Survive and Thrive: How to Start an Online Store for Your Small Business


Almost everyone buys online today. Some may even say that e-commerce is a virtually recession-proof sector of the economy. In fact, US consumers are expected to spend $668.50 billion – or 12% of total retail sales – through online stores in 2020. That’s more than $1 out of every $10 spent.

As a small business owner, you may be asking yourself, “How can I be competitive?”

You have invested your heart and soul in setting up and running your physical store. Your niche store/shop helps power the downtown core of your small town. But when a global crisis clears the streets and the economy turns south, you must diversify beyond your walls to survive.

The growth of e-commerce

A report by eMarketer shows that e-commerce retail sales are expected to more than double from $449.88 billion in sales in 2017 to $969.70 billion by 2023. This means that more than 16% of all retail sales will be spent online.

E-commerce report graph

Source: emarketer report on e-commerce in the United States 2019

Why are analysts predicting this continued strong growth? Check out these seven factors:

  1. Millennials, a large part of the retail industry, have grown up using e-commerce platforms.
  2. Generation XYZ and baby boomers are no longer afraid to put their credit cards online. They are comfortable with – and even prefer – online shopping.
  3. The majority of the population takes the digital world with it. With cell phones in hand at all times, we can shop anywhere, anytime.
  4. Social media influences our daily purchasing decisions and facilitates product sharing.
  5. We are an on-demand company. We want it now and expect convenience.
  6. Comparison shopping is much easier online (convenience again!) than having to travel from store to store.
  7. You can’t buy niche products at the neighborhood big box store. The niche market has a very loyal customer base who will search for specific products online.

A recession is the time to invest in growth

We all hear about “diversification of income streams”, but what does that mean during a possible recession? This means finding new audiences for your products, refining your current offerings, and getting creative with how you present yourself and your brand to the market.

Examine your current product lines and look for gaps and opportunities. What job does your product do for your customers? What other jobs do these same clients need to fill right now? What new customers can you gain through an online store?

Take this opportunity to position your business to bounce ahead of your competitors.

Where to start with an online store

Step 1: Don’t get overwhelmed with the idea that you need a complex, multi-page site with thousands of product offerings. An e-commerce site can be a simple one or two page site offering a handful of products. You can expand the site as you grow. Consider these things when you start planning your store.

Determine the e-commerce platform on which you want to create your store. There are many choices, such as Magento, WooCommerce, Shopify, Wix, YahooStore and more. Find a web agency or web developer who has experience in a few platforms and ask for a recommendation with pros and cons.

When choosing a platform, the main features to check are:

  • Design Options
  • Content management system
  • Search function
  • Shopping cart function
  • Pricing system
  • Inventory and order management
  • Payment systems

Also look for additional features that may be added in the future, such as email campaigns, live chat, and videos.

It’s important to have a consistent look, feel, and brand message for your online store. If you’ve never taken the time to develop your logo and branding, or if you think your branding is outdated, now is the time to do it! Consider these questions:

  • What is your differentiator?
  • Who are you targeting?
  • What is your story ?
  • What is your brand look like?
  • What is your brand voice?
  • What is the emotional response you want to elicit from your customers?

Don’t stop at your online store! Carry your brand image on your packaging and package inserts, which is a great way to create a unique shopping experience. Use inserts to show how to use a product or to sell other products. Professional packaging signals high quality and allows you to engage with your audience and build excitement.

Your website content should use the language and jargon of your customers. Here are the key elements to have in your website to help you sell:

  • A “rich” homepage. Your homepage is where most of your traffic will land, so use the space. Include plenty of images so customers can “see” the product(s) in action. Also provide a unique selling proposition. Include a section for your most popular products and a section for today’s deals, flights, or discounts. The homepage is also a great place to showcase videos of your products. Tip: Don’t worry about people scrolling because people are scrolling today, especially when shopping. Think of scrolling the homepage as a new storefront. Here are some additional tips on how to create a stellar landing page:
    • Make it mobile friendly. It’s a must, period.
    • Include a phone number or form to make it easy for buyers to contact you.
    • Place the cart in the right corner of the header, because that’s where people expect to find it.
    • Expand the search bar. If users are searching in the bar, they are much more likely to buy because they are already looking for something specific. Plus, through analytics, you can see what they’re looking for.
  • Product Descriptions. Be sure to give details of product benefits to the customer, not just list product features. Answer “how will the customer benefit from owning this?” when writing descriptions. Include product photos and if possible, videos too!
  • Why buy from us ? Tell the story of your business and your brand differentiator. Why choose you over your competitors?
  • FAQs. Answer common questions that may prevent someone from buying, such as those related to shipping costs, return policy, sizes, procedures, etc.
  • To verify. Make it simple to follow and easy to complete.
  • Proof. Include customer testimonials, reviews, or social proof.
  • Privacy Policy. Standard requirement and best practices.
  • Membership opportunity. Allow users to accept a discount in exchange for their email address. They save money and you start building an email list for future promotions, product launches, and incentives. In fact, 81% of online shoppers who receive emails based on past buying habits were somewhat likely to make a purchase as a result of a targeted email.

Coffee Case Study Chart

With an online store up and running, you now have the ability to reach new audiences, target customers via email and social media, and position your product to be available 24/7. out of 7, it doesn’t matter where your audience is coming from or what direction the economy is heading.

This article originally appeared on the Marketing Essentials blog and has been republished with permission.


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