Turning Your Physical Store into an Online Store
:: By Arash Amini, Amini's Galleria ::
As the longtime owner of a thriving brick-and-mortar store, I resisted the online retail game for years. At first, e-commerce seemed like a niche market that didn't really demand my attention, but as more and more businesses began to move online, I could no longer ignore the writing on the wall. Online retail isn't some fad for tech-savvy agoraphobics; it is the new wave of consumerism, and those business owners who are still dragging their heels are missing out on tremendous profit potential. I only wish I had come to this important realization much sooner.
Taking the plunge
Not long ago, I stumbled upon a very revealing Nielsen Global consumer report. It found that an astonishing 83 percent of Americans shop online, and that Americans spent $186 billion in online sales, just in 2010. That number continues to rise. As I see so many traditional businesses lament their declining sales, I just want to tell them, “Your customers haven't left you. They have just changed their shopping habits.”
Even as I began to see potential in online sales, I resisted it on the grounds that my products aren't exactly mailbox-friendly. I run Amini's Galleria, which specializes in such big ticket items as arcade games, high-end furniture, luxurious rugs, pool tables and home theater equipment. I once assumed that nobody would purchase such sizable inventory over the Internet. Boy was I wrong. Since I started Game Room Champ, the e-commerce division of Amini's, I have seen online sales for gaming equipment exceed our in-store sales.
So once I realized that I needed to take my business online, the next big question was, how do I actually do this? The Internet doesn't play by the same rules. You have a world of competition, and a laundry list full of unique variables to consider.
Setting up your website
Fortunately, technology makes it possible for even the least Web-inclined neophyte to successfully run an online store. Companies like BigCommerce, Magento and Shopify make it easy to build a website, set up project pages and manage inventory, without any necessary knowledge of online coding or development. For a small monthly fee, you can choose a custom design, organize all of your pages, accept credit card transactions and manage your shipping. It really is a lifesaver, because even if you hire custom developers, you still need to be able to make basic changes on the fly and keep track of all of your transactions.
Getting noticed online
I quickly learned that actually having a website isn't enough. In fact, that was just step 1. The bigger question is, how can people actually find me? When I realized that most online shoppers use search engines to find what they need, I had to do a bit of research to determine how I could achieve the best search engine placement. Fortunately I was able to hire an excellent search engine optimization (SEO) company, but I realize that not all small businesses can afford these services. Luckily, the Web has some great resources like Moz and Google Webmaster Tools, which are filled with useful information for making an impression in those all-important search engines.
If you take your business online, make sure to emphasize stellar customer service. I learned very quickly that online shoppers are very well-versed in Internet culture, and if they aren't satisfied with the product that they receive or the amount of time in which they receive it, they will quickly take to the review sites and potentially tarnish your reputation. Answer all emails promptly and politely, remember to delicately ship all items as quickly as possible, and if a customer does complain, address the issue at once. It can make all the difference in the world.
Like me, you may benefit from hiring some Web developers and SEO experts, but it all depends on how comfortable you are managing your online presence, how much inventory you have to keep track of, and how much money you can afford to invest.
We can go back and forth all day about the details of how to best manage an e-commerce shop, but if there is one thing that I would urge you to take away from all of this, it would be to just do it! If you haven't yet made the jump from local shop to online enterprise, now is the time. You're missing out on tremendous potential as we speak, and your competition is reaping the rewards. So fire up that dusty laptop and start making some sales.
Arash Amini is the CEO and Founder of the family owned and operated Amini's Galleria. With five stores in St. Louis, Overland Park, Kansas City, Tusla, Oklahoma City and the online shop Game Room Champ, he is an expert in expanding a small business to a national scale.