In such a tough trading environment for retailers – and for small companies in general – SME retail firms will need to explore every available avenue to attract customers and generate sales that enable them to both survive and grow.
For some brick-and-mortar retailers, this may mean exploring e-commerce, or, if they already have online operations, expanding these to draw in a wide customer base and make the most of the post-COVID growth of online retail.
Developing a successful online retail operation isn’t as simple as creating a website and listing your products on it, however. There are numerous technical and operational factors that need to be considered to ensure its success. Here are five of the most important considerations.
Invest in the First Impression
Users decide whether they like a site almost instantly upon visiting it, making it absolutely paramount that businesses seeking to build a strong e-commerce operation make a good first impression to win customers.
Investing in site design is one of the primary ways to make a website appear more visually engaging, while ensuring compatibility across a range of devices and screen sizes will mean that users aren’t put off if they access the site via mobile (more on that later).
Using e-commerce platforms like Shopify can also mean that a retailer can easily create a structure for their site that is logical and simple to use, while providing reassurance to visitors that the site is genuine and reliable.
Beyond that, creating a business email address incorporating the business’ name (rather than just, for example, [owner’s name]@hotmail.co.uk) will provide further reassurance of the credibility of the business and website.
Align it with Social Media
We’ve spoken many times on this blog about the importance of a strong social media presence for SMEs in the current climate, and this extends to those seeking to build an e-commerce operation. As well as enabling businesses to grow their brand awareness and customer base, social media can also be used to grow a retailer’s e-commerce operations.
Social media sites can, of course, be used to link to the e-commerce side of a business and to raise awareness of a company’s online operations and any deals that it may be offering to online customers. But sites like Facebook and Instagram can also be integrated with online stores to provide customers with a more streamlined experience.
Furthermore, other tools can also be utilised to automatically promote items for sale in an online store via social media channels.
Ramp up SEO
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is one of the key ways that businesses get found online and, as a result, can be vital to retailers looking to expand their e-commerce operations. In brief, SEO is how businesses improve their rankings on search engines such as Google, to ensure that when users search for the kinds of goods they offer, they appear near the top.
Once a user has searched something online, statistics show that 90 per cent don’t go beyond the first set of results. This means that, in order for small retailers to be found online, they need to boost their SEO to ensure that they rank as highly as possible.
The best way to improve SEO is to produce regular content featuring keyword-optimised titles, URLs, and meta-descriptions. Keywords should be as specific as possible, and there are a huge array of tools out there that can enable businesses to select the most efficient keywords for their SEO purposes.
Beyond posting regular content related to the business, retailers can also take steps such as implementing Google authorship, registering with webmaster tools, and setting up a Google My Business profile to grow their search traffic and increase their e-commerce sales.
Ensure Mobile Compatibility
One of the most fundamental mistakes that retailers make when developing e-commerce operations is building a website that looks great on a computer but terrible on mobile. Chances are, a huge number of customers will be browsing via their mobile phones (particularly those that come to the site via social media), so it is vital to ensure the website is mobile-friendly.
Owners and their developers should consider factors such as how navigation will work across different devices, whether elements are equally easy to select either via clicking or touchscreen, whether the site's flow works across different screen sizes, whether the layout is optimised for different screens and devices, and whether images are displayed on all screen sizes.
While the vast majority of sites are built on computers, mobile usability should be at the absolute forefront of the process throughout. Thankfully, there are numerous tools – most notably Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test – that enable developers and owners to see what their sites look like on mobile and what improvements can be made.