How to Transition from a Physical Store to an Online Shop

July 21, 2020
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8 minute read
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Owning and managing any business will always be costly. This is especially true if you’re in retail, where owning a physical storefront has recurring expenses related to the rent, utilities, and store staff. But thanks to developments in technology, including advanced payment solutions such as Checkout by Maya Business, it’s now more than possible to bring your business online. This can then help you reach a larger customer base with a relatively smaller initial investment and even let you reduce your long-term upkeep.

If you’re starting from scratch, all you need is a reliable Internet connection and a suitable computer to get your e-commerce business up and running. However, the transition process can be even easier if you’re already building on an existing brick-and-mortar store or chain of stores. If you’re counting your interest piqued, read on for some useful information.

First: Knowing the Benefits of Taking Your Business Online

Before we go deeper into the process of transforming your business or expanding it into e-commerce, let’s recap some important benefits that online businesses tend to have. Here are the two most vital ones:

Your Business Won’t Be Limited by Your Location

On the Internet, your store will no longer be restricted to a specific physical address. Instead, you can now market your products to customers in different cities. You could even start marketing your offerings across the country or even globally! Because of this wider audience reach, you have the potential to significantly grow your revenue stream like never before. You can also broaden and increase your offerings, since you’re no longer limited to storing and displaying only as much inventory as can fit within your physical store.

You Won’t Be Restricted to Traditional Retail Hours

By its very nature, a traditional brick-and-mortar shop has to operate within retail hours. On the other hand, an online store is always open for business, which means your customers will no longer need to make their purchases within a specific window of time. As long as they have access to the Internet, they can simply make a purchase whenever and wherever they want. In fact, studies show that 74 percent of buyers would rather place an order through a website rather than through a sales representative. Additionally, customers prefer the increased flexibility and convenience that online shopping can provide.

With the above benefits in mind, you should now be more aware of the potential benefits of embracing e-commerce. For the rest of the article, we’ll be giving you specific pointers on how to overcome common obstacles and identify opportunities to make your transition as smooth as possible.

Rethinking Your Supply Chain

As previously mentioned, transitioning to e-commerce removes many of the restrictions imposed by relying purely on a physical store. Some of these include fixed daily operating hours and the limitations of your store’s location. That said, customers who shop online have very different expectations compared to those who shop at brick-and-mortar stores. This is because online shoppers will find it easier to look for a different seller if your online shop is down or if your stocks run out. Over time, this can accumulate into a sizable opportunity loss. These factors highlight the need to reevaluate your current supply chain if you want to take your retail business online.

Invest in Larger Wholesale Orders

Though the minimal costs of an online store already result in greater returns,  looking for ways to further maximize your profits is always worthwhile. Given your expanded customer base, you can consider haggling with your suppliers for discounts on bigger wholesale orders. You may even want to search for new suppliers that can take care of production and order fulfillment at the same time. That way, you’ll always have enough stocks on-hand to meet growing consumer demand, reducing the likelihood of missing out on potential sales.

Consider Expanding Your Product Line

Though transitioning to an online store requires a large initial investment, you can again take advantage of your wider audience reach by expanding to a wider range of products. This will not only help you meet the demands of a larger customer base but also earn back your capital more quickly. Expanding your product range can be as simple as creating more variations of your current offerings, such as additional colors and sizes. You can even offer completely new products that are relevant to your existing audience. For example, a make-up brand can sell other products related to the idea of staying beautiful, such as healthy foods and athletic wear.

Meet Your Customers’ Delivery Expectations

Many online buyers expect shipping to be inexpensive--sometimes even free! Additionally, they often want their orders to arrive quickly, meaning you’ll have to fulfill them within a matter of days or even hours upon purchase. In order to meet such a demand, it’s crucial to optimize your current fulfillment processes. Hence, we recommend looking into shipping software, third-party logistics providers, and integration companies that can provide you with affordable solutions specifically designed for e-commerce. With their help, you’ll be able to get your products into your consumers’ hands as quickly and efficiently as possible.

These are just a few aspects of the supply chain process that may require some adjustments as you bring your business online. Once you’ve ironed all of these out, it’s also important to make sure your branding stays consistent as it makes the transition to online.

Consider Spicing Up Your Brand’s Message

Shipping online will increase your brand's interaction with online users, so you might want to embrace buyer personas to allow for a unified tone and messaging. Your chosen persona can then be applied to your marketing, customer support, and other aspects of your business.

Essentially, a buyer persona is a profile that describes your ideal customer in as detailed a manner as possible. It usually covers everything from who they are down to their buying preferences.

