We’ve all heard the message: the high street’s looking a bit worse for wear.
ASOS and their easy returns are like having a personal shopper – and Amazon will one day start flying drones to your door to make a sale.
So if you’re running a brick-and-mortar store with no online component, you’re right to feel a bit worried.
But you’re in luck:
It’s never been easier to get online and make the most of the new wave of digital e-commerce and retail tools that are reshaping how people do business.
Here’s what you need to know about moving your retail business online:
Is the high-street store really dying?
If you follow the news, it certainly seems so.
A recent study from Awin suggests that more than two-thirds of Britons do most of their shopping online – and more than a third of them wouldn’t care if every high-street store closed down.
On top of that, online sales exceeded 20% of all retail sales for the first time ever in November 2018, with weekly online sales that grew by 13% when compared to the year before.
And of course, there are the horror stories:
Countless major retailers considered giants in their field are closing down stores by the day – names like New Look, House of Fraser, HMV and Debenhams.
Why is it happening?
Like most economic struggles, there’s a huge list of reasons to pick from.
Retailers face continual hikes in business rates and excessive rent demands from their landlords.
But there’s one massive factor that keeps coming up again and again:
Online retailers are blowing the high street out of the water.
They’re operating on the same scale as the retail giants: but with fewer staff, smaller advertising budgets, and no high-street rent to pay.
But can we really put all of the blame on the online competition?
The high street has become overpriced and lazy.
That’s the view of Mark Pilkington, a retail expert and the former chief executive of Gossard.
He recently wrote about high-street retailers’ massive markups and their ‘lack of old-fashioned service’. But he also said that their inefficient stock systems had a huge impact:
When he was running a large retail group, he was losing 15% of his sales to being out of stock – and a worrying 50% of his staff’s time was being spent on stock processing.
So if you’re concerned about online retailers taking business away from your physical stores, we’ve got a timeless piece of advice for you:
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
How does moving online help your business?
There’s no getting around the fact that people love to shop online.
You’re probably guilty of it yourself:
You order books from Amazon when there’s a perfectly good bookshop nearby – and you put in a big order with Ocado when there’s a perfectly good Waitrose down the road.
And there’s a reason for all of this:
Online shopping gives the customer better value – and that’s because it costs your business less.
In particular, moving your business online means you can reduce (or avoid) things like:
- The cost of staff wages
- The rent you pay for your premises
- And the business rates you’re liable for.
And instead, focus on more manageable and affordable things, like:
- The cost of deliveries and returns
- The cost of warehousing and stock management
And your online marketing efforts (like SEO, paid advertising, and social media promotion).
So how can you get started online?
If you’re already running a brick-and-mortar store, it doesn’t make sense to just sell up and move out.
What you need is a structured approach: where you can start to sell online alongside your physical store, slowly increasing and improving your online sales to the point where you’re reliably making money through more than one channel.
Here are a few tips to help you get going:
1. Look into a pre-built platform
One of the biggest hurdles in selling online is getting a solid e-commerce website set up.
Luckily, there are plenty of places (like Shopify or Magento) that make the whole process easy, giving you a reliable system to build a fully functional e-commerce site.
Some of these platforms can even integrate with third-party drop shipping services – which means you won’t have to worry about warehousing or storage at all.
There are loads of different options, and you can see a quick guide to the different e-commerce platforms here.
2. Get the right inventory management software
If you’re anything like Mark Pilkington and his retail group, your staff could be spending as much as 50% of their time on stock processing.
But you don’t have to be so inefficient:
With the right inventory tools, you can automate most of the time-consuming tasks that are costing your physical store money.
(And most of these advanced tools can integrate with third-party logistics companies to help you easily fulfil your orders.)
But here’s the best part:
You’re already in the right place.
3. Start to learn about online promotion
According to a report from Kleiner Perkins, clickthrough rates from social media to ecommerce sites have tripled in the past few years.
That means that online marketing is working – and it’s continuing to grow.
But it’s a whole different field to what you might be used to in retail. And that means you’ll need to learn a few new tricks if you want to see results.
So if you’re not used to selling online, the best time to start learning is before you make the leap.
Places like Hubspot and Hootsuite have huge libraries of useful learning resources to help budding online businesses – complete with statistics and tested methods that can help you connect with your audiences and get people clicking through to your site.
But won’t your physical store get left behind?
If you’ve already got an established physical store, you might be better off with a balanced approach – selling online and in-store, in tandem.
But if you want your high-street store to do well, you’ll need to make sure you’re offering something that your online competition can’t match.
Just look at Apple, one of the most successful retail stores around:
They’re focused on creating a relaxed experience. You can try a fully loaded device before you buy, and their staff are focused on helping and educating their customers – not just closing a sale.
Or you could look at one of our own successful ecommerce clients, who have already mastered this dual-channel situation.
Intceram sells a huge range of quality porcelain and ceramics online. But they also run two large showrooms in major cities.
They know that customers visiting these showrooms won’t usually buy from them on the day.
Choosing tiles for your home is a near-permanent decision – not a snap purchase.
But they use their showrooms as a chance to give their customers a quality experience:
The staff in their showrooms don’t need to push for sales. They know that most of their sales happen online.
And that frees up their staff to give their customers an encouraging, helpful, and low-pressure shopping experience – something that you won’t always get in a high-street-only experience.
So what’s next?
Moving online isn’t an overnight fix.
But with the right tools and the right approach, it could be the move that saves your high-street business.
At BlueHub, we’ve helped countless businesses with their accounting and stock control as they branch out into e-commerce – and we’re ready to help yours, too.
So send us a message or book a free chat, and one of our experts will be more than happy to talk about what you need.