Going Online – How To Pivot Your Bricks And Mortar Business

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With the recent lockdowns in place, many businesses have pivoted successfully to an online model. But if you have no experience with this how do you go about it?

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In this article, we’ll give you some practical tips to help you make the change to add an online channel to your offering.

Online models can work for most businesses

It may seem like some businesses are perfectly suited to an online sales model and some are not. After all, who hasn’t bought a book from Amazon?

But can you imagine a hairdresser or nail bar being online? Admittedly a hairdresser couldn’t deliver their service online, but they could take bookings, and in many cases, there are some significant benefits to adding an online sales channel to a traditional walk-in service.

Online is simply a route to market and pretty much any business should seriously look at this as an addition to their marketing strategy.

Assessing your offer

This is the first step in the process of adding in an online channel.

For companies that sell physical goods, this is of course fairly simple, especially if they are dealing with something that is easily transportable such as books.

But for service companies, this is a little more difficult. Business owners need to think about how they interact with customers and what part of the service could be delivered online. If we take the example of our hairdresser, whilst they won’t be able to carry out the service online, we’d argue that they will be able to do pretty much everything else.

Our business owner could advise customers over a video link on cuts and colouring, could have an online booking method and could even take prepayment online (cutting down on no-shows). And this goes for most types of service business.

So, the first step is to think about which parts of your service can be delivered online, and which need to be delivered in person.

Organising a website

There are essentially two forms of website; a brochure site and a web shop. The brochure site is what most companies start with: it is simply a site where people can look at what you do but can’t interact much, if at all. A web shop is, as the name suggests a place that you can choose, customise and buy goods and services. We’d argue that every business should have a brochure site at the very least but if you want to sell online then you need something more.

Sophisticated web shops can be set up pretty much out of the box nowadays and are very reasonably priced.They can be used to sell physical goods, and this is what our bookseller would need, but they can also sell digital goods like videos, software or music.

You can also have a shop that will take bookings and corresponding payments and it is also relatively cheap to have simple mobile apps developed.

Setting up a payment method

If you want your customers to pay online then you are going to need a payment solution. There are many different types, from a simple card machine into which you type numbers to fully-featured and integrated online payment solutions.

UTP has an excellent range of different products, such as card machines and online payment gateways, that should suit all online businesses and the good news is that they are easy to integrate with your new online offering.

Online customers are looking for convenience and speed and having easy ways to pay is a vital part of the success of your online channel.

Moving your existing customers online

If you have an existing clientele then you have a head start and you may well find that many of them have been hoping that you’d have some form of online service for some time.

This means that you will have a receptive audience ready to go. Hopefully, you have been collecting email addresses which will make contacting them to tell them about your new offering easy.If you haven’t collected email addresses then you’ll need to communicate through more traditional means such as a mailshot or even calling them.

Leverage your social media

Many companies maintain social media accounts even if they don’t sell online and this is a great way to promote your new online shop. If you already have customers who are followers then setting up a small marketing campaign to get them engaged and using the new method is a smart move.

Advertising on social media can be surprisingly cost-effective with a great return on investment because it is so highly targeted. We’d suggest speaking with a marketing agency or engaging with a freelance who can produce effective marketing materials for you to use.

Stay connected

It’s important that you don’t have a big splash to launch your web shop and then go quiet. Online marketing is so much more effective when it is done ‘little and often’. So make sure you post updates about new products or services, things that are happening and items of interest to your customers is important.

By producing simple, interesting content regularly you build and strengthen your following which will, in turn, lead to more online sales.

Enlist your staff

If you are setting up a brand-new web shop then you need as many advocates as you can get and this is where your staff can play a massive part.

Get them involved in testing the shop and encourage feedback on services that you can offer. Once you are happy with the set up of your shop then ask them to tell everyone they can to get the word out. Having happy, engaged staff eulogising about your new online store is a great way to get customers.

Pivoting to online - you can do it.

Although this may seem like a lot to take in, the process can be quite simple and quick. You just need to be organised and engage with professional web designers and marketers where you need help.

Customers today expect companies to have an online presence at a minimum but more and more they are moving to companies that are able to provide as much of the service on the web as possible.

With the cheap availability of systems and great payment processing options, we’d say that there has never been a better time to get your online channel up and running.