Leverage Your Retail Store by Taking it Online

According to a 2012 Statistics Canada study, 77 per cent of Internet users are on the web to research goods and services before purchasing, or to window shop online. Yet, as of October 2014, a Retail Council of Canada study has found that 61 per cent of small retailers in Canada have no online presence.

As smart devices, shortcut apps, and virtual currencies make it easier for clients and consumers to do business online, it’s becoming imperative for companies to throw their hats into the e-commerce ring.

In the last year alone, the Retail Council of Canada (RCC) has launched two campaigns to get more businesses online. Last September, MySTORE, the Independent Division of RCC launched a partnership with Shopify, giving RCC’s membership of more than 45,000 store fronts across Canada access to Shopify’s platform to build online stores in an affordable and technologically friendly way. This year, RCC partnered with Google Canada to launch Retail Spark, a series of educational workshops and toolkit resources for business owners.

If you’re ready to seize the e-commerce opportunity and take your shop online, we’ve gathered a few quick tips to help you get started.

Step 1 - Have a Strategy

Putting your retail business online is an effective way to connect and engage with customers, communicate your brand message, evaluate customer feedback, build credibility, and even stay one step ahead of the competition. But first, you need a plan.

“Your online strategy is an ongoing process – a long term plan to get good business results online by integrating your business goals with your online objectives,” advises the Web Strategy Lab. “It is an action plan, a sequence of questions you ask and decisions you make every time you do anything online.”

Structuring a successful e-retail strategy requires research and planning, says Neil Davey editor of MyCustomer.com. In a blog post for Smart Insights, Davey listed a few examples of what to include in your e-retail strategy, including:

  • The current state of the industry and where your business fits into that.
  • Competitors and comparators analysis.
  • Who your customer is and what they want from their ecommerce experience. How do you differentiate from other retailers?
  • Objectives.
  • Timescales.
  • Measurement and evaluation.
  • Realistic Budget. (Intuit QuickBooks online bookkeeping software can create a quick balance sheet.)

Step 2 - Build A Site

WordPress, Google sites, and Wix offer customizable website templates and blog options, so building a basic online presence has never been less expensive or easier. If you want to open an online store and process transactions, some one-stop-shop resources to consider are Shopify, Big Commerce and Volusion. Each have a variety of templates, search engine optimization features, shopping cart setups, phone support, live online chats and informational how-to guides for running your business successfully online.

Step 3 - Get Social

Social media and online stores go hand-in-hand. Check out these common social media platforms to spread your word:

  • Facebook
    Facebook is an effective platform for uploading photos of your products, giving deals of the day, accepting customer feedback, and even allowing purchases to happen directly from your Facebook business page. You can build a community and learn more about your target audience all in one spot.

“I have used Facebook as my go-to social media site,” Alisha Anderson, CEO and Founder of Dioné Cosmetics. “It allows me to connect in a more informative way. I have held contests to gain likes and inform my customers of new products or sales.”

  • Twitter
    Keep your customers in the know with public tweets of daily deals, incentives, and links to new products, interviews or upcoming events that pertain to your business.

"Twitter has been an excellent vehicle to gain traction within our immediate community, stay current with industry news and connect with like-minded – those interested in green building – people,” says Jared Kress, CEO and Founder of The Eco Floor Store. “It’s also very handy to support and promote our building professional clients, thus helping us build strong post-sales relationships with our clients.”

  • Google+
    Google+ is a great tool to increase your store’s visibility on Google search pages. Features such as Google+ Business help you stand out and connect with customers. From finding new customers to increasing productivity, Google's free and paid business services can be the difference between a struggling startup and a booming business.
  • LinkedIn
    Using LinkedIn, you can add your business profile and link to your website. It is a great tool for blogging as well. You can add products to your company profile and request recommendations from your customers, which is a great way to boost credibility and gain new clients. Joining a group on LinkedIn is super way to network and grow your business.
  • Pinterest and Instagram
    These are creative visual tools and provide a great way to ‘show off’ your products and how they are utilized in different ways. Anderson says she loves showing off her Dioné Cosmetics through Instagram. “Doing a makeup look, and then posting it to Instagram gives my customer an idea of what my products can do,” she says.

Step 4 - Get Listed

Lastly, ensure you are part of relevant directories. Research relevant industry associations and register yourself with them. Also, sign up with startupconnect.ca and wherelocalmeansbusiness.ca. Directories are time-saving and cost-effective ways to promote your business, while focusing on your targeted audience.

By taking your retail shop online and taking advantage of the many resources available to you, the possibilities are limitless. Who knows, your store might be the next big thing online.