Do you want to create your own online store?

How to take your business online: A step-by-step guide

How to take your business online: A step-by-step guide

It’s been two years since the pandemic, and COVID-19 continues to play a role in changing and redefining the ways we live, shop, survive and progress. Even as the new covid-boosted consumer trickles back to pre-covid physical shopping experiences, the quick and wide adoption of online shopping continues to persist and grow.

Growing internet penetration has been a key driver in enhancing digital adoption, not only for Indian consumers to shop, but also for Indian sellers to reach a wider market than before. As a young business in this ever-evolving shopping ecosystem, it is only wise to find a balance between your offline and online business. There are substantial and long-term benefits to both. But, whether you are a brick-and-mortar grocery store or a small business owner, the benefits of setting up an online shop to complement and support your offline business are compelling.

However, it’s advisable to run a few checks before you get into the big decision of transforming your business.

Let’s dive right in.

Why take your business online?

If you are unconvinced about taking your business online, here are a few reasons that will give you the confidence this is the right move.

Expand your customer base

Online stores eliminate operational limitations and timings. Your store could be based in Pune and a customer can place an order from Indore. An online store multiplies your customer base and caters to countless interested customers that you might not be aware of. In no time, you can grow your local business into a global one. So dream big!

Anytime and anywhere business operations

An online store reduces or eliminates the need for a physical presence at every business transaction. Help your potential customers learn about your products and place orders anytime — day or night, whether it's regular business hours or holidays. An online store for an offline business helps generate leads and inquiries even when closed. So you can follow up with your potential customers once you are open. It is equivalent to keeping your business 4x longer.

Improves business image

Most customers today check for the online presence of any business. Even if it’s simply the address location of your physical store. But that’s not all they look for. They look to make judgements of your product or service based on your website, user reviews, and more. In fact, the lack of an online presence impacts the trustworthiness of your business.

Therefore, having an online presence would simply make sense, even if it is just to ease your customers' confidence in you. So why not use that credibility to influence purchase decisions and conversions?

Scale up cost-effectively

When you take your business online, you are, at the very least, adding a lucrative sales channel at a minimal cost. Further, this opens up a world of opportunities in business automation, targeted marketing, automated accounting, efficient inventory management, and much more. Moreover, all your online business data gets captured in one place, enabling you to gather great insights into your business as you grow. All of these advantages put together allows your business to scale keeping your marginal costs disproportionately low.

Ready to take the plunge?

How to take your business online?

Taking your business online can seem like a monumental transition at first glance. So, let’s break this down into a step-by-step process.

  1. Research and preparation
  2. Build your online store
  3. Make your store ecommerce-ready
  4. Make your business discoverable online
  5. Get more customers
  6. Evaluate and grow

1. Research and preparation

Given that you already have an offline business, the basics of research and preparation outlined below may seem simple. And they indeed are. However, taking your business online changes your business in some significant ways. Hence, some of the steps you may already have taken while starting your business will have to be retraced keeping in mind the new realities of selling online. Let’s address each of the steps mentioned below:

1.1. Evaluate the viability of your business online
1.2. Figure out your inventory management
1.3. Determine your pricing strategy
1.4. Draft a new business plan

1.1.  Evaluate the viability of your business online

If your business is primarily or exclusively offline, consider whether it makes sense for you to move it online. This part of the process requires you to take into account the following factors.

  • Market viability

    For taking your business online, you need to know if the online market as it exists today has room for you in it. You can evaluate the market viability of your business by using:

    • Market size: Does the market have room for new sellers? Can it grow?

    • Competition: Can your business compete with existing online businesses in your category in the same market?

    • Target audience: Does your customer buy online? What are their shopping habits?

    Additional resource:

  • Product viability

    This step determines the product-market potential – i.e. how will moving your product online affect consumers' interest? You can evaluate product viability by using:

    • Demand: Is there a good enough demand for the product online?

    • Profit margin: Can your online venture bring you the expected margins with similar products and services available online?

    Additional resources:

    Technically, your online business should be viable from both parameters - market and product, so that it hedges your losses, prevents deadstock in your inventory, and saves marketing efforts.

1.2. Figure out your inventory management

When you take your offline business online, you open up a tremendous opportunity to scale. This also becomes an inventory management challenge. While traditional ways of inventory management with spreadsheets may have been sufficient to cover your demand offline, retaining the same methods might clog up your potential to scale in the following ways:

  • Increased stocking expenses: You may need to stock a larger inventory of orders from your suppliers and manufacturers to meet the new demand online.

