Between social distancing, economic variability, and state closures, many businesses are increasingly turning to e-commerce as a way to stay afloat. Consumers are also relying more on online shopping more than ever before, as online spending this past May was up 77% compared to last year.
In spite of this, nearly half of all small businesses in the U.S. don’t have websites. If you fall into this category, it’s not too late – you can take action now so this rapid period of growth doesn’t leave you and your business behind.
Create a website
Are you part of a small business that doesn't yet have a website? There's no time like the present to get this started! It can be intimidating to put together a website from scratch, but the goal is to start with something that is good enough and iterate from there.
To begin, draft a brief outline to describe your website. You’ll need to answer these questions:
What kind of color scheme would you like?
How would you like to organize your product categories?
What would you like people to know about your small business?
What's your business's story?
Next, you'll need to choose a provider to register your domain name and create your website. There are many options available, but here are the key features explained further below on which to evaluate providers.
With 79% of all online shopping done from a mobile device, you absolutely must choose a web platform that is mobile responsive. This means that your website's design adjusts based on the size of the viewer's screen so that your content remains beautiful and easy to use. For example, mobile devices have small screens – if your website isn't mobile responsive, mobile viewers will have a tough time tapping tiny call to action buttons or even just reading your web copy.
Many platforms offer mobile responsive templates out of the box, so you can rest easy knowing that your website is beautiful regardless of users' browsing devices. Don't skip over this feature!
Domain name and email setup
Are you looking for a one-stop shop for all things website-related? Many platforms offer beginning-to-end features, including a free domain name and email setup.
If you use a platform with this feature, you won't need to worry about managing multiple vendors for your domain name purchase, web hosting, and email address setup. We like platforms that offer this option for the simplicity it offers.
The entire point of e-commerce is to sell products, right? You should be aware of and closely compare your options when it comes to transaction fees. Each platform will typically offer several tiers at varying monthly price points, and each of the tiers will have its own set of transaction fees.
These fees are typically charged as a percentage of the total basket size and sometimes also include an extra flat fee per transaction. Fees typically run anywhere from 0% to 3% of basket size and up to 30 cents per transaction.
This can make a huge difference in the profitability of your store, especially if you sell low-priced items and unwittingly choose a platform with high flat fees per transaction. Before signing up with a platform, run the numbers to make sure your selected package makes financial sense for your business.
You should also reevaluate your package as your online volume grows. At a certain point, it may make sense to upgrade your package, because the additional monthly cost will be less than the transaction fees your sales volume incurs. For instance, let's say your platform has a $20 per month package that also charges 3% transaction fees. The next package up is $30 per month and 0% transaction fees.
With a little math, you can figure out that if your store does at least $333 in sales per month, it makes sense to swap to the $30 per month plan. On the lower plan, you'd pay $20 a month plus 3% of $333, or $9.99 in transaction fees. On the higher plan, you'd pay $30 per month and 0% of $333, or $0 in transaction fees.
There are many features that e-commerce platforms can offer to make your customers' shopping experience more tailored or likely to result in a sale. This includes the following:
Abandoned cart recovery: Users who have added items to their carts but haven't checked out receive a message reminding them about the unpurchased item. This feature helps encourage the sale.
Gift cards: With this option, you can collect money from customers now for later use to improve your store's overall cash flow; it's like an interest-free loan.
Automated emails: Welcome emails, thank-you emails, follow-ups, and similar campaigns reduce the amount of time you have to spend on manually engaging customers.
Promo codes: Everyone likes a good discount, and many platforms offer the ability to create custom promo code with options like percent or dollar amount off, number of uses per customer, number of total uses, product limitations, and timing.
Custom banners or suggested products: For a little extra nudge toward a purchase, some platforms offer the ability to create custom banners or popup content when users spend a certain amount of time on your website or visit a specific page. Others take it a step further and suggest additional products to your customers based on their past shopping history.
Make incremental improvements
Already have a website up and running? Now is a good time to take another look at your site and make updates to ensure you aren't losing sales due to outdated information or design. For example, you don't want to be one of the 70% of small businesses that don't have a call to action on their homepage!
So, what should you look for when refreshing your website? We've put together this checklist to get you started:
Ensure your contact info is easy to find. Your email address and store phone number should both be easy to locate on every page. The footer is usually a good place to hold this information. It's also a good idea to create a contact page on your main menu so that customers know exactly where to look.
It's also crucial that you reply to emails and calls (set up your voicemail!) in a timely manner. Nearly one-third of consumers expect a reply to their inquiries within an hour!
Guide your customers to the actions you want them to take with a call to action on the homepage of your website. This should be a button in an attention-grabbing color located near the top of your homepage. If you make web users scroll to find the button, you're introducing friction to the customer experience and may lose sales as a result.
Don't overthink this part; your call to action could be as simple as, "Shop now."
Use product photos that are high resolution and accurate. Do your product photos all follow a similar aesthetic to promote brand cohesion? If not, it's time to replace the old photos!
