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Top 10 questions to ask yourself before moving online

By Victoria Dyke on Mon 11 February 2013 in Web & eCommerce

In January we made our 2013 predictions for eCommerce (take another look here if you haven’t seen them). So…if you are currently enjoying success as a business owner in the tangible world, how can you begin to reap the benefits that moving your business online can bring?

Moving online isn’t a complicated task, but it should be treated as a real business plan, which means there are some fundamental questions to consider.

1.        What can you sell online?

This is clearly the first and one of the most important decisions to consider when moving your existing business model online and there is probably a lot more scope than you think.

What you sell now is clearly a starting point in deciding on what you might sell online. Do you have products or services in your existing portfolio that have lower margins (and don’t warrant a huge amount of telesales time) but would benefit from higher volumes of sales, possibly online? Or are there products or services that compliment what you sell now but have not held enough value to invest in offline?

Products such as these are often the first port of call in online selling, however those higher value products and services can also be sold online. To do this you would just need to think about translating your offline interactions and value online. More on this later.

2.       Who is your primary & secondary audience?

You may be considering a completely new target market for your online business, in which case research into what this market finds attractive is essential. An alternative to this is to use what you know best, your existing customers.

Focusing on existing relationships is undeniably easier to target, reach and in some cases a good introduction into the online world. But don’t forget, if this is your primary audience, it is essential not to forget why your customers buy from you and translate this to your online shop!

Secondary audiences are often considered optional and typically take the form of some well-defined prospective set that are usually phased in after you have built up knowledge of your online business.

3.       Why would they buy from your site (instead of someone elses)?

Making sure customers buy from your website and not a competitor’s is often decided by a variety of different factors (depending on what you sell and the industry you’re operating in).

One of the most obvious factors, however is price. Lower prices will always attract customers to buy – but strategy wise, this is not always as profitable for an SME’s online strategy. Of course, lower costs may mean you can offer your products at a lower price online, but don’t forget about what your customers have come to experience from you offline.

Do you offer a unique service or specialist knowledge? Do your customers trust your recommendations? Do they phone you to find out about the spare parts for the equipment you sell? Maybe you don’t sell these spare parts as they are not profitable enough for a telesales employee to sell? Could you now sell these online as there are lower costs involved? Could you sell these at an online premium because of your expertise?

4.       What else will they expect from the site?

The trends we are seeing online have given customers more reason to be ‘fussy’ when it comes to their online experience, with more ‘buying power’ than they usually have offline. We are seeing more and more customers are likely to embrace sites where they simply have a better, quicker and more personalised customer experience and less loyalty when it comes to who to buy from.

For example can you offer appropriate payment methods (on account or by credit card)? Do you usually recommend complimentary products? What about your customers special pricing, sales history and order status?

5.       How will they find us? Or us find them?

So, you have a fantastic website…but does your audience know about it?

Making sure your customers can find you easily online is a competitive game to play. Search engine optimisation (SEO) be that organic or via pay per click campaigns (PPC) is a good start in online presence. Additionally advertising (on or offline) is also very effective in driving traffic to your website. For example, offer the option to order online at the bottom of your invoices or advertise your online shop in your email footers. Or, offering something as simple as a 2% discount on online could not only drive people to your site but encourage them to return month on month rather than picking up the phone.

6.       Once they have bought, why will they come back?

As mentioned, we are seeing more customers embrace personalised experiences and have less loyalty when it comes down to who they want to buy from. Getting that second sale is always the hardest online and creating this motivation to come back is a fundamental factor in maintaining you websites success.

Re-enforcing your online benefits through marketing (using the information you capture from the first sale) will clearly encourage repeat purchases but the ability to manage more complex elements of eCommerce and creating the same level of offline expectations online, will put you ahead of the game.

7.       What else might we sell?

What else can you sell alongside or on your website?  Are there any complimentary services that can accompany your products? Yes, you can sell services online!

You could even sell other peoples products back to back! If you are a distributor then maintaining all of your suppliers products online could also give you a much wider offering to a wider audience.

8.       Offline interaction?

It is important not to solely rely on your website, especially if you are starting with an offline based business. Instead, couple your online interactions with offline interactions. Whether this is the mailing of special offers, account management calls, giving product advice, help-desk/returns management or monitoring & managing customer’s abandoned baskets, these interactions are equally important in making sure your customers keep coming back for more.

Managing the ‘best of both worlds’ is easier than you think – don’t lose your offline sales team by moving online, just re-deploy them in a proactive way. More on this next time.

9.       What technology do we need?

The answer to this question is entirely based on your decisions above. You might well find something that is really fantastic… but for someone else’s business! Don’t go for a ‘toe in the water’ approach as you will probably end up having to reinvest, be that because your site has succeeded or failed, either way then needing a better solution.

What is important is making sure you are working with your existing technology and processes.  Don’t fall victim to designing a successful site that then has no integration to your back office accounts. Rekeying orders is tedious, expensive and has far too much room for human error!

10.   Will we make money with this plan?

Expanding on this is near enough impossible as the answer will ultimately be entirely different from business to business. However, the one question every business should ask is ‘can we afford not to?’ Even if it is only replacement business and therefore simply cost saving in the short term… is the alternative to simply lose out to the competition?

Each business will have different objectives and plans when moving their business online – is your main objective to increase revenue, save money or reduce costs? Either way, the outcome is a positive one!

As expected, moving your business online is not always a walk in the park; there are many questions and factors that you must consider thoroughly in order to become an eCommerce success. Making a secure plan is a great way to gain a leg up, and coupling this with the adoption of the right eCommerce solution (delivering value to your customers) can make you an unstoppable eCommerce force.