With countries around the world imposing strict lockdowns on citizens, restricting all but essential shopping and travel, retailers are beginning to feel the pinch.
Although government schemes have allowed companies to furlough their staff and apply for loans and grants to help them cover the bills in the short-term, if your business is shut for a significant period of time, you’ll no doubt struggle to return to pre-crisis sales once restrictions have been lifted.
And it’s not just SMEs who are battling the crisis. Primark, one of Europe’s biggest clothing retailers, announced its revenues dropped from £650 million per month to zero during April.
But on the other hand, some businesses are reporting record sales as consumers look to fill their time during self-isolation. Indeed, companies in DIY, gardening, jewellery, electronics and telecommunications reported “huge growth” – and that is, in part, thanks to ecommerce.
If you’re ready to start selling and have the capacity to deliver your products to consumers locally or across the UK, it could be time to take your business online. Below, we’ve put together our five-step action plan to help you build an ecommerce website and start trading.
Understand product demand
First up, it’s important to assess demand for products and services in your niche.
With the vast majority of consumers at home and others working in essential roles, consumer habits and demands have changed significantly in a short period of time, and your product mix and strategy should reflect that. Hot tubs and garden games are more popular than ever, but suitcases and handbags are no longer the attractive commodities they were back in March.
Conduct market research to find out what your competitors are doing. Checking their stock levels, delivery speeds and social channels can give you an indication of demand. Suppliers can also help you determine whether your business idea has “legs” in the current climate.
If you’re confident there’s demand for your products during the crisis (and, of course, beyond the crisis), it’s time to consider building an ecommerce site and taking your business online.
Find an ecommerce developer
Now that you’ve decided to launch an ecommerce website, you should find a developer who can help you get online quickly. The world is evolving day by day, and so the sooner your products are accessible to your customers, the sooner you’ll unlock a new revenue stream and shift stock. Having said that, you shouldn’t rush the process: if you build an ecommerce website yourself or rely on free tools, you could compromise on user experience or security.
A good ecommerce web developer will have a track record of successful projects, be able to give you a timescale for getting your store online, and offer great aftercare. Look into reviews and consider working with a local company. Though you can’t meet face to face right now, as your ecommerce site evolves in the months and years ahead, knowing they’re local will give you peace of mind. Where that’s not possible, use Zoom to discuss ideas before you start.
Make sure you’re prepared
Once your ecommerce site is in development, you should begin preparing your business for an influx of new customers and orders. You’ll likely already have a distribution partner, but if not, now’s the time to look at your options and find the most cost-effective solution. Take into account that demand is high and delivery firms are stretched; you may need to compromise.
Now is also the time to retrain your warehouse staff, take check of your inventory, secure products, forecast your shipping volume and labour demand, and keep a check of safety regulations. You will need to follow social distancing rules for the foreseeable future, too.
Launch your ecommerce site
Although we would typically recommend a few weeks of user testing before launching a new ecommerce website, these challenging times mean you’ll want to begin trading as soon as you can. You can make tweaks as you go and react to customer feedback as and when it comes in, but before you press “publish”, read this checklist to make sure you’re ready:
- Images and product data: Make sure that all of your products have a high-quality image and a basic product description. The more detailed you can be, the more likely customers are to part with their cash and purchase from your ecommerce store.
- Tone of voice: Your website should adopt a consistent brand voice and tone, and it’s important that you avoid any faux pas that could cause offence or distress in these current circumstances. It is best to err on the side of caution than upset customers.
- Branding: Develop a clear and visually-appealing visual brand that is consistent with your offline branding and other online activities, like social media and your newsletter.
- SEO considerations: All of your product pages should feature the correct Schema markup so they can be indexed by search engines. You should choose searchable product names and keywords to maximise your chances of ranking on the first page.
- Website speed and demand: Your website should respond quickly and adapt to the size of your users’ screens. Stress test and prepare for high load and demand; use a content delivery network or cloud web hosting to keep your store online at all times.
- Sitemap and accessibility: Sitemaps are useful for both search engines and users. Make sure your website is easy to navigate and accessible; all images should be described with an alt tag and your click boxes should be large and tap-friendly.
- Security: It’s vital that customer data is secure. As well as an SSL certificate, invest in ecommerce security software and empower users to be savvy with their personal details. Encourage secure passwords and log users out after periods of inactivity.
- Order tracking and integration: Make it easy for customers and reduce your customer service load by integrating order tracking APIs into your ecommerce store. Some distribution companies offer door-to-door tracking similar to Amazon Prime.
Finally, be sure to spread the word about your new ecommerce store so as many customers can access it as possible. As well as sending out newsletters, adding marketing materials to your physical store and using social media, consider investing in a pay-per-click campaign.
Whether you’re selling groceries or gardening supplies, be empathetic about the current public mood and avoid “celebrating” your launch or running limited-time offers. Instead, sell your ecommerce store as a tool customers can use to access products they need during these testing times, emphasising your great customer support team who are there to help.
Remember that an ecommerce website is a long-term investment. Your website may not look the way you want it to on day one or offer all of the products and services you’d like it to, but it’s better to launch with some products and drive sales than not launch at all.
Make a note of functionality you’d like and prioritise over the next few months until you have an ecommerce store that works for you and your customers, and rely on your competitors for inspiration and sales strategies.
If you need help making the leap to ecommerce during the COVID-19 crisis, depend on the web developers at Zudu. Click here to get in touch and schedule a free consultation today.