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How Small Businesses Can Get Started With E-Commerce

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CEO, National Retail Solutions (NRS). NRS POS, NRS PAY, NRS FUNDING & NRS PETRO: Helping independent retailers organize, compete and thrive.

Having an online presence is a simple way for a store to broaden its services to customers who don’t want to go to the store or who want to order an item that’s sold out. In the past, e-commerce systems were available in some stores, but not in others. It wasn’t regarded as a necessary mode of operation. I believe those days are over.

E-commerce is no longer a luxury; it has become a necessity. Shoppers want and need the ability to order things from anywhere, at any time, for delivery in as little as 24 hours. Store websites frequently feature more products than are available in physical locations, as well as special offers that are not available in-store. Data gathered from my company’s POS systems nationwide has shown that foot traffic at physical stores has been progressively declining, and the pandemic further exacerbated the problem. Foot traffic in 2020 on Black Friday, traditionally one of the busiest days of the holiday season, was down more than 52%. Conversely, e-commerce has exploded. Over 2 billion people made online purchases in 2020, contributing to a revenue of over $4.2 trillion in the U.S.

Independent business owners of small to mid-sized convenience stores, hardware shops and other retail establishments may want to jump into online shopping but aren’t sure how to proceed or if they can afford to do so. As the CEO of a retail products and services company, here’s my advice for getting started.

Planning

The first step for entering the lucrative world of e-commerce is devising an online business plan. Decide what items you want to make available online and establish where to keep inventory for online orders.

Then determine what types of payment you’ll accept: There are credit cards, debit cards, Apple Pay, PayPal and other payment options to consider. When establishing payment types, make sure to choose secure payment methods. This way, customers’ sensitive personal data is protected. Technology can be vulnerable to hackers, so this is of the utmost importance. If your website is breached, you’ll be left to deal with angry consumers, many of whom may never shop your site — and your physical store — again. 

Shipping

The next step is to set up secure shipping arrangements and get enough packaging to meet demand. Decide how and where you will fulfill orders, whether it’s in-store, at a separate location or even in your basement. 

Whatever you choose, ensure that you send out products quickly and expedite shipping when possible. I’ve found that online shoppers aren’t always very patient. Many expect their items to be delivered in no more than a day or two, and certainly less than a week. Be sure to label delivery estimates for all items on your website.

Establishing An Online Presence

If you’re not savvy in web development and design, there are several ways to approach building a site. Many companies offer pre-fabricated e-commerce website templates with everything you need to set up your store and market your site. You could also hire a web designer to take input and create a custom-designed site. Additionally, some point-of-sale companies offer features for e-commerce such as websites and apps. (Disclosure: My company provides e-commerce assistance.)

Another factor to consider is the world of web SEO (search engine optimization) to help your website rank among the top results in Google and other search engines. For example, if your store is on page five of a search, fewer people will find it; consumers will likely have already chosen websites from the first page. Do your research to boost your site’s SEO.

Additionally, once you launch your e-commerce platform, pay close attention to your web traffic. If the number of visitors to your online site are less than expected, research why this is happening. Are you not marketing your site as well as you can, whether in your store or online? In addition, run tests of your site to ensure that there are no bugs. There’s nothing worse than having a customer who wants to shop at your website but can’t access it. They’ll likely just move on to another website, never to return.

Marketing

The final stage is to establish an e-commerce marketing budget. Although having an online presence is beneficial, your website will not sell itself. Existing clients might be targeted by handing out pamphlets at the checkout counter. Place advertising in periodicals with demographics that match yours. For example, you could put ads in Spanish newspapers and other Spanish periodicals if your business is located in a predominantly Spanish-speaking neighborhood. 

By following these steps closely and carefully, mom-and-pop store merchants can experience a new way to increase revenue generation and impress consumers, leading to positive word of mouth that can gain the business of both existing and new customers. I believe e-commerce is the way of the present and the future. Don’t get stuck in the past.


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