Selling Online: Why Build an Online Store? (For Small Businesses)

Five reasons to build an online store with tips for first-time e-commerce entrepreneurs.

Selling online: E-commerce benefits in the online shopping era.

Here’s what’s driving the increase in online shopping. (Hint: It’s not solely because of the pandemic.)

So, I don’t know about you but I spend a lot of time online—and I’m willing to wager you do, too.

The fact is, in this day and age, the internet is where it’s at. And by “it”, I mean almost everything. It’s where we get our news; do our banking; socialize with friends (or meet new people); seek a health consult; and shop for everyday goods and services. It’s also where many of us “go to work”.

No surprise then that the growth in online shopping was already evident before the coronavirus pandemic. That’s right, multiple factors have been fueling our online shopping behavior—before and beyond the dreaded virus! These include:

  • The prevalence of smartphones and mobile shopping;
  • Social media as a driver of social commerce;
  • The increase in reliable online market places;
  • Advancements in technology like secure online payments and 24/7 chat bots;
  • And generational shifts in perception and attitudes towards online shopping.

More recently, however, we’re seeing behavioral changes—proactive and reactive—in response to the realities of life in a world with COVID-19.

But why do we shop online? (And what encourages businesses to build an online store?)

There are some very practical reasons behind our penchant for internet shopping. The most common drivers for buying online include the ability to save time; shop at any time of the day; and not have to wait in queues at stores. We also appreciate the better, sometimes wider, selection of available products, plus the ability to find what we’re looking for quickly at often cheaper prices than what you’d find in brick-and-mortar stores.

Those are pretty compelling reasons to shift to online commerce—and why over 75% of consumers are shopping online at least once a month! It’s also why now is the perfect time for small businesses to build an online store and get in on the action.

Online commerce and the benefits of online selling

There are some obvious advantages of building an online store. Things like lower costs (compared to a physical outlet) and selling without borders. But those aren’t your only online store benefits. There’s more!

Benefit #1: Consumers buy more when they buy online

This is especially true of clothing and shoes but it applies to other industries, too. So, why do people buy more online?

Well, first of all, many e-commerce shops impose a minimum purchase requirement for the shopper to get free shipping. That leads to consumers willingly adding more items to their cart to qualify.

Another reason is that it’s so much easier to add items you like to the basket. Compared to lugging a heavy basket around a store, or pushing a cart down crowded aisles, online it’s done in just one click. Convenient!

Finally, shoppers simply give in to impulse wants. This leads them to end up purchasing more online than they had initially planned.

Let’s close this section with some fun facts: When a consumer’s shopping journey ends in an online purchase, their baskets are 25% larger on average. And if the consumer first visited a brick-and-mortar store and then made their purchase online, their baskets are a whopping 64% larger.

Image shows a couple using their laptop in a restaurant.

Benefit #2: Shoppers spend more in branded stores than at multi-brand retailers

For some businesses, selling online might mean listing their products on online market places like Amazon or on stockists’ websites. For others, it’s all about having their own small business online store; setting up a branded e-commerce shop that’s entirely their own. In other words, they build an online store focused on selling their products and their products only—without the distraction of competing brands.

Either way, it’s worth noting that online shoppers spend more money on direct-to-consumer (DTC) brand channels than they would in a multi-brand environment.

Let’s put that into perspective: Online purchases from a brand store or website can generate revenues 86% higher—and with better margins—than via a multi-brand retailer. In other words, your customers will spend more money if they’re buying directly from you rather than through an intermediary or third-party site. Um, that’s awesome!

Benefit #3: You’ll learn a lot about your customers

You know this: In marketing, there’s no replacement for knowing your customer.

Guess what? Having an e-commerce store can really help with that. Think about it. When a customer shops via your website, there’s a wealth of data at your fingertips. That includes what shoppers were looking at; how much time they spent on your site; pages browsed; purchase history; where they’re located; and preferences to name a few.

That information can help you create better email campaigns. It will also help you personalize marketing messages—a necessity for boosting conversions.

Benefit #4: You can encourage repeat purchases

It might be hard to believe, considering everything we’ve been told in the past, but consumers aren’t always on the market for the latest and greatest. Sometimes, they’re just looking to buy more of the same. Having an online store makes it easier to fulfill shoppers’ repeat purchase needs.

