To thrive in the digital era, all businesses need to be where their customers increasingly are – online. In 2015/16, Australians spent a whopping $41.3 billion shopping online according to a press release published by Roy Morgan in 2016, up 9.25 per cent on the previous financial year.”
Although the popularity of e-commerce amongst consumers will only continue to trend upwards – in fact, four in five internet users in Australia now prefer to buy online (WebAlive, 2015) – only 41 per cent of small businesses nationally have a website. This means three in five are yet to realise the advantages of having one. Why is this the case? Perhaps they don’t think a website is relevant for their business or they assume the associated costs are too high. Maybe they’re apprehensive due to a lack of tech know-how or a perceived risk of being hacked.
Whatever the case, if your competitors have an online sales portal and you don’t, your business is at a distinct disadvantage – especially as a digital shopfront is not just another channel for netting sales, it’s also a useful information hub for consumers, with the potential to generate real-world foot traffic for your brick-and-mortar store. Worst-case scenario: customers won’t know you even exist, which effectively gives your web-enabled rivals carte blanche to dominate the addressable market.
According to Tony Nash, founder of Booktopia – the 2014 Telstra New South Wales Medium Business Award winner – a barrier faced by budding e-tailers is the “perfection mindset” . His advice to small businesses is to not delay the launch of their e-commerce-enabled website by obsessing over every detail but instead get it up and running as soon as possible to help start generating sales.
Fortunately, there are a number of quick, easy and inexpensive ways for small business owners to establish an e-commerce presence without knowing how to code or having to engage a coder.
Online marketplaces such as eBay, Etsy and Amazon Handmade are enabling small and micro businesses as well as creative sole operators to quickly establish digital shopfronts while overcoming a key barrier to reaching potential customers – the tyranny of distance. In the case of Etsy, for instance, COO Linda Kozlowski told Dynamic Business the marketplace enables arts and craft sellers to reach a global community of 29 million buyers, while equipping them with “the tools to help them manage and scale their business the way they want to, regardless of their goals, including product listings, the payment process, marketing their brand, shipping, wholesaling, website build and educational content.”
Additional solutions range from harnessing Facebook Shop to establishing an e-commerce-enabled social media page, or building an e-commerce-enabled blog using WordPress and a free shopping cart plug-in through to engaging an e-commerce solutions provider, such as Neto, which enables SMEs to build an online store in a single-integrated platform across the business.
Of course, there’s no substitute for a business having their own, unique, e-commerce-enabled website; however, as Nash told Dynamic Business, businesses that don’t nail the customer’s attention risk missing out on sales. For instance, he said providing customers with “too many options” throughout the checkout process, and overburdening them with information, can make them abandon their shopping cart.
“Businesses have to be able to usher people through the checkout as quickly as possible and this means making the process as tight as possible,” he explained. “If people have to go through a few pages, present them with really simple decisions and don’t overload any one page with too much information. You want them to think “that’s good, that’s good,” enter their credit card details and then they’re done. Plus, if you’ve stored data on existing customers, this enables them to go ‘one click, done’.”
Nash also indicated that it is important for small businesses to ‘project success’ via their website design and layout .
“A lot of our website’s look and feel was born out of a conversation I had, six or seven years ago, with our then site designer,” he said. “I explained that our revenue was, at the time, $20 million but that when someone comes across our site for the first time, in circumstances where they don’t know who we are, there’s a question we want them to ask themselves – and that’s ‘how much revenue do you think this company is making?’ The answer has to be $100m. The goal was to give customers the impression that we are bigger than we are. Today, our approach is much more user experience-centric. We’ve got a whole team whose roles include looking at heat maps of where people are moving their mouse and clicking on site, with the aim being to know how best to optimise and improve the customer browsing and clicking experience.”
Nash advised small businesses to go with an e-commerce platform that is not only fast loading (“page loaders are critical because a slow-loading site impacts sales”) but can also handle mobile browsing. He noted, “45 per cent of people coming to our website are mobile users. That’s not to say that all these people convert but it’s common for people to use their mobile to browse the site, and undertake research, and then place an order from their computer later. Meanwhile eBay has stated that mobile users account for 70 per cent of their traffic. You’ve got to think about the mobile experience, and whether your site renders well on mobile, not just the experience for computer users.”
Finally, the logistics side of e-commerce is something Nash believes online businesses can’t skimp on.
“You’ve got to be able to get your product out as fast as you can and you have to be able to scale with the customer’s demands,” he said. “We have 135,000 titles in stock, ready to ship, and we ship 20,000 books per day. We’ve invested around $9 million in automation, automatic packing machines, scanners, conveyors – it’s all geared to inbound and outbound units as fast as we can because that’s what people expect. We also have a call centre ready to take inbound calls and help with the orders, including providing updates, and updates on the orders plus any questions they may have.
“All that being said, small business owners mustn’t – and I’ve said this before – get hung up on their site being perfect from day one. Get it out there and the sales will start coming, which will generate cash for future growth.”
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of Telstra or its staff.