It has never been more important to have an online sales channel. The pandemic has shifted the majority of shopping online. Additionally, online stores are less expensive to run than physical stores and increase the customer pool that brands can target.
Speed is everything. “COVID has put pressure on brands to find solutions for their direct-to-consumer strategy,” Scalefast Co-Founder and CMO Olivier Schott says. “With so many retail stores closing, they need to be able to provide a way to sell DTC wherever those consumers are online.”
Brands that react to changing circumstances fastest will be best placed to continue meeting customer expectations and stand the best chance of surviving now and scaling in the future. Follow these seven steps to improve speed-to-market and decrease site launch time.
Have a Clear Focus
The team at eCommerce Guide recommends brands weigh their needs before anything else. Doing so will make the process much smoother. In particular, brands should identify what they need right now and how they plan to grow in the future. If growth is on the agenda, then finding a solution that scales is imperative.
It can help to rein in ambitions, write McKinsey’s Arun Arora, Philip Christiani, Ralf Dreischmeier, Ari Libarikian and Hayk Yegoryan. When the consultancy followed a European retail chain as they launched an online sales channel, they highlighted the store’s pragmatic approach.
“Rather than attempting to launch a full-blown digital business across all markets at once, the CEO opted to go to market fast with a limited offering and in limited geographies, gain strong traction, and then scale up and out aggressively.”
Choose the Right Platform
These solutions could impact the future success of the store, too. While SaaS and off-the-shelf eCommerce platforms are often the quickest way to get to market, they may not be the best solution for brands in the long term, writes Lee Colbran, Founder of digital marketing agency Fresh Egg. Most of these solutions are template-based, making it difficult to customize sites at scale. Bespoke solutions provide brands with precisely what they want and offer a much leaner experience.
Headless commerce offers an even faster way to market. Because the front-end store is detached from the back-end, brands can make updates much faster than with traditional solutions. Brands that already have a website in place can use a headless commerce solution to launch a store in a matter of days.
To move quickly in eCommerce, brands must partner with experts for support and advice. The more help available, the easier and faster it will be to get the store online and to keep it online.
Issues will happen when launching an online store. When they do, brands need immediate reactive support. Support tends to be undervalued by most brands when looking at eCommerce platforms, says Manish Dudharejia, President and Founder of marketing agency E2M Solutions. “Many of these platforms will try to sell you on everything being overly user-friendly to a point where you don’t think IT support is a big factor,” he writes. Professional support is essential, however, and it is even more so when brands plan to build large, complex sites.
When weighing up eCommerce providers, take support availability seriously, writes Amanda DiSilvestro at Search Engine Watch. “Take a look at each platform’s customer service—are they available 24/7? How are you able to reach them? How many levels of support are offered, and what does each cost? Think about these questions and make sure you ask them before you decide on your platform.”
Consider Platform Functionality
A platform’s functionality will also influence how quickly brands can start selling once their online store has been built. Take inventory management, for example.
Uploading products and creating product pages may not be straightforward for some brands depending on what they sell, writes Mike Hubbard, a Frontend Developer at Acro Media.
“If you’re selling large quantities of different items (i.e. Amazon), this is the most standard type of eCommerce business,” he explains. “Almost all platforms will support this. However, if you only sell a handful of unique products (i.e. Apple), being able to really tailor your product pages and customer experience might be a key requirement. If that’s the case, most out-of-the-box SaaS eCommerce platforms won’t give you that ability to customize the product page in the way that you want.”
Specific features, like bulk uploads and dynamic product filters, can also speed up the process of uploading products.
Usability is key too, writes Jia Wertz, CEO at women’s apparel company Studio 15. The user experience can differ massively between different platforms, which means brands must understand whether they will be able to use the platform before committing to it.
“Before you sign up for a specific platform, make sure you think hard about who on your team is going to be managing it—and see which interface they like better,” she writes. “Remember, you’re going to be spending a lot of time in there managing your business, so if the interface is clunky or confusing to you (or someone on your team), that’s going to pose problems and inefficiencies.”