Fun fact: When it comes to fashion and athletic products, the aim of 83% to 87% of shopping journeys is making a repeat purchase. Hey, if you like a certain brand of yoga pants, you’re probably going to want to buy said brand’s yoga pants again in the future. And maybe their yoga mat and sports bra while you’re at it.

Benefit #5: Maximize revenue from impulse buyers

Build an online store if you want to tap into an online shopper’s impulse buying tendencies. Because just like how someone might grab that last-minute chocolate bar or magazine at the checkout counter of a physical store, an online store—with its wide selection of products, recommendations, great deals, and convenient shipping & return policies—makes it easier to convince people to add (more) items to cart! Or, you know, purchase items they weren’t originally planning to because the algorithm recommended them.

Fun fact: 67% of individuals admit to “window shopping for fun” on their smartphones with 77% of them making impulse buys! So, if you have 100 digital window shoppers, that means you could land 52 impulse buyers. Incredible, right?

Image shows a reusable tote bag with various items laid out beside it

5 ways your online store can beat the competition. (Warning: It won’t be easy—but it’s worth it!)

Let’s say you’ve set up your online store and you can’t wait for all those orders to come rolling in. Well, not so fast. Like your brick-and-mortar, you have goals that have to be met. Goals like showing up in users’ search results; attracting more clicks; and getting people to complete the online checkout process. Admittedly, it won’t be easy—because for every online store benefit, there’s the hard work that goes into making it happen. Which leads you to the all-important question: How do you make your online store a success?

Here are a few tips.

✅ Build an attractive small business online store

You take the time to compare products, prices, and perks before making a purchase, right? Well, your customers do the same! In fact, they also read online reviews, check out shipping and return policies, scan through FAQs, and even evaluate customer service channels. That means, if you want to keep online shoppers on your website and, of course, close the sale then you want to get rid of any barriers that stand in the way of conversion.

Here are a few of the most important things shoppers will evaluate:

  • Does your website look trustworthy?
  • Do you have secure payment options?
  • Is your shipping and returns policy attractive?
  • Is the checkout process quick and painless?
  • Are your product photos clear, detailed, and professional in quality?

✅ Seduce shoppers with benefits exclusive to your website

This one’s pretty obvious: Give shoppers a great (read: irresistible) reason to choose your website over the other alternatives. That great reason could be access to a larger selection of products than would otherwise be available at your physical store. Or it could be the opportunity to customize a product. Maybe you want to offer internet-only designs, specialty bundles, or sizes? Either way, give online shoppers something offline shoppers don’t get.

Pro tip: Find a way to connect the in-store experience with your online store. One way you could do this is by adding a discount code to in-store purchase recipients, which shoppers can apply to online purchases.

✅ Find a way to make free shipping an option

Keep these two points in mind: (1) free shipping can be the deciding factor for online shoppers and (2) everyone loves fast shipping—without the hefty price tag. In other words, you need to have the best shipping terms possible to keep shoppers firmly on your site.

If you can offer free shipping, or the very least make it attainable with a minimum spend, then online shoppers are more likely to make the purchase through your online store. Also, they’ll be persuaded to fill up their shopping baskets with items to satisfy that requirement.

Image shows a product description page of an online store

✅ Reach out to undecided shoppers

It can be a challenge to get window shoppers into a physical store and just as hard to convince them to make a purchase once they’re actually inside. In this scenario, you’re reliant on sales staff—how good they are at reading shoppers, understanding their needs, and guiding them towards making a purchase.

On the internet, though, digital window shoppers almost certainly sought you (or the type of items/products you’re selling) out. All you have to do is keep them on your site; delight; and then convert. With advancements in technology, there are non-intrusive ways to do just that.

You can:

  • send out cart recovery emails (in case someone abandoned the process);
  • create a loyalty program;
  • employ retargeting;
  • and deploy an exit popup.

✅ Take advantage of email marketing

When someone buys from you online, you’ll require them to provide an email address and ask for permission to contact them with relevant marketing messages.

If you’re selling a subscription box service, a product with a specific shelf-life, or items that tend to be consumed regularly (and therefore need replenishing), email is a great way to encourage existing customers to come back for more.

For example:

  • Remind customers that a product they bought will most likely need replacement soon – then direct them to where they can repurchase it on your website.
  • Send out an email with information on similar products the shopper might like to have. Don’t forget to link to appropriate pages!
  • Offer promotions or deploy tailored ads for upgrades or new versions of the product they bought in the past.