As the Coronavirus pandemic moves through the second month of “shelter-in-place,” the Texas Governor, Greg Abbott has announced that soon small retailers could begin selling on a “to-go” or curbside pickup basis. Previously, only “big box” stores were allowed to be open for retail business.
Many Retailers Not Prepared for Curbside Selling
Most small brick-and-mortar retailers are not well-positioned to suddenly begin offering pick-up selling, especially online. While many small retailers are pleased with the lifting of restrictions, it takes some considerable planning and resources to begin taking online orders for curbside pickup. Most small retailers have limited or no online selling capabilities, while others have not fully realized all the logistical issues relating to selling online.
Although Shopify and other ecommerce platforms can provide the technical tools to enable online commerce, store owners do need to do some careful planning before jumping into any particular platform.
Plan for Online To-Go Selling
To be successful in rapidly converting your offline retailing to online-order-pickup, a process needs to take a merchant through the myriad of considerations and actions that will create a successful outcome. This is what we would provide to any merchant considering a move to online selling. Most of these steps would be relevant whether or not a merchant is shipping or providing curbside pick-up.
Beyond this pandemic crisis, I feel most merchants will continue to grow their online selling efforts. E-commerce is both cost-effective and will instantly extend a business’s selling geography.
Is Selling Online Proper for You?
Is your business one in which customers will want to buy online and then travel to pick-up their order? Or even have it shipped? If you’re selling custom-made cowboy boots, it might be more difficult to sell them online without a personal fitting, particularly if returns would be illogical or costly. Also, if your inventory is eclectic or changing often, you may find that keeping up your online product information could be quite time-consuming (the key is to create an efficient, assembly-line-like process for adding new products). Not all retailers can sell online, or sell online cost-effectively.
Do you have a good inventory and POS system?
Most retailers of any sophistication, have an in-house POS (Point-Of-Sale) system. Some will have good inventory management tied into their sales registers. If you’re moving to sell online, though, integrating some POS/Inventory systems with an online store can be truly costly or complicated. Yet, if you don’t have the means of updating product availability online, you could well increase customer anger by taking orders that you can’t fulfill.
If you’re convinced you need to 1) sell online quickly, and 2) you plan to keep selling online in the future, then consider moving to a better-integrated system such as the Shopify POS system. This is perhaps the most affordable, easy-to-setup system for SMB merchants on the market. And it can greatly improve your in-store selling experience as well.
Don’t Try to Do It All Alone
One of your biggest regrets would be if you — the merchant — try to undertake a rapid deployment alone. While Shopify, for example, provides a remarkable step-by-step blog post for the technical issues, as demonstrated by the other topics in this post, there are many more considerations outside of the technical pieces.
A group of over 1,000 developers and agencies have created one possible resource, the offline2online.com website. While we do applaud this effort and we do feel you could well find an ideal match, don’t hesitate to take the time to interview more than one possible match. More than that, consider the other aspects of your move to online mentioned here before reaching out to other agencies or developers.
If you can’t find an agency that you like or you feel meets your needs, contact me. I know quite a few in the business, and I’d happily refer you to one that might be the ideal match for your type of business.
To Ship or Not to Ship?
Although I generally do the curbside pickup at HEB, we have had HEB deliver directly to us. We also get at-home deliveries from Whole Foods and Costco. The convenience of having products delivered to the door is many times worth any extra expense to avoid possible exposure and because we’re really quite busy working with clients, coaching, and building more online training courses; delivery is just a nice thing to have.
But, while curbside has its own challenges, shipping is a whole other can of worms. Shipping and logistics are, in my opinion, the most complicated part of online commerce. However, if you can keep it simple and straightforward, you can begin to create a healthy online buying and shipping operation.
It’s important to be sure that you have ideal inventory management and shipping processing. Shopify and BigCommerce have native shipping solutions, but they’re not very sophisticated. One rather inexpensive platform I really like for managing both inventory and shipping is Ordoro (which I recently reviewed).
Take your time in figuring out your shipping process and what you intend to charge customers. There are different philosophies and really thinking into what is the best alternative is worth the time spent.
Get the Word Out
Traditional retailers often do not have customer email addresses at hand. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t let people know you are offering online selling. Social media, of course, is available to you, but you need a healthy amount of followers. I recommend you consider Google Shopping ads to promote your products on Google, updating all your listings in Yelp and Google Local, and making sure your Product SEO is fully optimized. I actually have a new course focused on improving product rankings, as it can truly help you get more free exposure online.
Marketing, like shipping, takes some considerable planning and production. But, it really doesn’t have to be expensive. Engage your audience, answer email questions promptly, and make sure you have an after-the-sale email follow-up campaign to help spread the word and increase repeat purchases.
Online e-commerce is one of the most rewarding businesses you can grow. But, in this particular climate of panic and anxiety, it could easily become a black hole of investment without any return.
I’ll repeat: take a breath. Plan carefully, but swiftly. Get qualified, experienced advice (no, your 16-year-old nephew doesn’t know curbside e-commerce). And treat this evolution in your business as a long-term play. When in-store sales come back, those will be the “gravy” and your online sales will be the “meat.”