Helping local shops get online during Covid-19

I recently had a chat with a local shop owner about putting their products online.  They had no intention of it before this crisis but now have a stockroom full of seasonal products and no way to sell them.

Going online is not easy – outside of affording the technology to do it – getting your catalogue together, figuring out shipping costs, setting up payment gateways and arranging packaging to ship is challenging.  Then there are the returns that are easy for big box shops to manage but incredibly difficult for a small local shop.  What if after putting all that time, effort and cost in you don’t get any sales?

I am not here to convince you to go online, everything above is true and the risk is real.  However, there are lots of reasons and ways to “trade online”, not just one size fits all.  Hopefully this post will make these options much clearer.

The shipping / returns conundrum.

First of all – you don’t have to ship products if it is something you are not ready for yet.  You can still have an eCommerce shop online that allows your customers to support you and then pickup from a collection point.  Every eCommerce software provider has a ‘Local Pickup’ or ‘Click and Collect’ option.

In fact, you don’t even need to take online payments if that is a bridge too far – having your catalogue online will allow people to keep in touch with your products and your business even when you are not open. If I can just see that it is in stock – I can then email, text or ring in my order and pay in store.

My local organic store doesn’t have an online catalogue and I do find it frustrating as I am a 40 drive away.  I’d love to be able to just choose all the products I want, pay for them online and then go and collect them.  I wouldn’t expect or need delivery – I love shopping there but I’d like to know that my ‘must have products’ – like firm tofu are in stock – hey!… don’t judge – we all have our thing :-D!

But I’ve so much stock – I’ll never get it all online!!!  Take a small bite out of the problem – just get your 10 best selling items online.  Continue this each week and soon you will have a catalogue built up or else, just put your new lines up and over time you will find yourself the proud owner of a complete online catalogue.  This is not about perfection – its about action and giving your customers a virtual window into your shop to encourage them to connect with you.

Yes returns are painful but they are painful in-store too.  You get to choose the terms of your returns – just like instore, you can offer a full refund or a coupon off future purchases.  Again, returns don’t have to be posted – they can be dropped to a collection point.

Vouchers

Allow people to purchase vouchers that are delivered digitally so they can support you and also continue to celebrate their loved ones life’s events that are now happening behind closed doors.  For example – friends or family who recently had a baby – the gift of a baby photoshoot, a local children’s cloths shop or a food hamper would be wonderful.  If you are not online and showing your catalogue of products – potential clients cannot see or think of you when these events inevitably pop up.

Having your shop online allows your products to be instantly accessible at any time.  I don’t know about you but I do most of my shopping on my phone when I am having my cup of coffee with one eye on the TV.  Having your products online opens you up to clients who would never have found you as a bricks and mortar only store.  Even if they never actually buy from you online, you’ve created new customers and fans.

Over the past year, I have found several Irish businesses that I love to support online and although I don’t live near them, I interact with them on social media just like a local customer.  I love supporting them and they are tailored to my specific needs.

But its impossible to compete with Amazon / Sports Direct / Any other big boy of eCommerce…

This is not about competition its about visibility and giving people an easy way to support you.  Full disclosure – I buy a lot from Amazon but that is because its been the only game in town for a long time and I’m a pretty technology forward kinda gal.  However, if I can get a product locally and especially if I can get multiple products together, I’ll choose my local seller.

Getting Paid

This used to be a huge issue – you needed a merchant account with a bank and had to jump through hoops to convince them you were not a fraudster and worthy of an account.

Those days are over – within 5 minutes you can now have a Stripe or Paypal account set up and are ready to take payments from anywhere in the world – even over the phone.  Stripe is a professional credit card processor (setup by two very clever Tipperary boys).  The fees are 2.9% + .30c per transactions.  Yup – there are fees on transactions.  I was surprised when clients were surprised by this when I started out.  Then I realised that they were used to cash purchases where there was no surcharge.  With online purchases you are essentially giving your money to a middle man who then pays a third party – that middle man needs to be paid.  The beauty of it is that you can get paid even when you are not sitting in your shop.   The one gotcha with Stripe is that you have to wait for 7 days for the money to hit your account – this is to do with anti-money laundering and security protocols.

