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E-Commerce for Small Business: Starting Out

A surprisingly large portion of small business owners may be missing out on a relatively easy way to attract and retain customers. According to the CNBC/SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey, 45% of business owners said they don’t have a website for their business.

It’s a shocking statistic, given how common business websites are. “Having a website is like having a business card,” digital marketing expert said Antara Dutta in the report. A similar sentiment can be made for e-commerce functionality. After all, customers regularly shop online or check a store’s website to look at information for products. E-commerce for small business levels the playing field, helping smaller establishments compete with larger companies.

Thankfully, your small business can take advantage of e-commerce rather easily. By understanding the importance of implementing an online storefront and some of your options for inexpensive, easy-to-maintain e-commerce solutions, you can help your business take its next step as painlessly as possible.

Why Is E-commerce Right for Your Small Business?

Your small business may not need an e-commerce presence. But in the light of the evidence, it’s a fair assertion that it could.

First, it’s important to point out how much consumers like small businesses. Software company Salesforce found that 86% of people surveyed would pay a little more to work with a small business. Nearly as many people said that they would go out of their way to shop from locally-owned businesses often (47%) or sometimes (36%). And almost all people, once they found a small business they like, would either always (59%) or sometimes (36%) be likely to tell others about it.

Online shopping is also appealing to consumers. The data website Brizfeel surveyed more than 30,000 customers worldwide, and found that 57% prefer to shop online compared with 31% of consumers who would rather go to the store — 12% had no preference either way. Total retail sales in the United States reflect the move toward e-commerce. For 2019, consumers spent $601.75 billion online, based on figures from the U.S. Department of Commerce, which represented an increase of 14.9% from 2018. Note that the growth rate was higher than the difference from 2017 to 2018, at 13.6%.

In recent years, the advice has always been that online e-commerce is important for small businesses. And given how much consumers like small businesses and shopping online, giving your audience a way to purchase items online is a simple — and not optional — step. Your business needs to cater to online shoppers to accommodate your current and prospective audience. The results can easily make it worthwhile.

Small business insurance provider Insureon found that 43% of small businesses experienced significant revenue growth with their online sales. Eighty-one percent of small businesses said their online sales are important or very important to their success.

It’s important to note that your prospective online store isn’t a replacement for your physical store. If anything, e-commerce reinforces your physical store. Take the example of eyeglass retailer Warby Parker, which previously only sold online, but made headlines when it decided to make the switch to physical retail stores.

“Over 75 percent of our customers who have purchased in our stores have been to our website first,” company CEO Neil Blumenthal told CNBC. “They’re not going to the website just to look at the store address or the hours of operation. They’re actually learning about the brand; they’re browsing different products. The majority of retail in the U.S. — in the world — is done within the four walls of the store.”

Starting Your Online Storefront

The most important and obvious question when you commit to e-commerce for your small business is exactly how to proceed. What route should you go?

Thankfully, you don’t need to spend a lot of money upfront or undertake something complicated. If you’d like to invest money into an e-commerce site that truly meets your needs, then, by all means, you can get a professional solution that can catalyze your business. However, it’s not a strong option for most small businesses.

Years have passed since the custom-website-or-nothing answer. Instead of coding e-commerce capabilities onto a website, one solution is to, either for a new or existing WordPress website, add the WooCommerce plugin to integrate secure payment, shipping, and more. WooCommerce doesn’t require any payment upfront and costs 2.9% plus $.30 per transaction on U.S.-based credit cards. If you’re not familiar with WordPress, it’s the most popular content management system and an obvious choice for any website. You could easily purchase a WordPress theme to build or have a freelancer create a website. Those would be you only upfront costs in addition to your domain name and hosting fees.

If you’re not interested in anything remotely tech-savvy, Shopify is another primary option for small business owners. It’s a little bit different than something like WooCommerce because Shopify is a platform that integrates everything you need in one product. You get the website, e-commerce integration, hosting, security, and more with Shopify. The basic plan is $29 per month. Alternative all-in-one solutions include Squarespace, 3dcart, and BigCommerce.

Take some time to research your options based on your budget, time, and comfort level with technology. Remember that you can always upgrade in the future to get more control over your site and save on monthly fees for platform solutions. The most important part is to start your e-commerce store to benefit your small business.

Next Steps

Once the e-commerce part of your business is up for your small business, keep an eye on how well it’s doing. Monitor how well it’s doing from a revenue perspective and, especially, pay attention to how your customers are reacting. Ask them in person and on social media. Are they having technical issues? Does it help to shop online or at least browse your products before coming to the store?

Use metrics and feedback to make improvements to the store. As you learn more about how e-commerce specifically impacts your small business, you can think about updates or investing some of the profits back into the website. For instance, you might consider hiring a developer to make a WordPress site that will eventually save you money.

As you evaluate the e-commerce store, work on your marketing. Integrate social campaigns that drive people to your store. Do the same with email campaigns to create a presence that works seamlessly across your physical and digital stores. You could consider earning an online MBA to enhance your marketing knowledge and entrepreneurial skills, and, ultimately, help your small business thrive.

Earn one of the most sought-after degrees in a fully online format from Concordia University, St. Paul. There’s no GMAT or GRE score required, and you can transfer up to 50% of your graduate credits to CSP. Pursue your goals and learn from professors who have real-world experience.