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From Retail to e-Tail: How to Launch an Ecommerce Website for Your Brick-and-Mortar

Are you ready to bring your brick-and-mortar store into the world of online shopping?

Building a virtual storefront from the ground up can feel like an overwhelming experience.

You’ve probably noticed that there are dozens of SaaS products on the market claiming to ease your transition into ecommerce.

But how do you navigate this experience and maximize your resources? How do you find the right tools and deploy them for maximum efficiency?

There are 3 major pieces to this approach:

  • Laying the groundwork with pre-launch preparation.

  • Optimizing your store.

  • Marketing your store.

In this guide, we’ll look at each of these parts in detail, and you’ll learn how to transform your existing physical store into an online shop—all while exploring various marketing strategies that keep customers coming back again and again.

We’ll look at how three ecommerce professionals were able to transition from brick-and-mortar to online shopping.

Those three experts are:

Best of all: You’ll learn how to do most of this without relying heavily on SaaS tools and marketing agencies.

Let’s get started.

1. Determine your primary customers.

There’s a lot of planning that goes into building a successful ecommerce website, which is why you shouldn’t rush into building your virtual storefront without doing first doing some strategic planning.

Before anything else, you need to answer the following questions:

  1. Who are your primary customers?

  2. How will they find your website?

For Tahnee Elliott, identifying and servicing her primary market was especially easy.

Tahnee Elliott

“Being in a college town, we have a lot of transient customers who go home during the summers and holidays,” she said

“The primary objective of launching the online store was to give these customers a chance to buy our clothing while they were away from school for the summer.”

Generally speaking, primary customers are going to be the ones who’ve already been consistently shopping at a brand’s brick-and-mortar store.

This existing customer base is a major advantage, as businesses can get a running start with an audience that’s already interested in the brand.

2. Choose your domain name.

The next challenge is determining how to redirect focus to your online presence—and to do this, you need to pick a domain name where people can find you in the digital environment.

There are two ways you can go about picking your domain name:

  1. Choose a catchy, SEO-friendly name that will resonate with your audience.

  2. Stick with your current brand name.

Both approaches have their advantages.

An SEO-driven domain name gives you a chance to:

  • Rebrand your store.

  • Create an online marketplace that’s optimized for organic ranking and traffic.

The downside of choosing a new domain name is that you won’t be able to capitalize on the brand awareness you’ve developed with your brick-and-mortar business.

With that said, choosing the right SEO-friendly domain name can make it easier for your company to reach a larger audience—especially when combined with a site that’s been optimized for text and voice search.

When BigCommerce designer Tommy Ekstrand helped his father come up with an online marketplace for their brick-and-mortar paint store, they decided to go with a new domain name that was appealing to a wider audience.

Tommy Ekstrand

“We ended up with an SEO-friendly version: US Paint Supply. We’ve owned the family name website since 1998, but that site is purely informational.

The decision to go with a more SEO-friendly domain was to find something more universal across our selling area (U.S. target audience).”

Ultimately, if your online marketplace depends on organic traffic, you might want to drop your brick-and-mortar name in exchange for something more SEO-friendly.

While it can be more work in the beginning stages as you create more awareness around your digital brand, it can help your brand in the long run as your organic SEO ranking increases more quickly.

3. Select initial products to place online.

Ideally, your inventory or services should be strategically chosen to appeal to a broader audience—especially when you’re just starting out.

If you’ve got a wide selection of products to choose from in your brick-and-mortar store, we recommend narrowing your inventory down to approximately 100 of the best-selling items for your online marketplace.

Tahnee Elliott

“We started with offering tops, bottoms, shoes, dresses, and rompers,” said Tahnee.

“Of course, we added more as needed and reorganized so our list of categories and subcategories evolved based on demand and trends.”

When choosing products to carry online, make sure to choose items which are:

  • Top sellers in your brick-and-mortar store.

  • Items you receive special requests or calls for 2-3x per month.

The latter is especially important, as many customers have a hard time finding special inventory on ecommerce sites.

Another great way to optimize your online inventory is by stocking it with products that are nationally popular.

That way, you’re able to start out with an appeal to a wider audience (rather than only targeting specific segments of the market.)

4. Start working on your product descriptions.

Now that all the heavy work is out of the way, it’s time to start writing product descriptions.

