Business Basics: Considerations for companies starting to sell online

07 June 2018

In this month’s edition, we talk to David Hallam, the MD of supply chain and e-commerce specialists, OrderWise. Here, David offers guidance for businesses looking to take the plunge and start retailing online – helping them identify when to commit to e-commerce, and how to increase the chance of greater success. As Lincolnshire’s Business Person of the Year 2017, David is well placed to provide his advice to businesses of all sizes.

starting to sell online

Here is David’s guide to what you should consider when your business first approaches online retail opportunities. 

Making the shift into e-commerce can be daunting for businesses used to selling through more traditional channels. Do you think there’s ever a ‘right time’ to start selling online, and do you have any advice for those worried about taking the plunge?

The right time to sell online is right now. Depending on your industry, there’s a chance you’ve left it too late already and your business is behind the competition. We live in a digital world now and your business must either adapt or disappear.

Adjusting to the e-commerce landscape can be a steep learning curve for even the most well-established brands. In your experience, what are some of the most common mistakes companies make when heading online?

A common mistake that we see revolves around business systems, growth and scalability. E-commerce trading can grow rapidly and not having a suitable system in place from the outset that can scale up to cater for growth can lead to problems in effectively managing the business. 

selling online guide

It’s important to have a system that is powerful enough to cope during start-up and early trading, but that can also comfortably handle increased volumes and complexities going forward. 

Failure in this regard can lead to business disruption, drops in efficiency levels, reduced customer satisfaction, missed opportunities, and ultimately reduced profitability. 

Mistakes in the proper consideration of suitable systems, future proofing and scalability are often made, but with careful planning, procurement and implementation, they can be avoided.

What should a business owner’s top priorities be when setting up an e-commerce function? Should these include the likes of securing the right technology, ensuring supply chains are fit for purpose, and investing in more staff?

All of these! But in terms of technology, seamless integration between websites, online marketplaces and back-end systems is key to ensuring effective business performance, customer satisfaction and maximising sales opportunities. 

Working with one fully-integrated system can save time, increase efficiency, reduce errors and provide businesses with the structured end-to-end management needed to stay on top of business operations.

Full marketplace integration provides the synchronisation required to display correct stock level availability across multiple channels and marketplaces which eliminates over-selling and provides better customer satisfaction. 

selling online guide

Having a system that can manage all sales channels and synchronise orders, stock levels, pricing and customer information all from one central hub means that high levels of efficiency and productivity can be achieved. 

Understanding where to invest their money is perhaps the greatest challenge small businesses face when starting to trade on the web. In your view, what proportion of their budget should businesses spend on building their website, and how much should they set aside for marketing it?

Doing e-commerce is not a simple “from this year’s budget” thing. It’s your global shop window and must be treated as such. A website delivers only so much but must be considered with an online shop. Marketing them both, and costs for doing so, will vary hugely depending on the industry the company operates in.

A company needs to identify the 80/20 rule on marketing here. How can a company promote its new website and online store to the majority of its customers easily? Telling existing customers and offering an incentive to order online can be a big help.

For traditional companies used to normal trading hours, the 24/7 nature of e-commerce can quickly become overwhelming. How can business owners prepare for the increased demand while making sure they find the right work-life balance? 

A key area here is to implement business management software that can automate and streamline operations to reduce time-consuming processes and increase efficiency.

Another important factor is to ensure you have the right people, with the right skills in the right roles, to give you the confidence to delegate, where appropriate. In this regard, a commitment to staff training and development goes a long way – ensuring that staff have the skills to successfully perform in their roles, and that they feel supported, enhancing loyalty and commitment. 

Budgeting is crucial for brands heading online for the first time and hoping for a healthy ROI. What advice would you give to those concerned about financing a move into e-commerce?

Have clear, phased objectives of what needs to be achieved and in what order. Carefully determine how best those objects can be reached, execute and monitor the results. Make sure every phase is as measurable as possible. Report and justify the results and pause to analyse them. What happened and was it in line with the original expectations? What can be learned for future work?

selling online guide

Never before has e-commerce landscape been so competitive, with big brands like Amazon seemingly selling everything. How can a small brand, new to the web, hope to compete and ultimately get ahead of the competition in such a fast-paced and non-stop business environment?

A key starting point is to ensure that your business is maximising the sales channels and marketplaces available. Trading through a limited number of channels inevitably reduces sales opportunities. An increased presence provides greater exposure of both your brand and your products. So, in addition to a business’s own website, consider trading on Amazon, eBay, Google Shopping etc.

On these marketplaces, listing tools can be used for effective product management and are a great way of promoting your items on competitive online channels. Using listings tools is also a great way to utilise professional HTML templates, manage additional images and choose multiple product categories through which to list your items, all of which helps them to stand out from the crowd and maximise their chances of selling. 

In addition, repricing tools allow businesses to keep products competitively priced automatically without profit margins suffering. Through matching prices to customers, price management tools and the operation of multiple price lists can also ensure that multi-channel businesses fully capitalise on revenue streams.

For businesses trading on Amazon, using the above in conjunction with the Amazon FBA (Fulfilled by Amazon) service or SFP (Seller Fulfilled Prime) certification for deliveries, increases the chances of getting into the famed Amazon ‘Buy Box’ and having their listings heavily promoted by Amazon. 

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Another factor to consider is ensuring that websites are fully responsive, as today’s consumers are searching, viewing and purchasing goods on a variety of devices - PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Therefore, it’s important to cater for, and respond to, users’ behaviours and environments accounting for the platform, screen orientation and size. 

Obviously, on top of these factors, it’s crucial to have effective business management systems in place that provide robust stock control to ensure over and understocking is not an issue. Also, many industries must offer today’s demanding consumer a range of swift delivery options, including the increasingly popular ‘click & collect’ service. 

selling online guide

Have you found the guidance and advice in this article useful? Below, we’ve listed several related Business Basics Q&As you may be interested in:

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The views, opinions and positions expressed within this article are those of our third-party content providers alone and do not represent those of Gazprom Energy. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. Gazprom Energy accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. 

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