You don't need to hire an expensive photographer to take high-quality product photos. In fact, you can do it yourself using your smartphone in many instances. Tips from the experts include using backgrounds that make sense contextually, or simply choosing a plain white background for cohesion; using natural lighting from the side with a reflector (even a large piece of white poster board); and simply getting closer to the item to show details instead of zooming.
Your website must be mobile responsive. This means that your site's design elements and layout adjusts automatically to display correctly according to the user's screen size. This can mean changing navigation menu icons, resizing images and stacking elements, instead of displaying them horizontally.
If you aren't sure whether your website is mobile responsive, you can find out easily. Simply navigate to your website on your cell phone's browser. Is the text too small? Are buttons difficult to click on? Does it look like a mini-version of how your website displays on a desktop browser? If so, your website is probably not mobile responsive.
If your website isn't responsive, you'll need to either move your web hosting to a platform that automatically optimizes your website for mobile browsing (like the ones discussed above) or hire a web developer to update your site. This may take time and effort, but it's one of the most important steps you can take when creating or updating your e-commerce strategy!
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the key to growing your business. SEO is the act of setting up your website in such a way that search engines can easily tell what it's about and surface it to web users who search for relevant topics. Search engines are one of the top ways new customers find e-commerce sites, and approximately 95% of consumers don't click past the first page of Google results. The goal is to rank as high as possible; the first result in a Google search is 10 times more likely to be clicked than the tenth result.
You can begin optimizing your e-commerce website with basic steps like entering thorough product descriptions, using product names and relevant keywords in your website's URLs, and structuring your website in such a way that you can access your product pages directly from your homepage. SEO is a very deep topic that deserves a significant amount of attention if you truly want to maximize your e-commerce sales. We love this guide from BigCommerce.
Link your social media accounts in the footer of your website and on your contact page to ensure your audience knows where to find you. With billions of users worldwide, social media is an excellent way to stay top of mind in your customers' minds, even if they aren't ready to make a purchase immediately.
Scan your product pages to ensure the names, descriptions and prices are still accurate. With everything going on today, it can be easy to forget to keep your actual product pages up to date. However, you don't want to lose a customer over something as simple as your website displaying the wrong size or color of an item.
Make sure your navigation menu is clearly displayed at the top or side of every page on your website with descriptive sections and a logical structure. We want to reiterate an earlier point here: Your customers should not have to scour your website to find what they're seeking. Choose a website structure that is easy to use. Likewise, make it easy to return to main sections or your homepage from any page, and try to keep your product pages within a couple of clicks from the homepage for convenience.
Add a blog to your site. As 91% of B2B marketers and 86% of B2C marketers know well, your brand can benefit from creating digital content beyond just your product pages. Web content has the ability to give your customers a reason to continue interacting with your brand, it positions your business as a credible source for relevant information, it helps your website rank better on search engines, and it also grows your audience through content shares.
For example, an e-commerce site that focuses on cooking spices could add a blog to their website to discuss topics like recipes, spice mixes and substitutions, cooking tips, and similar topics. Web users who find the content are likely to be in the business's target audience due to their interest in cooking, making the next step to purchasing spices much easier.
If you haven't already, set up a content section on your website and begin making regular posts that are relevant to your products and industry. It may take a while to have an impact, but you should begin to see results in the form of increased web traffic and sales over time.
Upgrade your payment processor to one that allows for a variety of payment methods. When was the last time you took a look at your website'ss payment processing options? Don't lose out on sales by only accepting one or two methods of payment – include a range of credit cards and digital methods like Paypal.
Try out social media shops
E-commerce doesn't just happen on websites these days. In fact, 30% of consumers reported they would make purchases directly from social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest. It's time to give the people what they want.
It's easier than ever to leverage your social media accounts to sell products. You may elect to start small by posting product photos to Facebook or Instagram with a link back to the product pages on your website. However, many small business owners are seeing success with directly selling on social channels.
Facebook and Instagram are two of the largest social platforms in the world with a combined user count in the billions. Both platforms have identified social media e-commerce as a burgeoning opportunity, and as a result, they recently launched Facebook Shops and Instagram Shops to enable purchases without leaving either platform.
Business owners have the ability to post their products directly on Facebook Shops and Instagram Shops. Both platforms rely heavily on visual elements to help create a branded, highly aesthetic experience for customers. Users can discover products from their Facebook and Instagram apps via stories and posts, peruse the product collections, and complete their transactions in-app.
Facebook and Instagram Shops are only a couple of months old at this point, so they're being rolled out to businesses in waves. If you haven't yet received notification that these features are available, don't worry – your turn will come soon.
In the meantime, keep your social media audiences engaged with a regular cadence of posts so they're primed for when your social media shop launches!
Don't make the mistake of thinking that e-commerce is a short-term solution. This method of selling has gained significant traction over the past decade, moving from making up 5% of retail purchases to now over 16%.
We believe this growth will continue to ramp up rapidly over the coming years as the world adjusts to a permanent "new normal." As such, we highly recommend that all small business owners approach their e-commerce strategies with a long-term investment perspective. There's always more to learn as our digital landscape evolves, so keep learning and stay agile.