Five things to ask yourself before launching an online shop
Five things to ask yourself before launching an online shop
We recently finished a website project for a home interiors and consultancy business, Gingerbread Interiors, run by the lovely Sharon Broadbent.
Sharon had a now-or-never moment to set up a bricks and mortar shop, with a complementary online shop.
Here are five things that you might like to ask yourself and resolve if you want to setup an online shop.
Get a handle on your business plan first
On the face of it, an online shop is a powerful and attractive proposition; the ability to trade and sell everything from physical goods to digital services.
It's also easier than ever to setup these days, using online shop platforms and e-commerce plugins, such as Squarespace, Shopify, Magneto, WooCommerce and more.
However, being able to do the basics well and fundamental business principles still apply, if you've read that and are about to navigate away to setup your Squarespace account!
If you haven't yet written your business plan or at least sketched out the core elements (a business plan doesn't have to be a baked cake), I would advise you to slow down and take a moment.
To give you an idea, when we do strategy sessions with clients, I try to draw out the following elements to ensure we get to the heart of things.
Key elements of strategy
Vision and mission
Who you are
Your unique selling point
If time is short and I want to do an express plan, I would use this handy formula I picked up in the Army Officer Selection Board (AOSB) process for British Army officer training.
Simple planning exercise
Factors and deductions
Courses of action
You can find a copy of this on the Army Rumour Service.
The Prince's Trust also offers a helpful business plan template that we have developed, which you can view or download.
There are also lots of good resources for business planning and starting up from Start up Donut.
Decide how you are going to handle postage and packaging
Choosing and setting up an online shop platform is the easy part.
Uploading your stock with its text and visual content is also relatively straightforward.
What about delivery charges?
Consider the following scenarios. What would you do?
(i) Shipping for orders with big and small items combined
A customer places an order for small piece of stationery, as well as a large, bulky wardrobe (once in a lifetime find, they say!).
You have a blanket £4.95 delivery charge, which is fine for the stationery, but not the wardrobe; you would need a courier - more expensive.
(ii) Small but heavy items
You get an order notification for a relatively small, but heavy, metal ornament. Normally, something of that size would easily be covered by the standard delivery charge, but not in this case, because of its usually high weight
Typically, your online shop platform will give you a number of options for delivery, whether by size, weight or a flat fee.
Many online shops mitigate against the complexities by setting a flat delivery charge on all orders up to a particular amount.
This covers against the complexities on smaller orders, incentivises customers to spend more and allows them to absorb costs on higher value orders.
Make sure your back office processes are up to scratch
Once the online orders come flooding in it may be tempting to sit back and enjoy your success.
Don't be fooled, there is much work still to be done.
You'll need to have a good system in place so that orders are packaged up and posted in good time.
Are you yourself going to do that?
Labels need to be printed, postage purchased and the packages collected or dropped off.
One crucial area not to neglect is how you synchronise your online shop with your bricks and mortar one, assuming you have both.
If a customer buys a product in store, have you remembered to reconcile your online stock?
Are you running both systems off the same stock?
Do you have a system to keep track of stock online and in store?
You might be wondering now about integrations between your Squarespace online shop and your master inventory which also handles your bricks and mortar shop.
This is more advanced functionality and requires API to be in play - to allow one program to talk to another and update each other in real time.
You would likely require a specialist developer to take care of this type of integration.
Have you got a robust marketing plan?
Marketing can be boiled down to the discipline of acquiring and keeping a customer.
To run a shop you need an audience, whether it is footfall or a group of engaged online individuals.
If you don't know what your audience is or have a very small one (perhaps just your family or close friends), you're going to have a big job on your hands.
That said, the most effective marketing is work of mouth, which often starts with friends and family, so all is not lost.
Nevertheless, if you have an active blog or a social media following, this is a good place to drive traffic to your products.
Have you got someone to do some donkey work?
Productivity books talk about having a boss mode and a worker mode.
Key points in which you do heavy mental lifting compared with periods in which you do tasks requiring less brain power.
Putting together marketing plans, working through back office processes and refining your pricing strategies requires time, space and thinking energy.
Have you considered whether you enlist or hire the help of someone to take care of putting the metaphorical cherries on the cake.
The simple, mundane tasks of processing orders, answering customer enquiries, fulfilling orders and dropping off parcels?
Moreover, you might assume that your website developer is a good person upload all of your products, associated images and sort out the product categories etc.
This is true to an extent, as a developer will setup templates and how things ought to look, but it is not cost effective for a specialised developer to do this bread and butter work.
Take the time to engage with the content creation processes yourself and see it as a chance to get to know your online shop and setup in detail.
We hope you've enjoyed this week's blog. If you've got a website or a branding need, do get in touch - we'd love to chat and see how we can help you!