To get you started, here are some questions that can help you craft your buyer personas:

  • Demographics: What is your ideal customer’s gender, age, and location? What life stage are they at? How much income do they make in a given month?
  • Occupation: If they’re a student, where do they currently study? If they’re a working adult, what type of company do they work for, and in what industry? What is their role?
  • Interests: What are their hobbies? What activities do they like?
  • Pain Points: What are the problems that keep them up at night? What do they constantly complain about? What solution would they be willing to pay money for?
  • Buying Behavior: Do they primarily shop at brick-and-mortar stores, or do they buy online? How often do they buy certain products? When do they typically make a purchase? What device do they use to access online stores?

Once you’ve determined how to best communicate and resonate with your customers, it’s time to decide the best place to sell your products. As with a physical storefront, where you put up your online store can make or break its success. Read on to learn about the most common sales channels and as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Choosing A Sales Channel

When it comes to choosing a sales channel, your three main options are online marketplaces, social media platforms, hosted online stores, or self-hosted online stores.

Online Marketplaces

An online marketplace is an app or website that allows consumers to shop from several different sources. However, the marketplace does not directly own any inventory being sold. Instead, it allows individuals to create an account and list their products for sale.

The main advantage of an online marketplace is that they usually have a large existing customer base which you can tap into. Additionally, they usually offer readily available payment methods and delivery services that are already integrated into their service. Going through an existing platform also allows you to take advantage of dropshipping.

However, you may not have as much freedom to customize your listings to suit your branding. And while many marketplaces are free to use, some charge a listing fee and may take a small percentage out of each sale you make. Lastly, your products will be listed among hundreds of similar ones by your competitors, which may make it difficult for your offerings to stand out.

Social Media Networks

If you already have a solid online following, then starting your store on a social media network might be your best bet. While they may not be specifically designed for selling products, they already provide you easy with access to your existing audience. The best part about selling directly on social media networks requires no upfront costs, making it ideal for those who are just starting out.

Oftentimes, all you need to do is upload a photo of each product along with a description and instructions on how people can order. However, some social media networks have started offering built-in tools to help you create a dedicated store page. And if you’d like to improve your visibility on the platform, most social networks offer their own ad programs. You can even set your target audiences to ensure that the right people see your boosted posts.

However, some customers may find it difficult to navigate your social media page, especially if you post new products often. And similarly to online marketplaces, you’ll likely have plenty of competition on social networks who are also vying for your customers’ attention. Social media pages also don’t offer as much customization, save for your cover photo and your profile photo.

Hosted Online Stores

If you’re looking for a sales channel that offers more customization options, you may want to consider looking into hosted online stores. These provide all the tools and templates that you’ll need to build a simple but effective e-commerce shop, even if you have no prior web development experience.

Usually, a hosted online store will provide you with a website complete with product listings and a shopping cart. In terms of marketing, some plans come with built-in functionalities for creating blog posts, email newsletters and campaigns, as well as sharing posts directly to your social media accounts. Hosted online stores can also provide you with sales analytics data that can help you gain a better insight into how your business is performing.

The main advantage of a hosted online store is that you won’t have to compete with other sellers for your customer’s attention. Additionally, the company hosting your store will be in charge of maintaining the site, installing necessary updates, and keeping your customer’s data secure. However, these conveniences come at a cost, with most hosted online stores requiring a hefty monthly subscription on top of payment processing fees.

Self-Hosted Online Stores

Self-hosted online stores provide many of the same capabilities as hosted online stores, but with near-complete freedom to customize it however you want. The main difference is that you’ll have to set everything up yourself, making them a bit more difficult to start and maintain. That said, there are hundreds of themes and plug-ins that you can choose from, so you can set up exactly the features that you need. And because it’s hosted on your own server, you can customize the code for your website however you want.

In terms of costs, the core editions of most e-commerce self-hosting solutions are free. And while there are plenty of free plugins and themes available on the market, they often provide limited functionalities compared to their paid equivalents. At the very least, you’ll need to invest in a hosting account, a domain name, and an SSL certificate to securely encrypt your site. While a self-hosted store may cost more upfront compared to a hosted online store subscription, it’s more cost-effective once you start growing your business exponentially.

Given all of this information, which sales channel should you pick? The truth is that there isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution, as each comes with its own pros and cons. That said, it’s best to carefully weigh your options and choose the one that best suits your business’s specific needs.

Choosing A Sales Channel

When done well, transitioning to an online store can be a worthwhile investment. However, there are still some challenges that you’ll need to consider and overcome. Conversely, these can also be seen as opportunities that you can take advantage of and use as a springboard towards success. But as long as you do your research and keep your business agile, you’ll be able to reap the fruits of your labor. We wish you the best of luck with starting your e-commerce shop!