Is your brick and mortar business doing well, but you’re looking to expand your operations? If your answer is yes, you’ll have two options in front of you— an additional physical branch or an online store. While a new physical store will play to your strengths, going online can give you geographical reach like no brick and mortar store can.
An online presence is one of the greatest assets your business can have today. For one thing, it would cost less than opening and operating another retail outlet. Ideally, you are just paying for your site domain, a website, and associated supply chain costs.
Also, an ecommerce store gives you access to a broad customer base unconstrained by geography and also allows your shoppers to visit you 24 hours a day!
With over 16% of total retail sales happening online in 2019—a number that is on the rise—you won’t want to miss out on serving customers online. Now that you have a general idea of why an ecommerce store is a great option for your growing business, let’s dive a little deeper into the details.
What is an ecommerce platform?
An ecommerce platform is a software tool that will help you get your online store up and running. This software solution tends to be holistic, covering all aspects such as designing your store, uploading a product catalogue, and handling store functionality such as payment options and shipping integrations, among others.
It basically powers your end-to-end ecommerce business, whether it’s acquiring customers and sales, logistics, managing your customer database, or accounting.
Types of ecommerce platforms
Open-source ecommerce platforms
An open-source ecommerce platform is software that an external developer or agency will use to develop your ecommerce site. For this, you need to get in touch with someone who can both deploy your store and design it the way you want.
An open-source solution will make sense if your store requires extensive customization options and needs more functionality than a typical ecommerce setup. You’ll also need enough resources to hire ecommerce developers. Some popular open source platforms are Magento, PrestaShop, WooCommerce (with WordPress), OpenCart, Zen Cart, and Drupal Commerce.
SaaS ecommerce platforms
A software-as-a-service (SaaS) ecommerce platform, on the other hand, will enable you to build a store with well-established ecommerce workflows already set up. A vast majority of online sellers don’t require heavy customizations, and a SaaS platform works great in these situations. You don’t have to worry about maintenance costs or scalability with a SaaS platform.
If you are planning on starting small and expanding your business later, a SaaS ecommerce platform will provide you with the right set of tools. You can get hands-on with your online store and be self-sufficient.
Other practical benefits of a SaaS platforms are guaranteed website uptime, customer support, security and PCI compliance, easy integrations, and lower maintenance costs. Some popular SaaS ecommerce platforms are Wix, Shopify, BigCommerce, and Zoho Commerce.
Benefits of an ecommerce platform
Expand your scope and scale
An ecommerce platform will help your business run more seamlessly. With global reach, you will need time and effort to expand your operations, and an online store offers you that benefit without adding to the burden of fixed store costs and additional workforce.
Your online store should support multiple languages and currencies so it can be accessed by an international audience. Once this is in place, you can expand on social platforms and test markets that are receptive to your brand. While you need the right logistics partner to start selling to international customers, this is simple to achieve. Many shipping companies now offer pre-packaged deals for global online stores.
Integrate your retail inventory
You can also integrate your retail inventory with your online inventory so your sales are streamlined and all your numbers and accounting are in one place. This way, you can seamlessly run your business without worrying about extra paperwork and watch your business grow.
Reach more customers
The internet lets you reach your target customers more effectively. The right ecommerce software will help you market your brand better and provide the right tools to improve your online presence, both on search engines (such as Google) and on social platforms (such as Instagram and Facebook).
Benefit from online marketing
An online store allows you to get noticed when a customer searches for relevant products. Advertising your store on online media will get you new customers. Collecting customer reviews can increase user-generated content on your website, which will, in turn, feed the virtuous cycle of online business growth for your store.
Proactive customer support
Include your contact information on your site and give your customers the freedom to reach out anytime. This also increases trust with your offline customers as they can reach you via multiple channels, keeping them engaged. Studies have shown that a higher customer engagement results in higher revenue from the same set of customers.
Integration with marketing tools
Connect your store with email marketing solutions such as Mailchimp and Zoho Campaigns so that you can send automated emails to your customers. You can win customers with personalized offers around occasions such as birthdays, holidays, and more. Automated email campaigns help reduce your abandoned cart rate and win customers back during extreme cases like transaction failures.
Automate your accounting and inventory
Your ecommerce platform can automate your store checkout process with shipping, taxes, and payments. Your sales numbers and orders will update in real time, which means your store’s accounting will be automated by default. This contributes to easy accessibility and accountability, anywhere and at any time of the day.
Measure and evaluate store performance
As we mentioned earlier, you can easily view your inventory and manage your customers with an ecommerce platform. Your sales reports and other analytics will help you set and measure actionable goals to grow your business.
Plan your inventory
Using an integrated ecommerce platform and inventory, you can understand customer shopping patterns. For example, you can identify and stock products that sell regardless of seasonal preferences. This helps in planning your inventory and sourcing a higher number of products that will be guaranteed to move.
If you’re new to ecommerce, the right software platform should not only put you on the path to selling online, it should also be easy to set up and offer measurement tools. While you may eventually need a heavily customized site, most successful ecommerce entrepreneurs start their store using SaaS ecommerce platforms as they are affordable and help them make more profit from their business, while not having to worry about the technology behind it.
We hope you found this guide useful. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me for specific and actionable advice for your ecommerce venture!