By Tsu-Li Liew
As the effects of the coronavirus pandemic continue to keep physical stores closed and consumers indoors, more small business owners are starting to build an online presence for their business. Moving a business online is a smart move for an owner, especially since more consumers are shopping online. It might seem like a daunting task, especially if a business owner does not have a technical background in creating and designing websites. However, that should not deter them as there are many options for an owner to bring their business online. In this article, we will explore the benefits of creating an online store and the options a business owner has to sell their handmade goods.
The Benefits of Going Online
Whether a business owner has a physical brick-and-mortar store or whether someone is just looking to start a new business, creating an online store is becoming a more popular choice, but also necessary to survive in today’s world. According to the New York Times, online shopping has increased more since social distancing measures were enacted by states. This happened because consumers were encouraged to stay indoors. The ease and convenience of online shopping allow a consumer to buy what they need, and have it delivered to their home while staying safe in their home.
One of the biggest benefits of going online is store opening hours. Unlike a physical shop that has regular opening hours, an online store would be available 24/7 from anywhere. This allows customers to access the store without any restrictions and browse at their own convenience, whether it is before breakfast or before they go to sleep. Customers are also not limited to whichever city or country the business is located in. As long as customers have access to the Internet, they will be able to find the website and make purchases.
Another benefit that comes from the constant availability of a website is that the business owner can provide additional customer support. The business owner can use their website to add more information about their products in different forms of media, such as photos, videos or a frequently-asked-questions section. This ensures that customers who have questions about the product can easily find the information by accessing the business’s website. The owner can also add other ways for customers to contact them, whether it is through a messaging system or a dedicated email. These solutions can help a business owner save time by providing customers the relevant information beforehand and avoid spending time on the phone.
Creating an online business does not cost a lot of money, unlike maintaining a physical store. First, the business owner does not have to spend a lot to maintain an online storefront. Depending on the website or domain, building and maintaining a business website can cost less than $200 on a free platform. Secondly, the business owner can save money by hiring fewer or no employees, as there is no need to supervise the online store like a physical business. The owner can also save money on equipment and amenities, such as vehicles or electricity.
If a business owner chooses to move their business online and forego their physical store, they will have the option to work or live anywhere as well. Having a business entirely online removes the need to rent a physical space for the business. The only requirements needed to maintain the business will be a computer and a stable internet connection. Depending on where the business owner lives, they could save additional money by moving to a state or city with lower rents and lower cost of living.
Having an online presence for a physical store will also help to improve the business’s image. These days, most people expect that they will be able to find a business online. Customers will look for the website of a store in order to find out more information about the store, its products and prices. If a business has a website, a blog or other kind of social media, customers will be able to find that information. On the flip side, without a website or other social media, a customer might dismiss the store as old-fashioned and less professional and might even decide to take their business elsewhere.
Even if there was no pandemic, there are many benefits to starting an online business that a brick-and-mortar store would not have. Although there might be reasons why a business owner wants to continue maintaining a physical store, creating online presence will still add some value to the business. The Balance lists nine reasons of why a business should be available online in addition to a brick-and mortar store.
It is important to note that despite all the benefits of going online, there are drawbacks that each small business owner should also know of. During the pandemic, while most consumers flock to big retailers such as Amazon, Walmart, and Target, small businesses going online might have a harder time replacing their in-store sales with online ones. An article in the Washington Post highlights the issues of small businesses going online. Small business owners found it hard to replace the in-store experience with an online storefront. Going online meant that owners could recoup some sales, but still needed to supplement the earnings from those sales with other options, such as GoFundMe fundraisers or loans, in order to pay their employees and other costs.
Building an Online Presence
Once an owner decides to create a website for their business, they will also have to decide how to set up their store, depending on the type of product or service a business owner wants to offer. Both The Balance and Entrepreneur have articles on how to start an online business. Business.com lists five options of how small business owners can do business online. For example, if a business owner sells homemade crafts, sites like Etsy or Storenvy might suit their needs. Both of these websites come with a built-in market of consumers who like to buy homemade products. A business owner will not need to be very tech-savvy either. All the owner has to do is fill in their information, create product listings and then start selling. Depending on what type of business an owner had, they might be able to find a niche marketplace to sell their products, such as Bookshop.org for books.
Even if a business owner does not have a technical background, there are online platforms, such as WordPress, that allows the owner to create a more customized website for their business. The owner even has the option to use their own custom domain name, if they choose to do so. However, it is important that the website looks good and is easy to navigate. Otherwise, the customers might not be interested in the business if the design is lacking or unprofessional. Luckily, there are pre-made templates that a business owner can use in order to avoid that problem.
Once an owner has set up their business website, they can start offering and selling their products. However, in order to thrive online, it is important that an owner knows and learns about their competition. A business can thrive if it can supply a demand. However, by the time the business owner opens their online store, there might be a few other stores offering the same product. Even then, the owner should not be discouraged, as consumers might have other value in the products that competitors might have missed. By studying competitors’ websites and their customer base, a business owner can use that information to improve their own products.
The next step is to advertise the business. After all, even if a business owner creates an attractive website and offers high quality products, customers must first know about the business before they are able to visit the site, unless they happen to come across it by chance. One way to boost the visibility of an online business is through social media. There are many online platforms to choose from, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest which are some of the most popular. These social media platforms allow a business owner to create posts that can link back to the business’s website in order to create more traffic.
An owner can also choose to create sponsored posts in order to boost visibility as well, if they are willing to pay. However, a business owner should consider the demographics of their consumer base when choosing a social media platform to advertise on. For example, a younger crowd of customers would tend to use Instagram over Facebook. While an owner could create accounts across multiple platforms, it would be more effective to pick one or two social media sites and manage only those accounts to focus on getting more engagements.
Another way that an owner can advertise their business is through mailing lists. A business owner can create a function on the website that lets a customer enter their email address in order to receive more information about the business. This is very valuable information because it means that customers are interested in the products and future offerings of the business. The business owner can send emails through these mailing lists whenever there are new products or discounts, which could hopefully lead to actual sales.
Growing the Business
Once the owner manages to generate and increase sales, they can look for further opportunities to grow their business and for ways to cut costs. For example, if a business owner got their start on Etsy, they might look to leave the website and create their own instead, once they have generated dedicated followers. Though Etsy and similar platforms have useful functions, such as the marketplace and automatic storefront, they do charge a fee to conduct business on the site and can sometimes take a portion of the money earned from one sale.
Whether a business owner is trying to bring their store online or a person wants to start an online business, there are many benefits to starting or bringing the business online that a brick-and-mortar store can lack. Not only can an online business be accessed at anytime from anywhere, the low start-up costs can be very attractive to some business owners. There are also a few steps that an owner needs to take in order to start an online business. Even without a background in writing code or designing websites, there are many options for an owner to have an online storefront. If the owner has some experience with managing a physical store, some of the skills can also be transferred to managing an online store, such as studying the competition, advertising and providing good customer service. However, it is important to note that like any other business, it will take time to grow an online business.
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