Forget New Year’s Resolutions that you never keep – what you should be focused on at the start of this new year is your plan for your business, and whether going online is feasible for you.
Almost every small retailer in North America has felt the shadow of online shopping over the past few years. Just across the border in the U.S., entire malls are empty and deserted as big box stores close down.
Meanwhile, reports show Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is now the wealthiest man in the world, a milestone achieved largely by taking business away from, well, everybody.
After all, why would anyone go shopping at and purchase from an independent retail store, when they can simply order in a few clicks, have their purchase delivered to their front doorstep, and return it free of any charges if they’re at all unsatisfied?
Logical as this argument is, it remains a sore point for smaller companies in Canada, since many of the online giants ship to Canadian customers too.
If you’re worried about losing business to online retailers, Amazon or others, this is a good time to consider going digital in 2019. Here’s what the process would involve.
Plan Your Strategy
As with anything in business, planning a detailed strategy is the critical first step, and a business coach can help you with this. Questions to consider include:
- What are your reasons for going online? It might seem obvious, but you need to plan your strategy based on whether you want to attract new customers, serve existing clients better, reduce costs, or provide faster/cheaper delivery for your products and services?
- Does your business belong exclusively online, or would you retain an offline presence? If so, why and how would it work?
- What will your customers think of you going online, and how will you manage their expectations and the transition?
- What are some of the things other successful online businesses in your industry have in common, and how can you apply these to your circumstances?
- What is the timeframe you’ll need, or by when do you want/need to complete the transition?
- What new skills will you need, and how will you get those, i.e. learning or recruitment?
- What will the entire process cost, and when will you reach break even point?
- What are your alternative options, e.g. closing the business, selling off your inventory, and how do these compare against spending the money to embrace eCommerce?
Some of these questions can only be answered after you do some further investigation. For example, knowing the potential cost of moving online will require you to get some estimates for eCommerce platforms, website design, and delivery options. These tasks are covered in the following steps.
Find the Right Partners
The first step in the process is to gather facts and figures, such as identifying the right vendors for the various services you need. These include:
- Software vendors, who can either develop or supply ready-to-use programs such as inventory management, shopping cart software, billing and online payments, and customer review sourcing.
This could require a combination of vendors and programs, or you could use a single software application that incorporates all the aspects you need. In most instances, you can probably find a ready-made solution that will work for you, such as Shopify, WooCommerce, OpenCart, ZenCart, VirtueMart, or IBM’s WebSphere Commerce.
- Amazon. You can also become a vendor advertising on Amazon, or even have your products drop-shipped from Amazon’s own warehouses.
Some of these options are free to use, others require a subscription or a commission, but most are simple to follow and don’t require any technical development.
- Shipping and delivery vendors, which, depending on the eCommerce solution you use, might be included in the services you get.
Alternatively, you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of using Canada Post (with contingency plans for times of labour unrest), USPS, and courier companies like Fedex.
Much of this decision depends on the value of the products you sell and how quickly you want to get them to the customer.
Keep in mind that products fulfilled by Amazon arrive in two days with free shipping for Prime members, so that’s a standard you have to be able to meet – especially if your product is something also available on Amazon.
- Website developers, who will need to ensure your website is attractively laid out, easy to navigate, fast to load, and presents a good virtual store-front for your products.
Many of the eCommerce options listed above do some of the marketing for you, as well as managing the store, the orders, and the accounting, but if your website doesn’t convert visitors into shoppers, you’re dead in the water.
Preferably, look for someone who has developed a similar type of industry website with built-in eCommerce capability and ask them for advice and an estimate.
Determine Regulatory Requirements
By its nature, the internet is a global medium, so if you’re going into eCommerce the chances are good that you’ll sell internationally at some point.
It’s also very difficult to hide and be unobtrusive when you’re marketing in the public domain, so it’s imperative you understand the licensing and other regulatory requirements for selling outside your province and country.
Sales taxes in Canada, for example, are applied depending on the location of the buyer, not the seller. You’ll need to be sure you can comply with all the rules for selling online.
Identify Your Break-even Point
As part of your strategy it’s necessary for you to research how your target audience will change if you go online.
This will help you develop sales projections, which will identify at what point you’ll have recouped the cost of making the transition.
Many businesses have enjoyed tremendous growth by embracing eCommerce, while others have surely found that it’s just not right for them. Here are some examples of Canadian small businesses that operate effectively online:
- 6 by Gee Beauty
- New Classics Studio
- The September
US companies operating online include:
- Best Buy
- Plus thousands of small retailers and larger ones use ebay and Amazon to sell online.
Statistics show only 28 percent of Canadian small businesses are using the internet to sell their products.
In the US, as of the end of the 1st quarter of 2018, online retail sales represented $5,074 billion or 9.34% of all retail sales. By comparison, online sales accounted for only about 3.5 percent of retail sales just 10 years ago
Canadian consumers are currently shopping up a storm online, however, with Forrester Research predicting 10 percent of all 2019 retail spending in Canada will take place using eCommerce, which is only 1 percent behind U.S. numbers.
Make It Work for You
Best wishes a healthy, happy and prosperous 2019 for your family and your business.