Choose an All-In-One Platform
Launching an online store is not all about the website. There is a host of back-end factors brands need to consider. Brands cannot launch a website until they have worked out how to warehouse and ship products, writes Jason Parks, President at digital marketing agency The Media Captain. He recommends first answering the following questions:
- Will products be dropshipped or is warehousing needed?
- Which carrier is shipping packages?
- What packaging is required?
- Are there shipping restrictions with respect to your products?
The alternative is to work with an all-in-one eCommerce platform that handles warehousing and logistics on behalf of brands. A headless commerce solution can help here, too. Because headless commerce leverages APIs, logistics providers can use them to quickly access orders in real-time, writes Dion Beary at on-site conversion tools provider Justuno.
The right online platform can also help eCommerce brands overcome tax issues, writes Brian Wilchusky, Global Partner Manager at tax automation company Vertex Inc. He recommends choosing an eCommerce platform that automates jurisdiction identification and the final tax calculation, rather than complicating matters further with complex integrations between separate tax apps.
Scalefast acts as a merchant of record for brands that do business internationally. “That’s the entity that will bear the responsibility of anything that is tied to the relationship with the consumer — sales collection, filing and remedying taxes, the compliance with the local regulations, specifically commerce laws, and product return policies,” Schott says. Having a platform partner handle all of these tasks gives brands the freedom to focus on what they do best: Develop products and build customer relationships.
Launch As Soon As Possible
If brands wait for perfection, they will never launch, says Jonathan Long, direct-to-consumer brand creator. “There isn’t a better time to go live than ASAP. It’s the only way to know for sure whether or not you have a winning product with potential or a disaster that needs to be scrapped,” he writes.
The team at Foundr recommends teasing eCommerce stores before they are ready to launch. Create a landing page that explains the brand promise and provides a clear launch date. Encourage visitors to leave their email addresses to get notified when the store is live.
Brands should use their existing channels to drive traffic to the landing page, they add. “If you’ve started building an audience on social media, drive them to your landing page. People who know you are more likely to sign up for notifications.”
Eco-conscious haircare brand Nut and Noggin followed in the footsteps of DTC razor brand Harry’s and launched a giveaway prior to launch. In doing so, the brand grew their email list to more than 500 people in two weeks and meant they were actively marketing to customers as soon as their store launched.
Start Marketing Immediately
Marketing is a key part of launching an eCommerce brand and should be commenced immediately. Entrepreneurs significantly underestimate how much marketing is needed to grow an eCommerce business, writes Andrew Youderian, Founder of eCommerceFuel.
“Especially in the early days, it takes a lot of effort to get your business on the map and noticed.”
Where possible, focus efforts on an existing audience, writes Omar Itani, Founder of lifestyle brand Lovers of The Sea. “It’s becoming much more difficult to gain traction on social platforms like Instagram. And if you’re launching a brand with a bootstrapped budget you cannot rely on advertising as a means for building awareness: the competition is too high and if you don’t apply proper targeting metrics, you might end up burning your cash with no return on investment.” That is why it is so important to build an email list, as discussed in the previous step.
Content marketer Adam Enfroy recommends brands use every channel at their disposal to drive traffic after launch. That includes:
- Search engine optimization.
- Social media.
- Pay Per Click advertising.
- Affiliate marketing.
“Build brand awareness through Facebook ads,” he writes. “Optimize your product pages and content for higher search rankings. Entice customers to return and make a purchase through PPC and retargeting ads. And, drive more qualified sales through affiliate marketing.”
Brands can get online much faster than they think, but careful planning and execution are essential. Start with a clear focus before considering any eCommerce solution.Next, consider the best type of platform, prioritize one with exceptional support, excellent functionality and the ability to integrate (or handle) back-end functions like logistics and tax. Create a landing page that captures email signups, then launch the store as soon as it is ready. Do not wait for perfection. The faster the store gets online, the quicker brands can reap the benefits of eCommerce.