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How to Bring Your Brick-and-Mortar Business to the Digital World

Justin E. Crawford

Justin E. Crawford

Justin E. Crawford is the founder of Agents of Efficiency, Inc., author of "Live Free or DIY: The Time-starved Small-Business Owner’s Survival Guide" and the chief architect of the Efficiency Roadmap process, which helps small businesses across the country thrive. As an attorney, entrepreneur and operations consultant, he has more than 15 years of experience launching and growing companies.
Justin E. Crawford

For brick-and-mortar entrepreneurs, all of the business’ features are right there in front of you: the storefront design, the products, the signage, the customers. You can engage with all aspects of your business directly in a set physical space. Being accustomed to this concreteness, it can be a bit of a challenge to envision your business in a digital space.

What would it look like? What platforms would be used? How can online and offline sales processes be integrated into one manageable system for your staff?

Let’s first cover the basics.


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Get inspiration before building

Entrepreneurs want to be original and go beyond their competition, but to do this, they need to know exactly what their competitors are doing. Brainstorm what businesses in your industry have both in their physical and digital stores.

Then, go check them out. Consider things like:

  • How are their online and offline catalogs different?
  • What aspects have they chosen to highlight online?
  • How is their inventory categorized and presented online?
  • What seems clunky and what seems enjoyable throughout the shopping process?

These nuances will get your brain moving about how to innovate beyond what’s already being done within your similar space. By first playing the role of the customer, you’ll have the perspective to create a better user experience for your audience. Browsing competitor shops gives you an idea of what you prefer and how you want to organize your own e-commerce offerings.



Select the right products

Depending on the nature of your business, it may not be practical or even necessary to sell the exact same items online as in your physical store.

For larger items, shipping costs and the hassles of shipping itself must be factored in. Offering flat shipping rates and/or free shipping past a certain dollar amount is a smart option. This ensures that your online customers know what to expect up front.

Also, research shows that unexpected fees play a big role in abandoned shopping carts, which happens more than 50 percent of the time on most e-commerce sites.

Sift through your inventory and identify bestselling items. These are the ones you’ll want to showcase in your online storefront.

In addition, consider what your customers request on a semi-regular basis (e.g. once or twice per month), especially if it requires you to make a special order. For these items, it may be easier to have customers put their orders in online. You can then let customers know the particular item is available without the stress of keeping it in stock in-store 24/7.

Another thing to consider is your target demographic and how they might change or expand to include new groups. Now that you’re no longer limited to just those in your geographic area, what additional products might you offer that would appeal to a wider audience?

Compare platforms

There are a variety of e-commerce platforms for online retailers: Amazon, Shopify, Magento and Squarespace, to name just a few. Deciding on the appropriate platform will be one of the biggest decisions you’ll make in the process of building your e-commerce presence.

Additionally, incorporating tools like Square can help simplify the payment process for both you and your customers. These tools can be synced with your digital store and allow you to accept alternative payment sources like Apple and Android Pay. They also provide data that helps you keep track of inventory and sales both on and offline.

Having this data at your fingertips will empower you to make more informed decisions about budgeting, marketing and inventory.


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Perfect your storefront

Once you lay the groundwork for your e-commerce store, it’s important to tweak the details as you gain more information.

These edits will depend on your unique business model, but all web-based retailers should:

  • Simplify: The fewer clicks it takes to get through the checkout process, the better. Small features like auto-selecting shipping methods and not requiring a sign-in will speed things along for your customer.
  • Categorize: This is especially important for retailers with many different types of products. You may want a feature that displays similar products to shoppers based on what they have purchased in the past. Making sure your menu categories are intuitive is also paramount in reducing shopper frustration.

You can spend eternity rearranging your homepage, but don’t get caught up in details that are negligible. This is especially true for retailers whose traffic comes from social media, landing pages or direct product searches. If consumers don’t typically land on your homepage, but a different page of your store, don’t let the homepage eat up all your time. Put the most effort into pages that get the most eyes on them.

Remember, your digital storefront is not just for digital buyers, either.

Some retailers report a noticeable boost in physical, in-store sales after launching their e-commerce site.

Studies show that 80 percent of consumers do their research and price comparisons online, but still prefer to make the final purchasing decision in person.

Launching an e-commerce store can be overwhelming, especially for those entrepreneurs who prefer the concrete world of brick-and-mortar business. But with the correct tools and integrations in place, you can build a thriving digital storefront that practically runs itself.

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