According to one survey, there might be up to 24 million ecommerce businesses in the world. Considering how rapidly ecommerce is growing, it’s safe to assume that this number will only grow in the years ahead. As such, your small business will likely see more sales if you start an online store as well. This ecommerce guide for small business owners can help you learn some tips to help you do exactly that.
The power of ecommerce for small businesses
There’s a reason for the abundance of online retailers – more accurately, there are many reasons the ecommerce market has long been booming. ecommerce is also one of the rare sectors that the COVID-19 global pandemic has helped rather than harmed.
Small businesses like yours should sell online, not just locally or in person, for the below reasons, and more:
- Demand for online business is booming. For several years now, consumers have been pivoting from traditional retail to online shopping. In fact, one forecast predicted a 12.8 percent increase in ecommerce sales by 2021 – and that was before the COVID-19 pandemic. Thereafter, online stores saw so much additional demand given lockdowns and brick-and-mortar closures that this figure was adjusted to 13.7 percent.
- Customers want convenience. Why take the time to go to and from a store when you could make the same purchase online from the comforts of home? That’s how customers often think, and it’s why adding ecommerce to your wheelhouse can increase your sales. Instead of losing customers who don’t want to, or are unable to, visit in person, keep them drawn to your products with a webstore.
- Ecommerce imposes virtually no limits on your customer base. When your product ideas reach solely your local market, you can only grow so much. With an ecommerce store, you can couple your in-person operations with a component that, theoretically, any internet user anywhere can access. Considering 59.5 percent of all people use the internet, that’s a whole new world of customers!
- You can communicate with your customers at any time. Your customer loyalty benefits greatly when your customers have easier access to ask questions. In fact, when customers can shop 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it’s almost expected that they can get answers rapidly. Tools like live chat, email replies, robust frequently asked question sections on your website, and self-help portals can help these customers make shopping decisions, even while you’re asleep.
Why you should care about ecommerce
It’s no secret that ecommerce is the future of shopping -- and that future is here now. But there are a few more reasons why you should care about ecommerce, including:
- It leads to more sales. All the above points can be combined into one key takeaway: Adding ecommerce into your mix boosts your sales. When you meet the demands of customers both in your backyard and far beyond, you give yourself more revenue opportunities. Plus, with the enhanced customer service that ecommerce can provide comes greater customer loyalty that leads to more sales.
- It allows for more diverse marketing tactics. Some marketing methods that online retailers often find successful might not yield great results for your brick-and-mortar business. However, the more channels through which you market, the more success you’ll typically find. For example, when you add an ecommerce option, you might see more returns on your email marketing. After all, email links can take customers directly to your online store, whereas they would otherwise need to travel to your in-person location.
- It enables sales-boosting subscription models. For business-to-consumer (B2C) companies, ecommerce has led to subscription-based plans that benefit both parties. The customer doesn’t have to remember to restock on their favorite product, while you can secure future sales from that customer. The result is a higher customer lifetime value (CLTV) that benefits your bottom line.
- It allows for several potentially disruptive business models. Let’s say you’re looking for another product to sell as part of a market expansion strategy. With ecommerce dropshipping models, you never need to stock any physical inventory of that product. Instead, just find a reliable, low-cost supplier with their own inventory, then add compelling product descriptions to your website. When you make a sale, buy the item from your supplier and have them ship the item to your customer – it’s that easy.
ecommerce business models
All online stores fall into one of six ecommerce business models. These six models are as follows.
- Business-to-business (B2B). If your ecommerce business sells services to other businesses, then you run a B2B company. It’s also possible to be a product-based B2B ecommerce company, such as an online office supplies retailer. Either way, the same B2B marketing tips should hold.
- Business-to-commerce (B2C). As explained earlier, B2C businesses sell products to individuals. A traditional in-person clothes retailer is a B2C retailer, as is that store’s ecommerce equivalent. It’s the most common ecommerce business model – after all, the internet is full of customers shopping for personal purchases. Mobile apps, retargeting, and customer loyalty initiatives can help drive B2C sales.
- Consumer-to-consumer (C2C). Sellers on platforms such as Craigslist ® , Etsy ® , and eBay ® fall under the C2C umbrella. Typically, one person helms a C2C operation and sells products directly to other people. The aforementioned ecommerce platforms make starting these businesses easy, but they do nothing to control or analyze product quality.
- Consumer-to-business (C2B). When a freelancer or sole proprietor with no employees finds clients through the internet, their business follows the C2B ecommerce model. C2B businesses often find work through online freelance marketplaces, potentially making traditional marketing less necessary.
- Business-to-government (B2G). Technically, the government isn’t a business, but it does often seek the same services that businesses need. Any business that provides these services online to government agencies is a B2G ecommerce company. Notably, government agencies often require their vendors to sign contracts barring them from serving other parties until the contract expires. Though strict, these contracts are often highly lucrative, and they at least temporarily eliminate your need for marketing.