  • Increased risk exposure: Your business will be more susceptible to demand shocks and market fluctuations which may cause you to overstock inventory or oversell without sufficient inventory in place to fulfil your orders.

  • Increased operational complexity: As product demand increases so does the complexity of inventory management. Moving your business online without preparing for this complexity beforehand may cause you to wing immediate solutions to challenges and you may end up with a host of inventory management solutions that don’t integrate together.

Therefore, it is imperative that you take a fresh look at your inventory management. Check if dropshipping is a model you can explore to minimise all of the above threats. Also, taking your business online opens up a goldmine of data from which you can gather insights about how your inventory and market demand changes over time, as well as utilise more robust methods of forecasting your stock flow.

You may also consider implementing and improving existing inventory management techniques like Just In Time, First In First Out, and Six Sigma to optimise your inventory management processes.

Making the actual operations simpler, ecommerce platforms like Shopify offer an inbuilt inventory dashboard that automatically tracks your existing stock, as well as inbound and outbound orders. Additionally, you can further optimise by choosing from a number of inventory management plugins available to integrate with your store. Altogether, it helps reduce spillage, storage costs, deadstock and eventually improves cash flow.

1.3. Determine your pricing strategy

In all probability, you already have a pricing strategy in place for your offline store or business. Given that you are now opening up a new market for your products, evaluate whether you should change your pricing strategy based on the new opportunities and risks that come with taking your business online.

For example, if you had a cost-plus pricing approach that worked for your offline business, will that remain the same when you sell online? You may realise that the competitive landscape for your product is quite different online, and you might need to consider a competition-based approach, where you offer a price lower than your competitors.

In a different scenario, you may realise that taking your business online gives you access to an entirely different consumer segment, where you may have the opportunity to earn more thorough a value-based pricing approach.

To learn more about pricing strategies for an online business check out 10 ways to find the perfect price for your products.

1.4. Draft a new business plan

Your business plan sets the blueprint and roadmap for your operations and growth. Taking your business online means that some of the assumptions you had made in your existing business plan would now have changed. Based on all the information you have gathered above, you should be in a position now to take a good hard look at your business plan, in case you already had one. If not, it’s as good a time as any to draft one now using this business plan template.

Once you’re done with the research and preparation phase, you're all set to build your online store.

2. Build your online store

The obvious next step in the process of taking your business to the next level is setting up its internet headquarters – your online store. This is a fairly straightforward process involving the clear steps outlined below:

2.1. Choose the right ecommerce platform
2.2. Select your domain name and host
2.3. Design your website
2.4. Showcase your products and services

2.1. Choose the right ecommerce platform

Almost all ecommerce marketplaces Amazon, Flipkart, eBay, and Etsy provide great additional channels to take your business online. However, launching your own online store gives you invaluable control over your customer’s journey – helping you translate your offline experience into an online property.

Many online businesses today opt for an ecommerce platform like Shopify to build their ecommerce stores. In fact, you can also integrate your Shopify store with ecommerce marketplaces and other sales channels. With the variety of platforms to choose from, it becomes imperative for you to select one best suited to your needs.

To compare the best ecommerce platforms available today the following resource would be a good place to start:

2.2. Select your domain name and host

A domain name acts as a differentiator for your business. The right domain name represents your brand and informs the customer’s first impression about your store.

Since you presumably already have customers, leverage your brand recall and augment it online by keeping it similar to your brand name, if not exactly the same. Also, keep in mind that in the new competitive landscape online, there may be brands with similar names that already exist. Give a thought to how you can differentiate your domain name from similar ones. But it’s good to remember the basics – avoid unfamiliar, misspelt, complex words, and hyphens, and keep it short.

The next thing to consider is a web host or domain host, which provides the servers for a website to run and store its content. In addition to providing your website with adequate storage, speed, and reliability, a good domain host will support the platforms or tools you may require – for example, online payments integration. For some website builders like WordPress, you need a third-party domain hosting provider. Whereas Shopify is fully-hosted, which means, every subscription plan includes domain hosting – with extra domain fees applicable if you want to have a custom domain name.

Additional resources:

2.3. Design your website

Your website is your internet storefront. Let the design fundamentals of your existing brand guide you in the choices you make. However, also keep in mind your consumer’s tastes and preferences.

Shopify has a number of themes and templates for you to choose from, and it’s quite easy to apply them to your store, right out of the box. Alternatively, you may choose to hire a professional web designer or talk to Shopify Experts, to help you get your website just right.

