Invest Now, Reap The Rewards: Crucial Ecommerce Technologies for Small Businesses

By Dax Dasilva, Lightspeed 

The future of ecommerce is bright. 

It's easier than ever to get online and start selling in no time, and the benefits of ecommerce extend from making a small business look more established and professional, to reaching customers outside a certain geographic proximity, to allowing customers to research and browse products before heading into a physical store. A seamless ecommerce experience can make or break an online sale, but surprisingly enough it's the oft-overlooked back-end technologies that help win over customers. Retailers need to pay close attention to these "invisible" investments to ensure their website delivers a seamless, memorable customer experience. 

Inventory Management: 

Much like juggling a brand new physical store, adding a new ecommerce store - in addition to a brick-and-mortar store - may leave retailers feeling like they need to be in two places at once. Inventory management across an omnichannel selling experience is crucial for keeping customers informed on real-time product information and availability. But unlike a physical store, an ecommerce store is missing an employee that can alert managers when the store across town is running low on a certain item. Online retailers can use technology to get the virtual stockroom assistant they need by investing in an inventory-centric point-of-sale (POS). Physical store's inventory and website stock need to speak to each other in real-time: choose a POS that can easily link to a Web Store. There's no need to be in two places at once with all inventory information in a single dashboard: an at-a-glance inventory view across in-store eliminates accidental over-ordering  and can help retailers quickly reallocate inventory across all channels. 

Shipping Technology: 

There's no doubt ecommerce competition is fierce-- the pressure is higher than ever to offer free or even same-day shipping, but not every retailer has the same budget as Amazon. But with the right technology, shipping desn't have to be a nightmare for retailers or their customers. Choose an ecommerce platform that offers an open API, enabling shipping quotes from various carriers to actually be integrated into your Web Store. Customers can easily pick and choose the option that suits their budget and needs best. 

If free shipping isn't in the budget, get the customers to do the legwork, while also meeting demand for "instant gratification."  With real-time inventory management across a webstore and a physical store, local customers can be automatically alerted when a product is available for pickup in-store, giving them the option to forgo potentially costly shipping charges.

A Different Kind of Shopping Cart: 

It's easy to oversimplify the ecommerce process: a visitor browses the store, hits "add to cart" and then moves to the checkout page when they're ready to purchase. However, much like shopping in a brick-and-mortar store, many consumers use the virtual basket as a holding area for items they're considering, and may plan to compare or cast off items before the final purchase click.

When designing an online store, retailers have the option to choose a "mini cart" or a "full cart." A full cart is a dedicated page that includes a single-screen view of everything you've added, including product images, descriptions and prices. This enables shoppers to add or remove items all within that page with a single click-- think of it as a virtual dressing room that allows shoppers to pick out what really works for them. 

The mini cart - a small box that remains on a corner of the screen while a shopper browses other items - offers a quick but limited view of of the basket. It's typically text-only and the scroll style can make it difficult for users to compare similar items or pick out mistaken duplicates. While mini carts often drive users to the checkout page faster than the full cart option, they can create more confusion or doubt for shoppers once they get there - two major factors that can mean the difference between a conversion or the dreaded abandoned shopping cart.  

Focus Group Testing, Online Style: 

In the early days of advertising, businesses had to go through lengthy focus group testing to understand which phrases or images best catch a customer's eye. Website technology can now do that in a fraction of the time for a fraction of the cost. Tools like Optimizely offer real-time testing across websites or mobile sites to see if a page that advertises free shipping drives more leads than a page that offers a limited time 10 percent off discount. A product like Dynamic Yield offers retailers the option to serve a different experience to a customer based on who they are: repeat customers can be served a more personalized home page, while new leads see a more introductory page. Equipped with the right information, retailers can make the quick adjustments to website layout or wording that mean all the difference to a customer's experience. 

Creating Content, Creating Customers:

While less of a "technology," a key investment that shouldn't be overlooked is website content. Customers will visit a retail site if they already have a product in mind, but a steady stream of content can draw new customers that may not have originally intended to make a purchase. A blog can be a store's number one marketing tool: an expert voice builds loyalty and trust with customers, and can ultimately help a retailer be seen as a go-to source when local shoppers are looking for shopping advice.

The technologies that take an online store from basic to booming don't have to break the bank. It's about understanding customers and giving them the seamless experience they'd expect from a bigger brand. Smaller retailers can compete thanks to affordable cloud technologies that help them connect with customers in a highly personalized way that will move them from browsers to buyers. 

Dax Dasilva is the creative mind behind Lightspeed's suite of retail and hospitality tools.