While your meta descriptions did a fine job directing traffic to your website, there’s nothing more effective than a rich product description that captures the visitor’s attention to increase organic traffic—especially when the right keywords are used.

Tahnee Elliott

“Product descriptions were fairly straightforward and simple until we discovered that keyword-rich descriptions benefited the customer in their buying journey,” suggested Tahnee.

“It decreased the number of customer service phone calls and emails, which were few and far between at first but gradually ramped up in 2014 and 2015”

But there’s more to effective product descriptions than good SEO.

You also want to summarize your products in a way that connects with your customers.

Here’s how:

  • Be consistent with your style.

  • Use well-written headlines that capture the reader’s attention.

  • ​Use bullet points to summarize important information and product specifications.

5. Continue writing SEO content.

As the saying goes, “Content is king.”

Developing SEO-driven content isn’t something you do once off—it’s an ongoing process.

A large part of what makes ecommerce websites successful is the content. You want to always have fresh, meaningful content that benefits your readers in one way or another.

Here are some ways you can create content that adds value to your site:

  • Add content onto your brand pages using banners so that your products remain above the fold.

  • Include short descriptions in your category pages—be brief enough to keep products above the fold.

  • Create an FAQ page to drive traffic from people searching Google for similar questions.

Also, if you ever get any questions related to a specific product, consider adding the question and answer in your FAQ page or as part of a product description.

This will help direct more traffic to your site from people looking for specific products.

Marketing your ecommerce website

While a solid business strategy and optimized website are important for converting leads, you still need a good marketing plan to get your ecommerce business off the ground.

If you’re a smaller company, we recommend doing your own digital marketing rather than outsourcing it to an agency.

That way, you’ll get a better idea of your customers’ needs and expectations as you interact with them on social media.

Rohan Moore

“If you’re a small player, tackling the technical and strategic challenges of digital marketing directly — with an overwhelming focus in the social media space — will educate you more about your customers,” suggested Rohan.

“And which products and content they relate with, than any market research or agency insights.”

By running your own marketing campaign, you’ll be able to see firsthand which type of content engages your audience the most.

Next, let’s take a deeper look at how you can create a digital marketing strategy that takes your business to the next level.

1. Improve your website’s performance with Google Search Console.

Google Search Console (GSC) lets you compare a list of keywords on your site with a list of keywords users commonly search for, as well as see just how many impressions your keywords are getting.

To do this, simply:

  • Go to the Search feature and turn on all data times (CTR, clicks, impressions, position)

  • Sort your keywords and phrases by impression, making note of which words and phrases are the highest ranking

From there, you’ll be presented with a ranked list of keywords and phrases which helps you see how well your keywords are performing.

When asked about increasing keywords impressions, Tommy had this to say:

Tommy Ekstrand

“Know that moving from position 50 up to 10 or even 20 is going to be extremely difficult. Consider paying for these (AdWords) if you know they’ll convert.”

There are a number of other third-party tools that can help your business grow. However, Rohan warns against new businesses depending heavily on marketing and management tools.

Rohan Moore

“There is an ever-growing catalogue of SaaS products on the market, often promising solutions to growth and conversion that all e-com store owners are anxious to enhance.

It’s not a mistake to see e-com as an opportunity to expand sales without property costs, but SaaS is undoubtedly the new rent.”

When asked what tools he felt new online businesses should rely on, Rohan had this to say:

“To avoid the digital rent doing to the profitability of your website what your property rent already does to your bricks-and-mortar profitability, limit those SaaS subscriptions to three core products: your shopping cart, your warehouse management system, and your online customer services ticketing system.”

2. Apply GSC’s keyword list to your website.

The benefit of GSC’s keyword is that it helps you get a better idea of the type of keywords and phrases potential customers are searching for.

You can then incorporate this information into your titles, product descriptions, meta descriptions, and image tags for an added SEO boost.

You can even change product names and URL addresses to fit these keywords—just remember to implement a 301 redirect.

3. Come up with an outbound marketing strategy.

You read that correctly.

Outbound marketing still plays an important role in generating brand awareness and engaging with customers.

