Welcome to the e-commerce era: 9 tips for online success

30 March 2021, 08:22 AM
  • Piperis Filippaios, MD at web development and digital marketing agency digitalbeans, explains why the time is right to maximise your online presence
Welcome to the e-commerce era: 9 tips for online success

E-commerce has been growing over the past decade. Already favoured by most UK consumers, it’s expected to grow, with recent Statista research stating that 55% of UK shoppers are spending more time shopping online than in-store. One survey found that 71% of respondents will shop online “as often or more after the Covid-19 situation improves”. The food and drink market is no exception.

Online food and drink sales have rapidly increased from 20% of overall sale share to over 35% in less than a year. Undoubtedly, without an e-commerce platform retailers will miss out. Furthermore, with lower footfall and in-store sales opportunities due to lockdown and social distancing restrictions, online shops could be the saviour of many bricks and mortar stores.

Overtaking supermarkets

While supermarkets have dominated the grocery sector on and offline, the pandemic has inspired more shoppers to support smaller, local businesses, creating plenty of opportunities for independents to offer elevated experiences.

Stand out with good service

Quality service and expertise has always been a valuable differentiator for independent and specialist retailers, and the in-store experience can be replicated online. Ensure your team’s personality and brand story are a part of your website. 

Curated shopping lists detailing staff favourites, best-selling items and seasonal produce showcase your expertise and can drive sales to help to clear excess stock. There are also opportunities to include complementary products, recipes and detailed tasting notes. Understanding the services that your customers value most will identify the areas it is worth investing in, from personal video shopping appointments to guided virtual tasting sessions, elevating experiences and offering something different will set you apart from larger retailers.

Building a community

Consumers’ drive to shop locally is largely led by the desire to support small businesses and keep local jobs. Equally, they appreciate knowing the provenance of produce and the retailers’ relationship with favourite brands, which independent retailers and their shop staff are closer to than in larger chains. Therefore, independent retailers are perfectly positioned to create an online hub that highlights local initiatives and tells supplier stories.

As challenges associated with the pandemic continue, retailers can go beyond supporting shopping needs to win a place in consumers’ hearts


Bigger isn’t always better. The disadvantages of supermarkets are their size. This puts limitations on their ability to adapt. Sainsbury’s chief executive Simon Roberts said that the online sales shift is “moving sales out of our most profitable convenience channel and driving a huge step-up in online grocery participation, our least profitable channel”.

Independents can be more flexible, focusing development on online while reducing physical store costs.

Increasing online orders

Business owners understand the importance of loyalty schemes to encourage repeat customers, and, with household budgets affected by Covid, value holds currency with shoppers. However, value does not always mean low prices and could equate to future discounts, free gifts, or early access to new product ranges. Using data to build online customer profiles helps retailers to target communications, rewarding loyalty with personalised offers.

Subscription services have also grown massively in the past year; promoting brand loyalty and repeat purchase by focusing on customer retention over acquisition. A single customer paying ongoing payments for an ongoing service/product increasing the customer’s lifetime value as they stay longer.

Food and meal subscription services are the second most adopted category. The market has seen companies like HelloFresh skyrocket sales in the past year and Heinz has moved to subscriptions via a direct to consumer business model, opening meal kits, gifting and celebration hamper opportunities for retailers.

Creating a good online experience

Experience is everything when it comes to selling online; it can make or break a shopper’s decision to purchase or revisit. 

The first step is to make purchasing easy and smooth and is optimised for fast-loading on both desktop and mobile devices. Consider how customers find you – through search engines, advertising or social media. Product ads should link directly to the corresponding product pages.

Strong photography and video content can bring digital shelves to life and draw shoppers’ attention. Once received, quality, well-lit images can be used across wider marketing activity, including digital marketing and promotional collateral. While products need to clearly stand out at a glance, look to capture items in context or in lifestyle scenarios to avoid bland rows of packshots.

Security is also vital as Google alerts users to a non-HTTPS secure site and clear customer service details inspire confidence. Successful digital shelves rely on quality images, clear product details and pricing with minimal clicks required to add to basket and check out. Using functions such as auto-fill data cells, wishlists and personalised log-ins further heightens the customer experience and streamlines the path-to-purchase. There are also opportunities to recommend similar products, increasing the average basket size and tailoring the experience to meet individual preferences.

3 more ways to a successful e-commerce site

• Invest in presenting your products at their best with good quality photos and detailed product information.
• A streamlined e-commerce process is invaluable. Minimise the clicks between product selection and check out.
• Tailoring the shopping experience through wishlists and product recommendations will help satisfy shoppers’ individual needs.

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