Once you’ve created your account and figured out how much it will cost you, you can start listing your first items. Creating a product listing is pretty simple. All you need to do is upload a few high-quality images of the product, give the product a name, set the price, and how many you have available to buy.

6) Getting paid. You’ll receive funds into your account every 14 days.

Walk-through 2: Setting up a Facebook Shop

If you have a fairly small product range and want to make a start with selling online without committing to a full website just yet, then a Facebook Shop may be a good choice. If you already have a Facebook business page, then it’s easy to get started:

1) Add a Shop section to your Facebook page. If you already have an “Add Shop” button under the cover image of your page, you can click that to start the set-up process. If you don’t see this, go to your page Settings, select Templates, and Tabs in the left sidebar menu, then select the “Shopping” template. You’ll now have a Shop tab on your page – click this tab to get started.

2) Set up billing. Facebook uses the Stripe payment platform, although PayPal is becoming available as an option for some businesses. Read the merchant terms carefully and be aware that although it’s free to set up the shop, a transaction fee for each sale will apply.

3) Add Your Products. There is no limit to the number of products you can have in your shop. Make sure to add detailed product descriptions, with good quality photos of each product to help them sell!

4) Promote. You can share individual products from your Shop in Facebook posts to push any special featured items. To promote your whole shop, you can get a direct link to your shop from your shop tab, and then drop that into a Facebook ad as the click-through URL. If you sell used or refurbished items, you may want to advertise your Shop products on Facebook Marketplace.

5) Create Shoppable Posts on Instagram. Once you’ve created your Facebook Shop, you can enable “shoppable” images on Instagram. You’ll need to have your Instagram account set up as a business account, and then link it to your Facebook page. Once this is done, you’ll be able to drop clickable links onto your Instagram images that allow people to purchase any product that you’ve added to your Facebook Shop.

Are you having to change the way you run your business due to COVID-19? If there’s anything you need, whether that’s a helping hand or some friendly advice, we’re here to help.