Online retail 101

18 October 2021, 07:30 AM
  • E-commerce has unquestionably been a lifeline for fine food lovers and businesses alike throughout the pandemic. Here’s how to make the most of the opportunity without sacrificing your bricks-and-mortar base
Online retail 101

There’s never been a better time to up your online game. Shoppers are spending more time online than ever before, and on all sorts of platforms – from e-commerce sites to social media and beyond – so it makes sense to boost your assets while the iron’s hot.

A strong online presence will boost your business in more ways than one. Not only will it provide a new, profitable arm to your retail establishment, but it will raise the profile of your business beyond your immediate area; potentially attracting new locals as well as consumers from further afield to check out your wares.

Social media, too, is worth an investment of time (and potentially funds). Its various platforms offer a wealth of community-building opportunities. With that in mind, we’ve gathered exclusive information from an array of experts to boost your business’s presence on the internet and excite existing – and potential – customers.

Balance bricks and mortar with online platforms

Create a clear customer journey

Think about how easy it is for customers to navigate your bricks-and-mortar store. Now translate that to online to ensure that shoppers can easily find what they need. Ensure that images of stock are visually pleasing and that product descriptions are clear and concise. In-store customers have the option to ask questions, so compiling a list of FAQs or adding a live chat function could help to close sales.

Training staff

Ciaran Bollard, CEO of Kooomo explains, “Omnichannel can only be fully effective when in-store staff are as good as the online service agents. Sales assistants should spend more time connecting with shoppers and be ready to tend to their personal needs. Ensure staff are familiar with your website and offer to support in the same way as they would online.”

Choosing an e-commerce platform

Running a bricks-and-mortar store alongside an online shop requires laying good foundations. Choosing an e-commerce platform is the first stage. There are plenty out there, such as Wix or Shopify, that give you everything you need to get started on a budget and provide all the checkout functionality needed. An important element to keep in mind is that the physical store and online shop need to reflect one another and work together, for example sharing a similar aesthetic and brand message.

According to Ciaran, it’s key that all the pieces of the digital commercial puzzle come together within the customer journey: “Retailers should look for a platform that is flexible enough to handle the seasonality of catalogue management so that products and images can be added quickly, pricing can be adapted in line with stock levels and promotions can be easily managed.”

Invest in personalisation

In the competitive world of online retailing, customer connection is crucial. Putting time and effort into personalising your digital offerings will help boost your sales, and encourage repeat business too.

In the speciality food and drink industry the emphasis is on produce with great stories behind them, and being able to communicate those with customers is all part of the fine food shopping experience. Translating that connection online means creating an online experience that’s tailored to your customers’ needs.

Creating valuable content

These days consumers are receiving an array of marketing messages through social media, websites and newsletters. Stand out amongst the crowd by creating content of value to your new and existing customers.

Dan Jones is the head of CRO (Conversion Rate Optimisation) at Search Laboratory, and he advises, “Developing an advanced marketing funnel which includes a top layer of engaging and valuable content that keeps users coming back to the site time and time again. Examples of content which would be suitable include informational blog posts, downloadable resources or on-site quizzes. By providing consumers with real meaningful ‘value’, it ensures that when they are ready to move down the sales funnel, your brand is the first that comes to mind. If you’re a food retailer, think about what content at each stage might look like and how it would differ.”

Personalise your content

Sairah Mojib is head of marketing, EMEA at Widen, a digital asset management provider. She explains how to personalise your content and why it’s key to retaining repeat customers:
1. Instills trust
“A successful personalisation strategy exudes authenticity and instills a sense of trust when it comes to marketing, but to do it well requires significant creativity and effort. Going way beyond the basics of a birthday email or a seasonal greeting, personalisation helps to humanise the customer experience and give retailers’ messaging real legitimacy, which not only helps convert to vital sales but encourages repeat custom.”

2. Creates connection
“In today’s competitive food and beverage retail landscape, personalisation is a basic market demand that helps consumers connect with the brand – often on an emotional level. For example, who remembers the ‘Share a Coke’ campaign? But to do personalisation well and attract those all-important repeat customers, it needs to go beyond basic demographics such as age, sex and location. Through a registration questionnaire for example, a retailer can find out about dietary requirements or taste preferences.”