- Consumer-to-government (C2G). A C2B online business that serves the government rather than private entities is a C2G ecommerce company. It’s the most narrow ecommerce business model, as it’s usually limited to consumers paying for government services or providing feedback to government agencies.
ecommerce marketing strategies
No matter which of the above six categories best describes your ecommerce business, you should take several steps to enhance your marketing strategy. Some of these steps are explicit marketing initiatives. Others are non-marketing actions that increase the likelihood of customers whom you draw through your marketing ultimately buying from you. They include:
- Prioritizing search engine optimization (SEO). When you’re looking to make an online purchase, what do you do first? Chances are you go to a search engine or big-name ecommerce platform and use a broad, purchase-related term such as “office printer” in your search. When customers do the same, you want your ecommerce company to rank highly in search results relevant to your offerings. SEO helps you do so.
- Creating content. SEO-adhering web pages, blogs, social media posts, and other written materials offer additional chances for your ecommerce company to rank highly in search results. Your content should answer relevant customer questions engagingly and informatively without overtly promoting your business. This way, customers come to see you as an authority and choose to buy from you of their own volition.
- Enhancing your online store. User-friendliness is key in your website’s product descriptions, “add to cart” area, your cart proper, and your checkout process. Every product should have clearly visible photos, descriptions, prices, and variations (if applicable). Customers should also be able to increase or decrease their purchase quantity on product pages and in your cart. Your checkout should comprise solely steps for obtaining customer payment and shipping data.
- Uploading great photos and videos. ecommerce retailers face the unique challenge of bringing their product to life through a screen. To that end, high quality photos and videos are a must. Consumers who can picture how a product will look and feel once it arrives are more likely to understand how to use it and are less likely to return it.
- Adding reviews. Your home page and product listings should include real reviews from actual customers. This way, shoppers know to trust your products and go through with their purchases. And that’s not just supposition: 84 percent of customers trust reviews as much as personal recommendations from people they actually know. You can get these reviews by simply asking customers for them after purchases via automated emails.
- Posting on social media. All the major social media platforms are great places to post about your newest products, services, positive reviews, and more. They’re also key to retargeting. If your ecommerce website has cookies enabled, then when visitors go on social media, they’ll see ads for the products they viewed on your site. Those ads might eventually lead to purchases.
- Leaning into email marketing. Limited-time offers, abandoned online shopping carts, and other customer actions are ripe for following up on via automated marketing emails. You can also promote your email newsletter as a source for exclusive discounts on your homepage next to a signup form. All these email marketing options lead to more opportunities for customer engagement, potentially leading to more purchases.
- Personalizing the buying experience. Four in five customers prefer buying from brands that personalize their experience. Personalization can be as simple as offering a membership program and greeting members by name every time they visit your website. It can also mean sending customers discounts for meaningful occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries. As long as what the customer is getting is unique to them, more sales can result.
Ecommerce platforms for small businesses
When it comes to ecommerce platforms, you have several options. You can start with an account on a big-name website like Etsy or Amazon ® . These websites make the initial launch phase easy, but standing out on such crowded platforms can be challenging. Developing your own ecommerce website can help you shine in the exact ways you’d like, and it’s also better for SEO. On that front, website builders can help.
Ecommerce website builders construct your online store from the ground up. They allow you to fully customize your website’s appearance and offer customers secure, user-friendly checkout options. Many platforms also offer secure payment options, performance tracking, inventory management, and other additional features.
Websites for businesses
Through ecommerce website-building platforms, you can easily opt into high-speed, secure website hosting. You should also be able to choose a domain name (web address) that’s short, memorable, and relevant to what you sell. Ideally, your domain name will be highly similar to your business name, if not exactly the same.
From there, you can use your platform to follow some business web design basics. Your website should be easily navigable and visually appealing, and the templates you choose should help you achieve these goals. Make sure your logo is incorporated often, your blog is constantly full of interesting content, and your contact page is easy to see.
Your ecommerce website should also load quickly on both desktop and mobile. The latter is an especially important consideration, as 72.9 percent of ecommerce sales occur on mobile devices. As such, a website that doesn’t load well on mobile devices inevitably hurts your bottom line. Plus, if your website takes more than three seconds to load, most visitors will just leave, and that’s no way to stay connected with a global consumer base.
Ecommerce lets you reach the whole world
In theory, expanding into ecommerce means you can sell to anybody, any time, anywhere. You’ll fare even better if you follow the marketing and website design basics outlined in this article. If you need additional help, the SmartBiz® Learning Center is full of resources. You’ll find articles and helpful guides for various kinds of ecommerce concerns – getting started, improving your customer service, expanding, and more. If there’s a question, the SmartBiz learning center likely has the answer.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The SmartBiz® Small Business Blog and other related communications from SmartBiz Loans® are intended to provide general information on relevant topics for managing small businesses. Be aware that this is not a comprehensive analysis of the subject matter covered and is not intended to provide specific recommendations to you or your business with respect to the matters addressed. Please consult legal and financial processionals for further information.