A complete guide on how to move your offline business online

Ecommerce has been increasing its share of the retail market exponentially since the mid-2000s, and this has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. Rapid technological advancements in the fulfillment and logistics industry mean that all retailers from grocery stores car dealerships can do at least a good deal of their business online.

Over the last 18 months, United Tires have managed to pivot tire dealership, from a pure brick and mortar retailer to one that makes 95% of our sales online. Here we will share some of the ways that helped to make this transition seamless, as well as some of the things that we would have done differently in hindsight.

1.    Test our ability to fulfill online orders on existing customers

Before you start ploughing money into Social marketing your new online store, you need to make sure that you actually have the backend infrastructure set up to deliver products quickly and reliably.

You will not know whether you have this nailed down until you test it. Having an existing customer base puts you at an advantage against new eCommerce businesses in your industry because you can more easily find people to make early sales to and test your ability to fulfill these orders.

Getting these early orders in is simply a case of telling your current customers that they can now get their products delivered. Many people would, in all cases, prefer to buy products online. Therefore, assuming that you have an efficient means of communicating with your customers (an email list is perfect for this), some will make this switch without too much promotion.

If getting your existing customers to make this switch takes a little extra pushing, then a discount to mark their first online purchase can help with this. If you can deliver on time, and assuming that they live locally you should be able to offer next-day delivery, then chances are they will continue to buy your products online.




2.    Focus on marketing to locations where you can offer free or next day delivery

Although one of the main advantages of expanding to eCommerce is that you can now reach a bigger market, you need to pick your battles with you you promote to.

Unless you have built a big brand already, chances are that you will use paid advertising to drive traffic to your online store. You can buy traffic for much cheaper if you focus on just advertising to specific locations.

By focussing only on advertising in locations where you offer free and/or next-day delivery (ideally both), your overall offer is much more appealing than if you were not to offer such a level of service. Stating on your advert copy that you offer free or next-day delivery should increase conversion rates from these adverts, improving your margin per sale and then allowing you to grow faster in the long run.




3.    Do not underestimate the increase in pressure on your inventory management

Although as a retailer you will be used to managing stock and inventory, the increase in scale and speed of delivery required in eCommerce will make running this side of the business much harder.

We underestimated this and made the mistake of adding too many new products as we were first transitioning online. This wreaked havoc with our ability to offer the delivery times that we promised and even earned us some negative online reviews.

You can try and shallow out this learning curve by not adding too many new products to your inventory during the early period of your online transition and by investing in your fulfillment team. Investing in solid omnichannel retail software can also help lessen some of the growing pains of the backend of your business.




4.    Do not get too complacent with paid advertising

Although paid advertising is the quickest way to take advantage of your increased capacity to sell, your need to constantly put money into adverts will reduce your profitability in the long term.

The most effective way to market your new online store is to have both paid and organic growth strategies. Paid advertising can help you make early sales, see what products are most popular, and what type of communication resonates with your target market. This should inform a longer-term organic strategy where you target specific buyer intent keywords around your more popular products.

A rough guide for an organic strategy for an eCommerce store should include:

  • Building out your product pages to make them as detailed as possible with product photos and videos
  • Creating blog posts about topics that should interest your target audience.
  • Engaging with PR to build links to your website
  • Hire a technical developer to make sure your site has the correct architecture (very important for growing websites).



Summing up

The pivot from a brick-and-mortar store to an eCommerce or hybrid one is not easy, but your existing retail presence does give you a significant advantage over a brand new eCommerce store.

By far the most difficult initial part of this pivot to get right is fulfillment, so start slowly and locally until you are confident in your ability to reliably fulfill a large number of orders each day, then focus on developing an eCommrece store and marketing your business further.