Paypal on the other hand is a payment system – you can pay money into your Paypal account much like a bank account and transfer it to others.  It also acts as a merchant for your payments allowing you to process other people’s credit cards.  You don’t even need a website to take payments with Paypal – you can just send an invoice.  Some people do not like using Paypal so it is really important to give them options.  I always recommend using both Stripe and Paypal.

Both of these payments processors are quick and easy to set up.

Point Of Sale / Inventory Management

What if I sell something online but have already sold it instore?

Every eCommerce system has some form of inventory management and if it doesn’t – maybe try one of the options I suggest below instead.

Inventory management allows you to keep control of your stock.  You tell your website that you have two dresses in stock, when it sells one, it adjusts the stock levels and shows only one available to people browsing.  This helps you keep your house in order but also adds an element of urgency to your customers purchasing journey – win win!

A Point Of Sale (POS) system is simply a way to manage your products and inventory easily and from one place.  For most shops – this is your cash register and your head!   If this is the case – you will love using your website to control your prices and inventory and most systems have a Point Of Sale portal that you can use in your shop.  This can be set up on your computer or a tablet so you can integrate your in-store sales with your online sales.  Now you can get your cousin Jenny to watch your shop for a half day without having palpitations or 20 phone calls about missing price-tags!

The Technology

The technology is just a tool so you should choose the option that best suits your budget, current situation and comfort level.  Don’t dread it!

I am going to start with WordPress as these are the types of sites I build – custom designed websites with a robust back end that allows you to update your own website.  If you already have a WordPress website – your quickest and most integrated way online will be with WooCommerce.  The base software is free but the add ons can be expensive.  Setting it up takes a little time and effort so if you can afford it – it is worth getting done professionally.  The beauty of the WordPress / WooCommerce route is that you own your own website and have complete creative control over it.

If you don’t have a website or your website is not compatible with WooCommerce – by far Shopify is the quickest way to get online.  Shopify has excellent features like accelerated checkouts and remembering shoppers details by their phone number.  I really love this feature and it has led to me purchasing more than a few products at lightening speed before I had the time to talk myself out of it.

Both WooCommerce and Shopify have a world of ‘Do It Yourself’ tutorials out there so if you have no budget and an appetite to learn – hop on over to Google.

However, the easiest way to get online is to have someone upgrade or help you set up your website and now is just about the best time ever to approach this as there is funding and support available from the LEO’s (Local Enterprise Office) to help you do this.

Funding

The Trading Online Voucher or TOV for short, is a maximum €2,500 grant to get your business online.  Normally, you need to match fund it 50% of the cost of the project up to a maximum of €5,000.  In this example you could get a €2,500 grant but have to pay €2,500.  However, to help businesses get online during this Covid-19 crisis the LEO are doing a special voucher of €2,500 and you only need to fund 10% – €250 – now that is much more achievable.  Check out the Trading Online Voucher details and application information here.

If you want to go with a Shopify solution this grant will cover getting a consultant to help you set up your web shop and also will cover the fees for the coming year.  If you want to upgrade your WordPress site for eCommerce – again this is covered.

There is an eCommerce solution for everyone, regardless of budget and there genuinely has never been a better time to get online.

Despite how easy all the guides make it sound – there are always gotchas when it comes to getting online which is why we really recommend having a professional build or update your store.  From setting up your domain, creating email addresses, integrating analytics and social media accounts – it can be overwhelming. Having someone guide you who has been through it all before, seen all the pitfalls and can act as your cheerleader makes the entire process quicker, easier and more enjoyable.

We provide both guided setups as well as full custom builds for eCommerce stores so contact us to have a chat about getting your shop online on your terms.

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