Additional resources:

2.4. Showcase your products and services

Just the way a physical store has products arranged in aisles and shelves specifically to influence customers’ purchase decisions, your product page is its digital counterpart. Except, there’s no store representative to guide them with additional information about prices, variants, discounts and offers. The entire burden is borne by the way your products are showcased.

Here’s a basic checklist and resources to help you create your product pages.

  • Product images: Use high-quality images with a zoom option. Ensure all images are of the same size and resolution for all your products.

  • Product descriptions: Avoid complex jargon, cliches, and long sentences. Highlight benefits over features.

  • Product categories: Add filters, provide accurate pricing details and any other information your customer might need (manufacturing date, expiry, EDD).

Additional resources:

Once your online store is built, the next step is to make it ready for ecommerce.

3. Make your store ecommerce-ready

The goal of taking your business online is to be able to conduct business on it. This means, your customers should be able to pay you, and you should be able to fulfil their orders. In fact, in addition to these two, building an ecommerce store opens up the opportunity to integrate your operations right into your store.

Let’s take a look at each of these steps, one by one.

3.1. Set up payments
3.2. Integrate business processes with your store
3.3. Manage shipping & fulfilment

3.1. Set up payments

Consumers of today have a variety of payment preferences ranging from UPI, wallets to traditional credit and debit cards in addition to cash payments. To enable these transactions on your online store you must set up a payment gateway. A full-package e-commerce website builder makes this straightforward so you can hit the ground running with multiple payment options on your store.

3.2. Integrate business processes with your store

You can now seek out options to integrate your online store with your physical business's back-end accounting, marketing, manufacturing, sales, logistics, inventory management, ERP and more. In addition, there are a number of automation apps you can check out to figure out which ones can be integrated into your business. This combines many of your necessary workflows and processes into a single system to make the overall operation smooth and functional.

Additional resources:

3.3. Manage shipping & fulfilment

Expanding the geographical reach of your business requires you to be able to manage the logistics of delivering your products to the end consumer. This could mean last mine delivery in your locality or shipping across states and countries. Wherever the new scope of your business, it means that you have to come up with a shipping and fulfilment policy. Also, there are a number of helpful third-party apps and plugins to manage shipping and fulfilment seamlessly.

Additional resources:

Now that your store is ecommerce-ready, flip the welcome sign.

4. Make your business discoverable online

In the massive network jungle of the internet, how does a potential customer find you? Obviously, creating an ecommerce store is not enough. Your online business presence must be easily discoverable for you to have any chance of success online. The following steps will help you get there.

4.1. Search engine optimise your store
4.2. Set up your Google my business page
4.3. Sell where your customers are likely to buy online

4.1. Search engine optimise your store

Once you set up your website, you need the attention of search engine bots. Implementing the best practices of search engine optimisation will help rank your store in Google’s search results. And thereby drive traffic to your store.

In order to understand how SEO works and how to apply it to your store, check out the resources below:

Yoast SEO website

Source: Yoast

Once again, there are a number of apps like YoastSEO available as easy plug-ins on Shopify, to make this simple.

4.2. Set up your Google my business page

This is what your existing customers will discover if they google the name of your business. Setting up a Google my business page is important to leverage your existing customer relationships to further strengthen your online presence. Also, use the opportunity to link to your online store.

However, that's not where the benefits end. It will allow other stakeholders like potential employees, investors and media as well to discover you.

Here’s how you should present yourself in your Google business profile.

  • Be crisp and clear about what your business does.
  • Highlight your uniqueness that stands out from your competitors.
  • Add a brief history about your company to make your business personable.
  • Search engine optimise the content of your business profile.

Google business profile

Source: Google

The Google My Business profile description of The Machan in the image above captures all the necessary details along with a clear descriptive copy.

4.3. Sell where your customers are likely to buy online

Where do your potential customers usually buy products like yours online? Perhaps, ecommerce marketplaces like Amazon, Flipkart, eBay and Etsy. Or, maybe from social media.

The market study done in your research and preparation phase should give you a fair idea about your potential customers’ preferences and behaviours.

To begin with, it's always a good idea to be where your customers are likely to make purchase decisions. And why waste an opportunity to drive sales right there?

While your products could be independently listed on ecommerce marketplaces, now that you have your own online store, you can manage all your sales across different channels on a single dashboard. For example, the Amazon Integration Plus app on Shopify helps you seamlessly sell your products on Amazon, right from your store.

If social media is where your customers are likely to be – like say Instagram for jewellery products, you can open an Instagram jewellery store without a hassle with the Facebook sales channel app on your Shopify store.

