It’s a tough time to be a small business to say the least, especially if you’re operating with a physical location. However, tough times allow those who are willing to adjust the capacity to flourish while their competition falls behind. If you’re a local business looking to start offering more online sale opportunities for your customers amidst additional lockdowns and draconian mandates, you’ll want to know where to start.
There are several options available to give your website ecommerce capabilities. In this post, I’ll walk you through some tips on how to establish ecommerce tools on your website so that while your physical location may be closed to the general population, you still have the opportunity to flourish digitally.
Simple digital soutions for local businesses
If you don’t currently have a website then this section is for you. If you do have a website but are looking for an easier alternative to manage and design, this section is also for you. In recent years there has been a boom in automating once arduous and frustrating digital processes, one of those being the creation and maintenance of websites. In the past, you would have either had to hire a web developer to build you a site or you had to learn how to do so yourself through mind-numbing platforms like WordPress. In short, it was a pain to quickly build a website by yourself. Fast forward to 2020 and you can easily build your own basic website in a night. Additionally, all of these “do it yourself” platforms provide ecommerce solutions that are in many ways better than standalone platforms and plugins.
Squarespace was one of the first website builders to truly make the process simple and accessible to the general populous of entrepreneurs and content creators. Squarespace users have the ability to choose a template style most aligned with their business or personal use and subsequently use drag and drop elements to quickly create a slick and professional website. You can purchase a domain through Squarespace or transfer a pre-existing domain through the site.
Squarespace also has integrations specifically for businesses looking to sell their products online. You have the ability to take online payments via Stripe, PayPal, and accept in-person payments with Square hardware. Those purchasing products from your site will be able to browse and add items to their cart as they would with any other online retailer. Squarespace also provides numerous customization options such as limited availability alerts and the ability to create customer surveys or share a gifting message. Squarespace’s tax tools make compliance simple with the ability to set local tax rates for countries and regions, tax-inclusive pricing, and automated sales tax filing.
A direct competitor to Squarespace, Wix provides businesses and individuals with a similar drag-and-drop experience. Like Squarespace, you have the ability to choose from a number of themes and layouts that you believe align best with your business brand and from there customize them to your liking. Wix also has an ecommerce platform completely devoted to entrepreneurs and small businesses looking to sell their products digitally.
It appears that Wix has invested a little bit more into their ecommerce capabilities than Squarespace as their marketing copy and positioning has placed them in competition with platforms like Shopify. They clearly have a desire to be your one-stop-shop for web services as well as your online store. With Wix Payments, you can manage all of your business transactions and accept secure online payments all from one dashboard. In comparison to Squarespace, it looks as though Wix has the more robust ecommerce platform overall.
Although many of these tools made it easier than ever to build a website by yourself, there is always the option to outsource the creation to a professional. The biggest factor that many professionals will have an upper hand with is the aspect of conversion optimization. There are a number of small details and nuances to web and landing page building that if leveraged correctly can increase the probability that users will purchase from you.
Conversion optimization may have a substantial, long-term, net positive on your business profitability that (if the right professional is chosen) will offset any costs for creating the website over time.
Some of these details include how the site navigation is oriented, the persuasive language used, the way that your shopping cart element is optimized, as well as overall aesthetic appeal.
Ecommerce-specific platforms for local businesses
There are a number of platforms you can use to build an ecommerce website/online store that can make the process of selling your product digitally much easier. The website builders I have mentioned above have integrations that allow for a small operation to successfully navigate the online sales process. However, some businesses may want the extra bells and whistles that come along with a full-fledged ecommerce-specific web tool. Here are some of the best options to consider if you want to take that route:
One of the largest and most widely adopted, Shopify is an ecommerce platform that allows you to set up an online store and sell products. This description is deceptively broad, however, because Shopify allows you to do so many things associated with online sales that place it above and beyond many competitors in the market.
Similar to Squarespace and Wix, you can purchase a web domain through Shopify, select themes, brand and customize your store, in addition to a plethora of marketing and SEO tools at your disposal. I would recommend Shopify to businesses who are serious about transitioning a large portion of their operations online. For those who run small local shops, it may make more sense to go with the less elaborate options, however. You can manage inventory, payments, and shipping in addition to a variety of cart and customer experience options.
If you already have a website, you can integrate Shopify by using their “Buy Button.” Buy Buttons can show product pictures, descriptions, and prices, all while letting customers purchase products without leaving the website. Alternatively, you can link your online Shopify store through your website’s navigation, all while having the customizable options to maintain your brand.
For those whose site is built on WordPress, WooCommerce offers a customizable, open-source ecommerce platform. WordPress gives website builders a lot of versatility when it comes to the plethora of plugins available. WooCommerce is for those who are looking for the customizability and versatility to build their own online store specific to their needs. Given that WordPress typically isn’t a desirable option for those who are on the inexperienced side of building websites, I would recommend some of the more simpler and user-friendly options.
5. Big Commerce
Similar to Shopify, Big Commerce gives businesses a wide variety of tools and flexibility in creating an online shopping experience for their customers. Their feature set includes a drag-and-drop page builder solution, theme customization, checkout customization, mobile optimization, as well as a WordPress integration.
6. Toast for restaurants
Given that the restaurant industry was arguably hit the hardest by the COVID-19 impact. Many local restaurant owners need to start thinking digitally amidst looming lockdowns and further restrictions on in-person services. One of the restaurant-specific companies out there doing a lot to help the restaurant industry is Toast.
If you own or operate a restaurant you may be familiar with Toast’s robust point-of-sale technology. However, given the ever-evolving industry conditions, many restaurants are seeing a lot of their revenue through online orders. Toast has streamlined this process for restaurants by offering their Digital Online Ordering suite. This tool allows restaurants to take orders directly from customers without having to rely on the commissions of alternative services. Customize your digital brand and presence with a mobile-optimized experience your customers will love while your staff spends less time on the phone. For more information on Toast’s digital ordering platform see here.
Choosing the right platform for your local business
Although almost anyone can navigate the internet with ease, building (or extending) your business online can be challenging, particularly if you don’t have a lot of experience in the web development realm. There are countless tools out there to use but choosing the right one comes down to your unique business needs as well as the complexity and extensiveness you wish to grow your ecommerce presence.
If you are a small local business just looking to offer online ordering of products, then I would suggest using some of the simpler, more user-friendly web options. If you are looking to devote your business operations to convert digitally, or be primarily digitally-focused, then I would recommend going with the more robust platforms.
As technology progresses, more and more simple-to-use website and ecommerce platforms have arisen. Almost anyone can go online and create a digital marketplace. The key to success is to make that marketplace conducive to your customer’s needs and as easy for them to purchase from you as possible.