The COVID-19 pandemic and the government's response of enforcing different levels of lockdown regulations has affected the economy. Hard. As a business owner, you know this first hand. While restrictions are slowly being lifted to get our economy up and running again, one thing is clear: social distancing is here to stay for the foreseeable future. If your business is brick and mortar then it’s essential that you fast track your strategy of getting online, because even if you are allowed to open your doors again you will have far less foot traffic than what you were used to pre-COVID-19, and you will have to limit the amount of customers in your store at any given time.
Whether you’ve been thinking about going online but haven’t gotten round to it yet, or if it’s a brand new concept to you, we want to help. We’ve put together the following three point plan to help you successfully move your business online as quickly as possible.
Do your research
Before moving your business online it’s important to do extensive research to ensure you aren’t caught off guard and have a good understanding of the costs involved in running and maintaining an online store. This includes doing a bit of research into the price of your products, shipping options and what ecommerce platform is best suited for your business.
Doing your research can be further broken down into the following main points:
Know your product(s)
This means knowing absolutely EVERYTHING about it, from who is manufacturing or supplying it, whether there will be import duties and if you can handle the demand for it. When you have these facts locked down you’ll be able to more effectively establish important things like branding, pricing, shipping and marketing.
It’s also important to have a good understanding of who your intended customer base is so that you can cater to their online shopping needs and adequately market to them.
Know your competitors
The best way to learn about what works and doesn’t is by looking at what your competitors (both local and international) are doing on their online store. Pay special attention to their website layout, how user friendly it is to navigate, the image quality of their products, the different product categories and subcategories, and of course pricing.
Work out pricing and shipping
This is one of the most important things that will determine the success of your online business. You must take into account the manufacturing or purchasing and import costs so that you sell your products for a fair price while making a profit. As mentioned in the previous point, seeing how much your competitors are selling their products for is a good indication of what customers are willing to pay.
For shipping, it’s important to choose a trusted shipping company so that the products get delivered in a timely manner. When it comes to covering shipping costs there are a number of options you can look into, such as including the shipping costs in the products pricing to offer free shipping, having a fixed shipping cost for all products, adjusting it for the number of items purchased or offering free shipping when the total reaches a certain amount, such as R500 or more.
Build your ecommerce store
For many online business owners, this is the most fun and exciting part - customising your online store and seeing it come to life. The main points you need to consider are as follows:
Choosing your shopping cart platform
There are tons of online shopping cart platforms to choose from that offer different tools and functionalities. The different platforms offer a variety of packages, ranging from monthly to yearly subscriptions, some also offer free plans or at least free trials. What’s important is to find the platform that works best for you. Some of the most popular options are Shopify, WooCommerce (a free WordPress plugin), Prestashop, Magento and Ecwid. It’s worth taking a look at the 80+ cart list on PayFast’s website for more ideas.
If you have developing skills or want to hire a developer to create a custom online store, then that’s a valid option as well.
Once you’ve chosen your platform and designed it to represent your brand, then it’s time to add your products. We can’t stress the importance of having high quality photos of your products to give shoppers a realistic idea of what they are buying. You should also add a detailed description of what each product is, colour and size options (if applicable) and how it can benefit the shopper. The more information you provide will help with your search engine optimisation (SEO) ranking and also encourage shoppers to buy the product.
Integrating a payment gateway
Before your online store opens for business you need to integrate a secure payment gateway to receive online payments. It’s important to select a payment solution that facilitates a variety of payment methods, such as Visa and Mastercard credit and debit cards, Instant EFT, Masterpass, Mobicred, Zapper, etc. to give shoppers the option of paying with their preferred payment method.
One of the leading payment gateways in South Africa is PayFast; it’s trusted by over 70,000 businesses to facilitate their online payments. It’s free to sign up and there are no monthly fees, PayFast only charges a small percentage of every successful payment. PayFast is extremely easy to set up as it integrates with over 80 online platforms as well as custom integration.
Market your store online
Once everything is up and running it’s time to get your name out there to attract business. This involves making sure that every web page is SEO optimised with keywords to attract organic traffic, and that you put an effective and ongoing digital marketing strategy in place. You should monitor page views and conversions by using tools like Google Analytics, which will give you insights into what you can do to tweak copy, images or navigation to improve the shopper’s experience and to attract new visitors to your ecommerce store.
You can also use paid services to attract traffic to your website such as Google Ads and paid ads on Facebook and Instagram. Just make sure you do research into who your customer base is so you use the right marketing platform to target the right demographics.
If you haven’t done so already, register your online business on the relevant social media platforms so that you can promote your products and engage with your community. It’s also extremely beneficial to put together a database of all of your loyal customers (and potential new ones who are willing to sign up to your mailing list) so that you can send out marketing emails to them promoting new products or specials.
While moving your business online may be challenging, with a lot of testing and experimentation it will be immensely rewarding. It’s never been more important to get your business online, so we wish you all the best on your online business ventures.