There is one, simple fact that tends to loom large over the entire retail industry: the offline portion of the sector is in trouble – and has been for some time. Once the only way to procure goods, offline shopping is now almost becoming a quaint niche for customers, as more and more turn to the online world in order to complete shopping they once did in person. This trend, which was already well-established, has been furthered by coronavirus and store shutdowns, potentially hastening the long-predicted death of retail stores as we once knew them.
For those who currently own retail stores, the information above is not a surprise. More and more traditional store owners are finding themselves looking at the way the shopping world has changed, noting that online shopping seems to represent a genuine permanent shift in behavior rather than a fly-by-night trend, and deciding that they need to explore online retail for their own business. If you, too, have found yourself reaching this conclusion, here are four essential things you will need to know as you prepare to embark on this new, digital phase of your business’ life…
#1 – You will have to make a huge decision about future strategy
In particular, you will need to decide just how much you are going to commit to the world of online retail. Do you want your business to transition entirely online, leading to the eventual closure of your offline business entirely, or would you rather your online arm supports and works in conjunction with your brick-and-mortar store?
There’s no easy way to answer the above question; every store owner will have a different perspective. Subjectivity is also a factor, particularly in relation to the performance of your existing store. If your store is struggling to a point it is at financial risk, then an online-only future may be beckoning; if your store is still doing well and you’re just hoping to do even better with an online version, then a hybrid of both might work well – but you’ll still need to dedicate a lot of time thinking about the years to come and fixing a firm strategy in your mind. Make sure that you are 100% certain of what your goal is (offline closure or hybrid) before proceeding with plans for your ecommerce store, as this choice will influence every future decision you make.
#2 – You’ll be back in startup mode
Years of experience in offline retail definitely can offer some advantages when it comes to starting an online version of your store. You’ll have an established customer base, an understanding of store financial management, practical experience of ordering and sales cycles, and much more besides – but for the most part, you’ll find yourself in uncharted territory, which means that the learning curve is likely to be a fairly steep one.
You are therefore likely to find that launching an online version of your offline store will feel very much like you’re a startup company all over again. You’ll need to map out a new business plan specifically for your online division, do a huge amount of research into your online competitors and platforms such as Shopify Plus, contend with issues such as shipping and logistics for the first time, and so much more. Establishing a startup mindset – and dedicating time to learning, reading, and understanding the ins and outs of the specific startup you are working on – can help ensure you foster a perfect mix of utilising your existing knowledge while also being open to the very different world you are now entering.
#3 – You will likely need assistance
An online store means you’ll need to master a huge array of technical wizardry that just wasn’t as influential over your life as a brick-and-mortar store owner. While there are technical requirements of a brick-and-mortar store, for the most part, the basic functionality of the store is very analogue – products are on display and are then sold directly to the customer, who leaves the store with their purchase. With ecommerce stores, everything is dependent on digital prowess.
As a result, unless you can find time in your schedule to learn everything about the tech side of ecommerce stores from scratch (which is unlikely for any busy entrepreneur!), you’ll likely need the help of an experienced ecommerce or specialist Shopify Plus agency who can manage and design your new store from the ground up. Such assistance can mean that you are able to hit the ground running with a store that is fully ready and raring to go from the moment it launches, which in turn should lead to greater success as an online store. If you are going to commit to your online store, partnering with experts is one of the best choices you can make when it comes to long-term viability.
#4 – Your new online store will involve a lot of experimentation
What makes an online store successful? Ultimately, there’s no way to really know – there’s no perfect formula that will work every single time for every store. Online stores that are perfect-on-paper struggle, while others that shouldn’t make sense somehow flourish; even Amazon, the most successful ecommerce store of all time, has had its flagship website called into question.
What this means for you as a prospective store owner is that experimentation is critical to your success. If something isn’t working, you will have to be willing to swap it out and do something different. That could mean removing products – even those that have sold well in your physical store – that are performing poorly, as well as trying out different ideas and following trends in relation to discounts, loyalty programmes, and even shipping and associated fees. The online world moves quickly, and the volume of competition is extremely high when compared to offline stores, so a willingness to try, adapt, and experiment will definitely stand you in good stead.
Offline retail stores will still have their place in the future world, but there’s no doubt this place will likely be smaller and perhaps even less profitable than it has been in the past. As a result, exploring an online venture is a viable inclusion in any store’s strategy, and keeping the above points in mind should help to ensure you are fully prepared for the – advantageous, but potentially challenging – road ahead.