Once again, we have teamed up with Kayleigh Alexandra, a content writer for Micro Startups, to guest write an article for our blog. We asked her to consider the topic of e-commerce for SMEs. Read on for her helpful thoughts on the subject.
“The decline of big high street chains has been well publicised in recent years. HMV, House of Fraser, Markers & Spencer, Game: are some of the big names who have suffered store closures. Though bricks and mortar retail still contributes significantly to economies, many pundits are predicting the death of the high street as we know it, in the long term. E-commerce, on the other hand, is on the rise.
If you’re a small business (SME), embracing e-commerce can offer you a wide range of benefits. But, it can also be daunting to know where to start — what about social media, logistics, websites, PWAs or mobile apps?
And even though e-commerce is a no-brainer for product-led businesses, it can also offer benefits for small businesses selling services or time.
In this article, we’ll talk you through the major benefits of an e-commerce model, and some tips you can follow to get the most out of it.
What is e-commerce?
Put simply, e-commerce is selling products or services online. Since the internet became commercially available in the early Nineties, more and more companies have moved their business partially or entirely online. Spearheaded by the likes of Amazon and eBay, e-commerce offered a world of possibility and not just for consumers either.
With reduced overheads compared to brick-and-mortar stores and the ability to reach a wider audience, e-commerce offers businesses of virtually any industry (including yours) significant benefits.
Whether you are selling coaching calls, bespoke bags, marketing services, an online course, or even flowers — the convenience of one-click e-commerce is yours for the taking. Easy software and low subscription costs make e-commerce technology affordable for even the tiniest of operations.
With reduced overheads compared to brick-and-mortar stores and the ability to reach a wider audience, e-commerce offers businesses of virtually any industry significant benefits. #smartermarketingClick to tweet
Moving from local to global
One of the biggest challenges for small businesses is expanding their customer base outside friends, family, and local word of mouth recommendations. This may mean you need to invest in pay-for strategies such as search advertising and online directories to spread the word about your brand.
This is where e-commerce offers huge benefits — expanding your customer reach and making your products available globally is a great way to find new customer communities. Finding fans is a big priority for small businesses (repeat business, positive social proof), and e-commerce can help you expedite the process.
Even if you’re mainly selling online or making the transition — you should still highlight your local flavour. By utilising Google’s My Business pages, you can enhance your online presence in local areas. This is particularly useful if you’re selling heavy goods that require collecting, or if you are targeting a set of local postcodes.
Help customers find you with SEO
Search engines are the single largest traffic driver for e-commerce websites, ten times higher than social media. As such, it behoves you to optimise your website for search engines to direct customers to your site. It can extend your reach well beyond your local area with cleverly tailored optimisation.
SEO is a bow with many strings and it can seem daunting for the beginner. But there are plenty of online resources that can help you nail the basics (Moz has a particularly good guide to SEO here).
Another big plus is to ensure your website has a strong internal link structure, and it’s worth implementing a strong content marketing strategy ASAP. Create and regularly update a blog that provides useful content to your audience — not only will it provide value to your customers, but it will help you rise through the ranks on search engine results pages.
Use social to connect with your customers
E-commerce goes hand-in-hand with social media to form a powerful marketing strategy that lets you connect with your customers.
It won’t have escaped your attention that social is a hugely popular environment that virtually all your customers are active on. As a result, it pays to connect with them on a platform they are active on.
On social, brands can share content, provide offers and competitions, and even address customer complaints. A strong social marketing strategy helps to humanise your brand and increases engagement by sharing posts that will appear alongside posts from your customers’ friends and family.
And it’s also a chance for brands to sell their products directly through social as well. A number of social platforms include selling options, such as Facebook’s Marketplace or Instagram’s Shoppable posts. These let your customers make purchases without ever leaving their social app, taking your e-commerce further by going straight to the consumer.
If you’re a small business owner, you’ll know the pressures of balancing overheads all too well. Staff costs, building costs, utilities, furniture: it all adds up.
The nature of a bricks and mortar business requires footfall from customers or knowledge of your location. Often you need to rationalise paying extra for rent in a good location to ensure you’re easily found. This can make it difficult for small businesses to penetrate the high street.
E-commerce, on the other hand, doesn’t require a shop. It can even be done from home. All you need is a domain, hosting and an e-commerce website or mobile app. O’C&K have some sample apps here that you can have a look at.
Designing and building an e-commerce website or an app does require an initial investment, but it’s significantly less than the upkeep and maintenance of a building. And once it’s done, maintenance is extraordinarily cheap.
And you can even cut time and costs by buying an existing online business and repurposing it. This not only saves you the hassle of setting up the store itself up, but they often come with pre-made marketing channels that are ready to go instantly.
You don’t need staff to manage your checkout or in-store customer management. Your site does it all. From guiding customers through their buying journey to handling their payments.
Analyse and adapt
Possibly the most beneficial aspect of an e-commerce website is its data collection.
By selling online and using a combination of your e-commerce platform’s inbuilt analytics, you’ll have access to a wealth of information about your customers’ shopping habits.
You can then start to build a knowledge base by highlighting key questions such as:
- What are your most popular products?
- Where are your buyers based?
- What did they look at before they bought?
- How many visits did it take before they bought?
- What day of the week and time of the day do people buy the most?
- How successful have your offers been?
When you have collated this information, consider how you can optimise your site accordingly.
With such a wealth of consumer data so readily available online, e-commerce makes it easy for brands to fine-tune their selling practices for maximum effect. Even simple things such as what time your consumers made a purchase can be leveraged to hone your online business.
Use a good analytics tool to know your consumers inside and out, and reposition yourself and your marketing accordingly.
There are so many benefits of e-commerce for your small business. Hopefully, this article has convinced you that starting an e-commerce site or mobile app can really add value to your business. Get started and feel the benefits of e-commerce today.”
Kayleigh Alexandra is a content writer for Micro Startups — a site dedicated to spreading the word about startups and small businesses of all shapes and sizes. Visit their blog for the latest marketing insights from top experts and inspiring entrepreneurial stories. Follow them on Twitter @getmicrostarted.
“Thank you to Kayleigh for her input and to you for reading our blog post today.
If you require any assistance with your marketing including e-commerce websites or mobile apps do not hesitate to give us a call.
Cheers – Aidan & Jim.
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