Here are some tools to help you reach out to loyal and prospective customers:

  • Mail After Purchase (MAP) post-purchasing reviews from Yotpo surveys customers after they’ve made a purchase.
  • Social Bribery widget by Justuno makes it easier for you to run incentivization campaigns, rewarding your customers for sharing your products with their friends on social media.
  • Use Smile.io to enroll customers in loyalty, VIP, and referral programs.
  • Emailed coupon discounts for abandoned checkout carts.

When asked what he suggests new businesses spend their marketing budget on, Rohan placed value in marketing tools over outsourcing.

“Many fledgling (and some established) online businesses are enticed, for every £100 they spend in digital marketing, to pay another £100 to be told how to spend it.

Taking the wheel and spending all £200 on actual marketing will give you both results and experience that will form the backbone of your longer-term strategy.”

4. Explore different ways to increase conversion rates.

As you may have guessed, conversion rates is a topic that is constantly featured throughout this guide.

Converting visitors into loyal customers is how you’re going to grow your businesses, and it’s something that needs to be in the forefront of your mind as you design your website, interact with customers, and come up with a solid marketing strategy.

Here’s how you can increase conversions while marketing your ecommerce site:

  • Survey customers. Gather feedback from customers whenever you can, and include their feedback into your product descriptions and FAQ sections—especially if customers are inquiring about a product’s specifications. This will help the lurking visitors who want to learn more but are reluctant to contact your customer support.
  • Use Google Analytics to pinpoint any drop-off points. If there’s ever a sudden dip in your website traffic, look at factors that could’ve caused it and correct any issues that inhibited your conversions.
  • Minimize your website loading time. More than half your visitors will leave your website if it takes longer than three seconds to load. Prevent this from happening by optimizing your site for speed.

When asked how he increased his website’s speed, here’s what Tommy recommended:

“Compress images, load JavaScript in async mode or defer, minify all CSS and JavaScript files or combine if possible. If an app that requires extra JavaScript isn’t performing, remove it.”

Executive Summary and Launch Checklist

There’s a lot of work that goes into launching an ecommerce site that accompanies your brick-and-mortar store. But you can help make your launch go as smoothly as possible by remembering the following tips:

  • Convenience and UX of your website are more important than looks. Give your customers a seamless website that’s quick and easy to navigate through. And don’t forget to include more than one type of payment option.

  • Make SEO your top priority. Look at ways to incorporate keywords into your descriptions, metadata, and headings. If you think it’s information that the customer would benefit from knowing, add it to your page.

  • Be up front with your policies. Make sure customers are informed about your return policy, shipping fees, and other expenses they may incur. Also, give them step-by-step instructions on how they can return a product without them asking you beforehand.

  • Constantly explore various ways to increase conversion rates. Consumer preferences change over time, and if you don’t change with them, you’re not going to get the growth you’d hoped for. Never stop optimizing your website design, SEO content, and marketing strategy for conversions.

  • Focus on the important things first. Get your products online, create a site that works, and implement a good SEO strategy. These three things need to be taken care of before you worry about making your site look visually appealing.

  • Don’t be surprised if your online sales lag in the first couple of quarters after going live. In fact, many businesses report that following the initial launch of their ecommerce site, their brick-and-mortar stores benefit from a huge boost in sales as customers browse selections online and make purchases at the physical stores.

In the first two years of her website launch, Tahnee recalls just how much her ecommerce site influenced brick-and-mortar sales:

“The online store wasn’t a huge success at first but it was huge for driving foot traffic to our local brick and mortar shop.

I initially leveraged it as a marketing tool. Girls would get online during class to see our new arrivals and then stop by the store afterward to try on the pieces they loved online.

In 2015, just two years after the launch of the online store, our brick and mortar sales tripled!”

When it comes time to enhance the look and feel of your site, try using a powerful development platform like Stencil by BigCommerce.

Stencil makes it possible to get the best of both worlds—a beautifully designed website that offers a smooth, sleek build that’s easy to navigate.

“I’ve worked with all sorts of front-end systems,” says Tommy.

“And [Stencil] is by far the most advanced, capable and well-thought through. I’m psyched to get to rebuild my own store using Stencil, I hope to see a 10-20% increase in conversion from the changeover.”

By following this step-by-step guide to migrating your brick-and-mortar store over to ecommerce, you’ll have a greater chance of seeing as much as 50% growth over the course of the following year.

Interested in learning more ways to get the most from digital storefront? See how 12 online companies used a popular brick-and-mortar business tactic to maximize sales.

 

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