Maximise your website

The first step to making your website the powerhouse of opportunity it has the potential to be is assessing your approach to it. If you consider it an add-on needing the occasional update to keep it from being out-of-date, chances are it won’t be bringing the numbers to your sales sheets that you’re after. Instead, if you approach it as an important arm of your business, therefore applying time and investment into getting it right, you’ll be on the right track for boosting your business in a newly profitable way.

First up, it’s important to consider how you want to present your business to existing and potential customers. Remember that your website could be the first port of call for your customer base – whether they’re looking for opening times, wanting to get in touch or hoping to check out your product range – so it’s worth spending time and funds on getting it right. “You might already have great content,” says Audrey Madden of White Bear Studio. “If this is the case, give it a spring clean, spruce it up, and revive old evergreen content. This will help you score higher in the search engines.”

A bit of direct, personable contact with your audience could be a winner if you have some spare time on your hands. “This type of content marketing is usually extremely time consuming and hard to keep consistent, but now is your chance to do it right and snatch that spot on the first page of Google.”

“All of the pieces of the digital commerce puzzle must fit together to truly optimise every step of the customer journey,” explains Ciaran Bollard of Kooomo. “Online is increasingly used as a purchasing channel, but it is often used in the research process, even if a consumer chooses to buy through a store.” It’s worth looking into hosting platforms which are flexible enough to adapt to a changing stock catalogue, adapt pricing in line with stock levels and easily manage promotions. “These are all crucial requirements for successful retailers,” he says.

Make it mobile

We all know about SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) by now, but have you considered mobile optimisation? “With over 30 million British consumers using smart devices – for example, mobile phones and tablets – to shop so far this year, it’s important to make your website easy to use on these devices in order to avoid frustrating or losing this customer base,” says Dan Jones of Search Laboratory. “Mobile optimisation can be as big as a
full website design or as small as prioritising key content on a page,” he explains.

While you’re making your site mobile user-friendly, look into mobile payment options such as Apple Pay or PayPal – “mobile payments make it easier for consumers to purchase goods online,” explains Dan, “and therefore reduce checkout abandonment, increasing sales and repeat customers”.

Utilise emails

Since the emergence of social media as a marketing platform, attention has waned on the opportunities that email presents. The rollout of GDPR (Global Data Protection Regulation) means that every single person who receives your emails has opted in to do so, so ignore its potential at your peril. From weekly stock updates to community noticeboards, the variety of content you can include in your outgoing emails is limitless – so get creative!

Your website host will most likely have email options as part of a package, but to really maximise the potential of email, marketing experts recommend stepping out of Gmail-style systems into providers such as MailChimp and CampaignMonitor. These come with perks including templates and customisation, so you can be confident that your mail-outs fit with your established aesthetic. Once you’ve chosen the provider which best suits your business, it’s time to get your database up to scratch. Attract customer email addresses by offering something tangible, be it an exclusive discount or a special recipe, or tap into their desire to be part of something by inviting them to be member of a ‘club’. Get the message out on your social channels, pop a sign-up sheet on your counter, and host and attend events.

Cash in on the personal touch

The days of batch-sending generic content is over; instead, look to your sales reports, check out the latest trends and think seasonally in order to make your words really speak to current – and new – customers. If your website has e-commerce capabilities, it’s worth stepping beyond weekly newsletters if you want to really maximise sales.

If you’re spotting a trend for customers filling their online baskets then leaving your site without paying, consider sending them a polite nudge – it might be just what’s needed to pique their interest again and get them spending. “Cart abandonment emails are vital for generating sales as they reignite a consumer’s interest,” explains Ciaran. “For every cart abandonment email that is sent, an average of $8.21 is generated in revenue.” Ciaran’s advice: “Don’t wait too long to get in contact. Studies show that emails that are sent within one to two hours of when a user leaves a site drive 105% more revenue than if you were to wait 24 hours to send the same email.”

For more expert advice on boosting your online presence, download the free Ultimate Guide To Online Retail report here.

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