Before building their first website, ecommerce and retail expert Martin Newman of Practicology outlines the key things independent brands and retailers should consider to ensure they win their share of business.
It is important to let customers choose how they shop with you, which is why it’s key to have a website alongside your first store as a channel for customers to engage with you. It also represents an opportunity for you to extend your reach to more customers over a broader geographical area than you can do with your local store business.
What’s the customer value proposition?
You might also think of this in terms of what’s your USP? What will make your retail business stand out and why will customers want to buy from you? What’s the value to them in doing so? And how will you price in relation to your competitors?
You also have to think about what the customer convenience proposition will be.
From an online perspective, you need a clear convenience proposition. What delivery and returns options will you offer? Will you charge for these or offer them free? Much will depend upon what you sell, what your average order values are and what your competitors do.
Will you offer click and collect?
There are advantages to doing so if you already have your first store. You’ll convert more customers and you’ll be able to sell them more products when they come into your store to pick up.
You’re only as good as the product you sell. Are there any gaps in your local retail environment that you could fill with an independent retail store?
The web also provides the opportunity to offer a slightly different product range. Unlike in your store, you’re not limited by physical space therefore you can potentially offer a broader range of products online.
Continuity of supply is absolutely crucial. So whatever, you sell, you need to know that you can replenish stock in a timely fashion, otherwise you risk disappointing customers.
If you’re going online, you need a web platform. This is the technology that sits behind the front-end customer experience and drives the functionality of the website.
It’s the same as when thinking about the technology needs of the store: an electronic point of sale (EPOS), and how all the systems you use will talk to each other, as they will need to do so if you want to offer click and collect. There are potentially other systems you might need including systems to manage finance, stock, product information and content.
There is a saying that you shouldn’t get your creative (site design) from technology companies (those who build your platform). You will need someone to design the front end of the website and build out your ecommerce proposition.
You also need to ensure that your site is fully optimised for mobile devices (that includes smartphones and tablets) as that is where you will reach most of your customers moving forward.
Hosting and domain name
The website needs to be hosted somewhere. Your web development provider, sometimes known as a web development agency or system integrator, will be able to help with this.
When you’re coming up with a name for your retail business, make sure you check the domain name availability for your website at the same time. There’s no point in coming up with a name for your store that isn’t also available for your brand online. You can acquire this from a vast number of domain name registration companies online.
Content and VM
You will need to produce content for your website. This is also known as visual and product merchandising. Of course, you’ll also have to produce visual merchandising, also known as point of sale material for the store.
Customers can just walk into your physical store, but the same may not be true for your website. First of all you need to ensure that the website is search engine optimized (SEO). You will need your agency to advice you on this, but in essence the site should be populated with content and meta data that enables the search engine to crawl and index your site.
This will also include relevant keywords that relate to what you sell, a good site map that can be successfully crawled by search engines, the meta tags that tell the search engine and web users what your site is about and alt tags for images that provide a brief description of the image.
This article first appeared on the new online portal to support independent retailers Inside Retail, which was launched last week by Ascential Events, owner of shows including Pure London and Spring and Autumn Fair.