How to Transition From Brick and Mortar to eCommerce

Online sales have steadily been eating into the overall retail market, with the pandemic only accelerating this process.

Although this shift in the market could be worrying for brick and mortar retailers, such businesses are actually relatively well-positioned to take advantage of the growth of eCommerce. Their current offline presence and infrastructure should put them far ahead of any startup company trying to sell the same products online. This is something that I have learned from a tire retailer, where they pivoted from a brick and mortar to selling online in the last 18 months.

This article will explain how offline retailers can best leverage their current position to make the transition to eCommerce or omnichannel (aka bricks and clicks) selling as successfully as possible.

1. Try to funnel your existing customers online

One of the biggest advantages that brick and mortar retailers have over newly formed eCommerce stores is that they have an existing customer base that they can tap into.

Getting your existing customers to start buying your products online benefits you in two ways. These are:

  1. You can test your company’s capacity to fulfill orders 
  1. Having converting traffic on your online store is seen as a positive signal by Google and should give you an early head start in terms of SEO.

Hopefully, you should have a way of communicating with existing customers en masse, be that an email list, physical newsletter, or even signs inside and on the outside of your store. Tell your customers that they can now buy your products online. Many will instantly switch to buying online due to the added convenience that this offers. If this is not happening, then it’s worth incentivizing them with a discount for their first online order.

It’s worth using a point of sale system to get customer feedback on whether products were delivered on time as you develop your fulfillment process.

2. Focus on dominating your local area

Although the main benefit of switching from a brick-and-mortar retailer to an online store is the fact that you can scale beyond your geographic location, a good strategy to get started is to dominate your local area and then slowly build outwards. This, again, will give an existing retailer an advantage over an eCommerce startup as you should already have a decent local presence.

The best way to increase your local presence as an eCommerce retailer is with Facebook ads. These can be targeted locally, and constraining your ads to only show to people in a certain radius will lower their cost. 

A smart strategy is to work out what areas you can offer free and/or next-day delivery and target those locations. Offering free or next-day delivery gives your products an extra level of value compared to your competitors, and you can use this benefit in your ad copy to increase conversions.

3. Do not underestimate the extra demands on your fulfillment infrastructure

By far the most difficult part of moving from selling offline to online is the additional demands placed upon your back office team. Not only are you likely to start doing additional volume when you sell online, but you also have the headache of having to pack and ship all the items that you sell.

Do not underestimate how challenging this aspect of the pivot to eCommerce will be. There will be times when you feel completely overwhelmed by this. There are, however, some ways that you can make this growth curve a little bit easier. These include:

  • Offer click and collect so not all items that are purchased online need to be shipped
  • Start only selling to a small local area and then slowly build outwards from there
  • Be willing to invest money in growing your fulfillment team – even if this significantly lowers your profitability at the beginning of your pivot.
  • Do not sell all your products online initially, start with smaller products that are easier to ship

The takeaway here is to pivot and grow the eCommerce arm of your business slowly. Let your team get used to the additional demands to fulfillment that selling online will inevitably cause.

4. Try to get some easy local PR wins for your store

The best long-term traffic strategy for an eCommerce store is SEO. This is because, unlike paid ads, SEO continues to bring in leads and sales even if you stop putting money directly into it. It, therefore, offers a much better ROI over time than paid advertising, even if it takes a lot of resources to get started.

Getting early SEO wins is one of the biggest advantages that a new eCommerce store with an existing offline presence has over competitors. Due to the importance of backlinks to SEO, PR and your overall brand presence plays a big role in how well you rank in search, and existing stores can take advantage of this.

Some ways that you can take advantage of this include:

  • Sending out a press release to journalists saying that you now sell online. If you have a big enough local presence then this information should be enough to make the local news
  • Offer a free giveaway of products and let journalists know about it. Journalists love helping their readers save money.
  • Donate some of your products (or just money) to a local charity and again let journalists know about it.

Essentially, search engines are trying to imitate reality with what they deliver to people. Any PR should help you rank better, so an existing retail presence should give you a nice platform to build upon when it comes to SEO.

Takeaway

Although the growth of eCommerce may be scary to some brick and mortar retailers, these companies are actually in a far better position to pivot to selling online than they might first think. It’s worth thinking about how you can utilize your current brand position to develop a truly omnichannel approach to growing your business.

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