Additional resources:

By setting up these sales channels, you get to leverage the algorithms of such marketplaces and social media platforms to enhance the discoverability of your business online. Always make it a point to link back to your own store. That way, you can minimise paying commissions and additional charges to the other platforms.

5. Get more customers

 “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.”

This century-old quote attributed to John Wanamaker, a retail tycoon, has become an advertising cliche. Way before the options available today, advertising was a hit and miss. One could only advertise in widely consumed media. And for most products, paying for the attention of a large audience, most of which wouldn’t be their target consumers, was unviable. Although this truism still holds true today to some extent, digital marketing has ensured that the targeting of your message can be fine-tuned to a remarkable degree

After all the efforts to make your store discoverable, a launch day with no active visitors in Google Analytics is every entrepreneur's worst nightmare. If you want your store to be a virtual hotspot, you need to market your products and your store online. There are plenty of marketing channels and marketing strategies to help your business acquire customers. Let’s discuss a few here and leave you with additional resources to get into the weeds of the wide world of digital marketing.

5.1. Understand digital marketing avenues

5.1. Understand digital marketing avenues

The internet is a wide interwoven tapestry of marketing possibilities. Your potential customers not only use digital media to buy stuff but also to function in their day-to-day lives, from Google searches to emails, social media and more. Each of these presents you with unique opportunities to market your business. Below is a list of resources that guide you through understanding your marketing avenues online:

The internet, however, is a constantly evolving landscape. So these resources are enough to bring you up to speed but by no means exhaustive. There will be more to discover and learn as your business grows online.

    5.2. Learn digital marketing strategies

    There is a diverse fare of well-wrought time-tested digital marketing strategies that have proven to work for ecommerce. The resources listed below will give you a fair idea about some of these.

    A wholesome digital marketing exercise would include a well-thought-out mix of some of these strategies. However, do not be limited by these. Always leave room for innovation in your marketing brainstorms for that breakthrough idea that creatively addresses your marketing challenges.

    5.3. Define your target audience

    The key to beginning any marketing activity is to understand your audience. Who is your target customer? What are their preferences likely to be? What are their purchasing habits like? All such information will inform your customer persona and further determine how you market to them online, especially so with the great opportunities for personalisation that online marketing affords. The comprehensive blog below will help you break this down.

    5.4. Define your marketing objectives

    Certain measurable end-goals must define every marketing exercise you undertake. The essential end-goal, of course, is driving sales. But when defining your marketing objectives, you should get more specific than that.

    marketing objectives

    Where in your marketing funnel does the problem lie precisely? Is it a lack of awareness or a lack of conversion? Define your marketing objectives as specifically as you can to attack the problem head-on with the most refined marketing strategy.

    5.5. Draw up a marketing plan

    Once you have determined your target audience and defined your marketing objectives, you have enough information to get started on building a marketing plan. While drafting a marketing plan, you will have to make certain critical decisions, from determining your budgets to crafting your marketing message. The resource below will help you with this.

    5.6. Leverage marketing automation tools

    The true power of your digitally transformed business is the reduction in human intervention, not just for the menial and repetitive tasks in your business operations but also for marketing. A number of marketing automation tools exist in the market today for you to choose from and implement. If you make yours a Shopify store, several marketing automation tools are available as seamless plugins and apps – be it for creating digital assets for marketing or processes like automated emails and posting. This way, a good part of your marketing can be left to run on auto-pilot, day or night. Check out the resources below:

    5.7. Improve customer service and retention

    The goal of getting more customers does not get served by marketing alone. Once you take your business online, your customer service expectations change significantly. This means your customer must be able to contact support, put in enquiries, self-serve their requests online etc. easily. Moreover, an online business has the ability to predict some of the problems that customers face, which creates an expectation that they pre-empt those. 

    For example, answers to frequently asked questions should be readily available to customers. Likewise, troubleshooting guides, user manuals, and such self-service mechanisms should be a couple of clicks away. For example, many customer service queries can be consolidated and handled through a chatbot on your store. 

    Below are a few general tips to help you get your customer service right:

    • Have a shorter response time on closing inquiries, resolving issues, and taking feedback 
    • Take the lead in closing the concerns within 24 hours to 48 hours 
    • Communicate with customers through their preferred channels (emails, calls, and social media platforms) 
    • Use the live chat to optimise your online store
    • Streamline and automate customer service through chatbots
    • Personalise every support interaction
    • Actively listen to customers to get valuable insights on business operations

    Additional resources:

    6. Evaluate and grow

    You can’t measure how many people see your outdoor hoarding. But you can measure how many people respond to your Google Ad to visit your online store.

