Moving a large bricks & mortar store online

In today’s world, consumers have never been more demanding. This year alone, it’s expected that 300 million people will shop online for products — with the majority purchasing something once a month or more. And who can blame consumers? They want to shop from the comfort of their home, snuggle on the sofa, watching on-demand TV because it’s easy.

If your brick-and-mortar store doesn’t have an online equivalent, you’re missing out on sales and limiting growth opportunities. So, how can you take a sizable physical storefront online? Let’s explore.

Understand your online opportunity

Before you move online, it’s essential to understand the opportunity for revenue in your industry (likely huge!).

Luckily for you, brick-and-mortar retailers have been tapping into e-commerce for years, so the data is out there. You’re familiar with what sells well on your shelves; why not apply that knowledge when building your online shop?

Opening up online sales can increase your sales by at least 16% or more — and this figure is only set to grow as by 2040, it is estimated that 95% of purchases will be facilitated by e-commerce.

Choose an e-commerce platform

You need to choose the right e-commerce platform to support your business. This is a big decision and will determine your online store’s growth rate, so spend more than a moment researching this with your current team.

But what kind of homework should you be doing?

First, think about the features you need. Do you want something simple? Or do you need more advanced features like inventory management tools or integrated email marketing campaigns? Do you need fulfilment tools? Some platforms offer these services, while others don’t. But, what you gain in features, you can often lose in customizability. For example, WooCommerce is fully customisable but only offers a few out-of-the-box solutions; the onus is on your development team to create features. Whereas Shopify is feature-rich, the costs add up very quickly and so can be expensive.

Before committing to anything, be sure to research which platforms seem to suit your needs and look at what other stores in your industry use. The platform you choose will influence the cost of online store maintenance (some platforms carry a hefty monthly fee) and how many employees are needed once web traffic increases (more on staffing later!).

Next up: Think about the cost to your business. Sometimes investing more money upfront can help you later down the road — especially when moving an established offline business to an online space. More expensive initial investments in custom stores on WooCommerce often come with additional benefits worth paying (for example, built-in SEO tools or advanced analytics reports).

Are you finding all this information overwhelming? Here are a few differences between two of the most prominent players in e-commerce: WooCommerce and Shopify.

Migrating your store online

Once you have decided on your platform, it’s time to get down to business. Here are some things to keep in mind as you set up your online store:

  • Choose a name for your store: This should be fairly easy; in most cases, you’ll name it after your business. However, it is worth making sure nobody else is already using your name for a similar service or product.
  • Choose a domain name (e.g., www): Domain names usually consist of two parts: “www” refers to World Wide Web protocol; after this comes another word describing what type of content is hosted on that particular site (e.g., “fitness”). Typically, you name your domain after your brand.
  • Designing your store: Much like creating a brick-and-mortar store, a lot of thought goes into designing an e-commerce store. The trick here is to design something visually appealing (maybe even beautiful) that also increases conversion rates. Not sure where to start with that? We have some great tips in our e-commerce guide.

Import your products & set up a catalogue

Importing tens of thousands of SKUs to an online store can seem overwhelming to anyone. Doing it by hand (or copying and pasting) will take valuable time away from your staff.

E-commerce platforms have solutions for this, so you don’t need to spend that much time writing products manually. For example, if you’re using WooCommerce or Shopify, your integration partner should be able to help you automatically pull product information from your current POS.

Happy days! Your inventory is now online. You will need to spend time cleaning it up, though. No inventory list is entirely clean. In our experience, even a POS that is ‘clean’ has a few tweaks you’ll need to make.

Here are a few things you (along with your e-commerce agency partner) will need to fix:

  • Images: This seems like a small task, but it is actually where the bulk of time goes when migrating a store. All of your products need images (if you’re using something like LightSpeed or Square, you can add these directly into your POS). Later down the road, the quality of these images will determine conversion rates, so it’s worth investing time in this upfront.
  • Meta details: You’ll need to ensure titles, descriptions, and categories are all correct. Customers love to filter products by category, type, size, and colour. The more information you can give them, the better. Spelling mistakes are easy to rack up in a POS and oh-so-bad for conversion rates online.
  • Inventory management: If you’re pulling information from a POS, that POS needs accurate inventory information. Your online store will update stock levels when sales are made automatically, but the info it gives you is only as good as the initial stock take.
  • Rules: Now for the fun part! You can set up custom discount codes, pricing rules based on shipping addresses, and automatic sales tax when your products are online. Think about what rules you want for pricing before your store is finished to give your development team time to work their magic.

Customise your store (the bells & whistles)

One of the mega advantages of taking a shop online is that you can customise every part of the buying experience for potential shoppers. E-commerce stores that are customised for user experience have, on average, 2 to 5x higher conversion rates than out-of-the-box stores. For a store that currently does $100,000 monthly, that’s a difference of $1.2M a year.

Customer service is particularly low-hanging fruit when it comes to customisation. Humanistic buyers tend to favour human connection above all else when amid a purchasing decision, so optimising your customer service has enormous potential. This can range from having a chatbot to having a large team of people ready to guide buyers through the buying process through live chat. Being around to answer potential customers’ questions during the process using techniques like chatbots can increase conversions by 52%.

Ship products and fulfil orders

Delivering products to customers in their homes can unlock growth potential for your business.

You can ship products and fulfil orders directly from your online store or outsource this to a third party. On platforms like WooCommerce, you can even integrate with the packagers, and delivery team, to mean that customers know exactly where their parcel is at any time. We did something similar to this when we completed a custom build for Zest meals.

If you partner with a fulfilment warehouse or distribution centre, most good e-commerce platforms can also integrate with their software.

Customers are accustomed to stores like Amazon, which update them at every part of the fulfilment, so ensuring your store can update users on estimated shipping times when the order is ready and when it’s out for delivery can help with conversions.

Market your store

Finally, the time has come to market your store! People don’t just magically appear on a website — you have to attract them.

We have a few great tips for when starting to sell online here, but if you’d already in the middle of your marketing budget cycle, here are a few ways you can integrate marketing your online store with existing efforts:

  • Use the power of social: Social commerce is fast becoming the most talked about type of commerce in 2023, and for a good reason. In 2023, people will spend around $1.3 trillion through social media. An easy way to take advantage of this is to connect your online store to a social product catalogue and create a full-integrated shop on Instagram that pushes through your website.
  • Remember paid advertising: Online paid advertising through Google, Bing, Meta, LinkedIn, and others is another excellent way to target customers looking for specific products or services in the area where you operate. With paid ads, you can serve up ads based on what people searched for online before coming across your ad space — so even if someone doesn’t know about your business yet, they may still be interested in learning more once they see an ad from you while browsing other sites online.
  • Harness email marketing: Email marketing lets you reach out to people without going through channels like search engines or social media. When done right, emails have great ROI.

It’s easier to set up an e-commerce business than you think

With all this said, you might think migrating to an e-commerce store is too much of a headache.

It’s anything but that! While there are many moving parts to an e-commerce business, the right e-commerce growth partner can make the process easy and unlock a significant new revenue stream.

For now, don’t get overwhelmed by the number of options available. Instead, focus on understanding your online opportunity and immediate requirements.

When you have a vague understanding of your requirements, it’s time to call in the cavalry! AirVu Media is here to help you when migrating your bricks & mortar store online. Contact us today for a free consultation.