E-commerce 101: How to run an online business

Blogs 3 Jul 2020

Expanding your bricks and mortar into clicks and mortar is easier than you think.

The COVID-19 pandemic in the UK has highlighted just how valuable the digital landscape can be for small businesses. Learning new skills has allowed many to adapt quickly and stay ahead of the curve, but as we return to work, many are realising the power of e-commerce for small businesses.

Significantly, 40 per cent of UK shoppers say they will make more online purchases after lockdown ends. And, as you might expect, it’s the younger generation who said they were more likely to make the swap, with 59 per cent of those aged 25 – 36 more likely to shop online.

So, how can you continue to meet your customers’ needs online?

Whether you’ve already started out online or you’re ready to take the first step, our top tips will guide you through how you can take advantage of digital tools to grow your business.

What is e-commerce?

E-commerce simply refers to the ability to make transactions over the internet. It’s when your customers are able to order your products or services online, without having to visit your shop.

Typically, this involves offering a delivery service, but ‘click and collect’ (or ‘clicks and mortar’) services have also become popular in recent years, where customers order online for pickup at a later time.

The first step to building the e-commerce side of your business is your website.

Why does a small business need a website?

Think of your website as your virtual shop front. It’s where your potential customers can stay in the know about new products and offers, as well as find out more about your business and read testimonials. A relevant, well-maintained website is a valuable asset to any business. It can help bring new customers into the fold whilst reinforcing your brand identity in the minds of existing customers.

If you don’t have the budget to hire an agency to create a bespoke ecommerce website for your business, don’t worry! There are plenty of affordable options out there – platforms like WordPress and Shopify allow you easily build and customise your online storefront.

Review your website regularly

If you’ve recently set up a new website for your small business, keep the momentum going and maximise you online presence by regularly updating it. This helps your digital marketing and search engine optimisation, and encourages customers to keep coming back.

There are three main reasons for updating your website:

Updating your services or products

Whenever your business changes, it’s important to make sure that your website reflects that.

For example, you might have adapted to offer home delivery services to customers during lockdown for those who are more vulnerable. Or, you may be offering new product ranges to cater for people staying at home more.

If your website hasn’t been updated about this service with all the right details, people might not know what you have to offer!

It’s also important to keep all your contact details and opening hours updated – the last thing you want is to miss an order because they had the wrong phone number!

Improving the user journey

Think about if there is something that might frustrate or confuse a potential customer, which might cost you a sale.

Could your ecommerce checkout process be a couple of steps shorter, so it’s much easier to complete a sale? 

Questioning your own site in this way can help you improve parts of it that you otherwise might not have thought about. It can help you spot site errors or broken page links, which could otherwise slip through the cracks.

You should also be left with a more efficient, easier to use, and better designed website.

Getting involved with industry news

Regularly updating your site with industry-relevant content is a great way to keep your brand fresh in the minds of your current customers, and to help boost your brand to those who might still be on the fence about using your business.

Consider writing articles and blog posts on aspects of your industry that people might find interesting to read about. You could also write opinion pieces on technological advancements, changes in regulations, or other large developments within your industry.

Set up your online payments

Of course, having online payments set up is key for selling your products or services online! Make sure you choose a secure payment option to give your customers peace of mind. For example, PayPal is a common trusted method of payment. Your website should also offer other secure methods of payment to give your customers flexibility, such as with a credit card.

Update your Google My Business

Google My Business is a free tool that your small business should definitely by taking advantage of. When someone searches for your business online, Google will show them a summary with information about your business, like your opening hours and contact details.

Keeping this updated, especially if you’ve changed your hours or have a new website, means your customers will always be able to find you. You can even add posts with special offers or updates.

Google’s guide shows you how you can manage your business profile and easily connect with customers.

Get savvy with social media

These days, everyone loves to keep in touch through social media, and businesses are no exception! In fact, social media is an amazing tool for businesses when used right. Whether you’re sharing your latest offers on Facebook, updating your LinkedIn with insightful content or sharing behind the scenes clips on Instagram stories, social media is a valuable platform for small businesses.

Building your following on social media will help you advertise your business on a budget, whilst also keeping you customers up-to-date with the latest news. With a well-planned social media strategy, you can grow your audience, discover new customers and send them to your ecommerce website.

Don’t know where to begin? Our guide to social media for business walks you through the entire process, from setting up your accounts to scheduling your content.

Looking for help with taking your business online and making the most of digital? Visit our skills hub to watch on demand webinars to help you master your social media.