    When you take your business online you will discover a sea change in what you can measure, over and above what you already did for your offline business. The enormous amount of data that your online business can capture must be put to work for you.

    So, how do you go about it?

    6.1. Identify your KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)
    6.2. Measure the metrics
    6.3. Learn, iterate, optimise, grow

    6.1. Identify your KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)

    What are the parameters you measure to assess the performance of your offline business, i.e. your KPIs? For instance, the performance of a physical retail store can be evaluated using the following indicators:

    • Sales per square foot
    • Sales per employee
    • Sales per month
    • In-store footfalls
    • Enquiries
    • Conversion rate 
    • Inventory turnover rate
    • Average transaction value
    • Gross and net profit

    Some of these KPIs for an online store mirror the ones for a physical store. For example, in-store footfalls can be mirrored by website traffic. Likewise, conversion and average transaction value remain important but are measured differently for an online store. However, since measurement of granular metrics at every stage of the marketing and sales funnel is possible, there is an excellent opportunity to add many more, like:

    • Organic acquisition traffic
    • Cart abandonment rate
    • Email clickthrough rate
    • Impressions
    • Reach
    • Engagement

    And that is to name just a few. The thing to keep in mind though is that since there’s a metric for everything, you must define the ones that are key to the performance of your business. So choose the most important metrics to assess your business and not merely vanity ones.

    For example, your website traffic metrics may be great. However, your conversion rate is critical since the ultimate goal is more sales. Thus pick the most valuable KPIs to optimise instead of vanity ones.

    Learn more:

    Next up, how do you measure these metrics?

    6.2. Measure the metrics

    Google Analytics is a robust framework. You can also use Google Tag Manager to measure customised KPIs for e-commerce, which can be very helpful in analysing your position in the market. Most of the data collection can be set up conveniently without having to fiddle with the website code or logging into the online store. 

    With time you will know which strategies are working and which aren't. Use the identified KPIs and analytics tools to arrive at valuable insights. While the business objectives remain unchanged, measuring the metrics will help you tweak the plan of action and implement new strategies whenever required. 

    6.3. Learn, iterate, optimise, grow

    With all the insights you’ve mined from the data available online, you can pull the various levers of your online business to iterate. With each iteration, you measure and gain new insights. This process repeated over innumerable cycles is how you optimise to grow your business online. This is what growth essentially looks like.

    With time, you will learn, unlearn, relearn, meet challenges, discover new opportunities and expand your business sustainably, way into the future.

    Web up your business expansion with Shopify

    Making that first move to taking your business online can seem daunting. A significant mental barrier among others may be the technical headaches involved in starting your own store. You may assume a need to hire an army of web developers, content managers, social media experts, and digital marketers to make it happen. While they may still add value at some stage, the native features of Shopify and the intuitive simplicity of its user interface make it extremely easy to get started with a lean team. This means your overall ownership costs are kept disproportionately low while expanding your opportunities to scale your business online by an order of magnitude.

    Among the many offline businesses that successfully took their business online with Shopify, below are two case studies for inspiration:

    Every ecommerce success story has a beginning. And Shopify will be glad to help you take off. Whether you are a small and medium business or a full-scale enterprise at the cusp of digital transformation, get started with your 14-day Shopify trial and pick a plan that suits your needs.

    FAQs

    1. How to evaluate if your business needs an online presence?

    Most businesses today need an online presence, whether or not they actually sell online. To check if taking your business online is a good idea:

    • check if your business works in an online selling model
    • identify your online customer base and how you can cater to it.
    • determine your market and product viability.
    • check for long-term sustainability of your business if moved online

    Each of these steps requires deeper delving into. Check out how to evaluate the viability of your business online, for more information.

    2. How much does it cost to move an offline business to online?

    Since it depends upon specific business needs, there is no set cost to move an offline business online. From hosting and website building to security, shipping, online payment integration, customer service, marketing tools, and more, a lot of factors are involved in determining the cost of making the transition. With Shopify, the basic plan starts at $29/month after a 14-day free trial.

    3. How to promote your business online for free?

    There are a number of ways to promote your business online for free. However, even if the promotion itself is free, there is usually some upfront work or investment involved. Below are some of the methods to promote your business online for free:

    • Effective search engine optimisation
    • Organic social media marketing
    • Email marketing
    • Content marketing like blogs and videos
    • Online communities and industry forums

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