Selling online: best practices and tips

Artisanal bakeries, restaurants, independent retailers selling niche and unique products, and many more businesses have recently been left with no option but to close their doors for more than a trading quarter. In response, many rapidly adapted their business models, providing consumers with the opportunity to purchase their products online for the first time.

Ecommerce – already offered by the majority of retailers and widely used by consumers prior to lockdown – has been transformed from a convenience into an essential offering throughout this period. It has and continues to be the only way that many of society’s most vulnerable individuals can access goods or services through an online store. 

In May 2020, nearly a third of UK consumers (32.4%) were more likely to order groceries online.1 Amazon is reported to have taken on 175,000 temporary workers since March of this year and 125,000 of these roles are expected to be made permanent.2 Even with the majority of global markets expected to shrink in the coming months, forecasts for e-commerce websites remain positive: online sales are expected to increase by 16.5% in 2020, with total online sales predicted to total nearly $4 trillion.3 

With access to the internet now commonplace, and with footfall continuing to decline, recent events have clearly accelerated an already rapid adoption amongst consumers. Organisations must continue or begin to offer their goods and services to an online audience in order to succeed post-Covid-19; here are several ways your business can do this:

Use digital marketing channels

We’ve written previously about how multi-channel digital marketing campaigns can deliver considerable results and this remains true even if your business is new to conducting commercial transactions over the internet. It could quite reasonably be argued that it is even more essential when new traders enter the marketplace.

Word of mouth is now more prevalent on social media than on the streets, for example, and 89% of online purchases are initiated by search engines.4 To put it simply, digital channels are now the most effective means of promoting your organisation.

Whilst advertising on platforms such as Google, Facebook, etc. can often be expensive, smaller businesses can leverage them by setting budgets and, by optimising their paid digital marketing efforts, can generate success with little initial outlay. Additionally, many digital marketing techniques do not require advertising spend; simply asking satisfied customers to like your Facebook page, name your business in a tweet or leave a review are all effective means of marketing your business.

Each time a customer does this, their friends or followers will be notified resulting in an effective and affordable means of generating awareness for your organisation. This technique can even be leveraged if you do not have a website, with many successful retailers selling through social media exclusively.

Offering valuable content to users via a website is another economical way of driving web users to your online properties. Again, if you do not have a website, you can simply share the content on social media platforms. If you owned a deli, for example, you could showcase an item by providing users with a recipe featuring it. Independent fashion retailers could provide articles on the season’s colours or other trends along with images of their relevant offerings.

Creativity is one of two key components of successful digital marketing campaigns that do not utilise advertising budgets. The second is actively encouraging existing customers to help circulate your materials online. Generating organic (i.e. unpaid) views of your website, Facebook page or any online property is all but impossible without the help of other’s social media accounts – and those owned and operated by consumers are exceptionally persuasive.

Encourage your patrons to share their positive experiences with their friends via digital channels in exchange for discounts or other benefits and you’ll be far more likely to generate an audience and awareness.

Leverage virtual resources

A website is, whilst not essential, highly advisable. It provides businesses with greater control of their messages, more opportunity to optimise their campaigns and an immeasurable number of ways they can improve their customers’ experiences.

Whilst owning and running a website would have required expensive on-site infrastructure, this is no longer the case and the remote hosting of websites has been commonplace for several years now. There are also a number of online programmes that now simplify the previously complicated and specialised task of designing a website.

The adoption of virtual infrastructure offers further benefits. Voice over internet protocol (VoIP) telephone systems – where voice calls are made or received via digital channels – yield savings of between 30% and 50% when compared to the costs of traditional telephony systems.5 Digital setups can also be instantaneously altered; if additional resources such as increased storage space for a database or a more robust payment gateway are needed, they can be purchased and used immediately.

Look to improve customers’ digital experiences

Just as a restaurant owner would address poor service, a shopkeeper would not stock products that their patrons did not want or a bakery’s proprietor would not tolerate an environment that had not been thoroughly cleaned, steps must be taken to improve customers’ online experiences, too.

Innovative offerings certainly have a place here but, whilst many will assume that they will be the only way to provide improvements to digital services, the fundamentals of performance are far more important.

Ensuring that digital properties can be accessed on all devices whilst remaining easy to navigate, that they load quickly, are secure, and are fully functional is vital. More than half of all users (53%) will, for example, abandon their attempt to view a webpage if it takes more than three seconds to load,6 meaning daily checks concerning performance should be prioritised.

Review and use data

As we’ve alluded to previously, innovative ways of improving your customers’ experiences will be needed. Identifying them, however, will neither be common or possible without effective data collection and analysis methodologies.

Tools such as Google Analytics and online surveys will be integral to the identification of shortcomings. Consider, for instance, how a large number of users leaving your website on a particular page would indicate that it does not fulfil their expectations or how a lack of visits to a product you offer suggests that it does not interest your customers.

As well as aiding the identification of shortcomings, data analysis can also help you to determine what you do well and aid the creation of powerful marketing messages. Long-term, data can be used to develop accurate forecasts that can help your organisation meet demands.

Free 2 hour data consult

Embrace partnerships

Organisations that advertise through Google, Facebook, etc. can benefit from that fact that these large and successful organisations want advertisers to prosper. Their success, after all, will result in them enjoying precisely what advertisers are looking for when leveraging their platforms: consistent and sustainable income generated from ongoing custom.

They make comprehensive training materials available to advertisers. All such companies also employ a fleet of account managers who can offer bespoke advice that is, due to sector-specific knowledge, typically granular. Accessing this resource, though, is dependent upon you requesting it with such assistance only automatically provided to organisations spending significant sums on advertising.

Just as social media platforms can provide businesses that do not yet have a website with a means of promoting and selling their offerings, so to can companies such as Amazon, eBay, Just Eat and Uber Eats. Unlike social platforms, each of these online retailers will require a portion of each sale or an annual fee but, thanks to substantial marketing budgets, established audiences and broad appeal, such partnerships are often highly profitable.

They are often so successful that businesses whose own online properties generate substantial traffic and sales use them as an alternative and supplementary route to market.

Finally, capable technology consultants, like the tech giants mentioned above, will recognise that your success is invariably linked to their own. ROCK possess such a mindset and also fosters a culture of client obsession to ensure that our clients receive a service that consistently adds value to their organisations. To find out more about how we can help your organisation use ecommerce effectively, click here.

  1. Statista (2020) Impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on online shopping in the United Kingdom (UK) in May, by shopping activity
  2. Charged (2020) Amazon to offer 125,000 temporary coronavirus workers permanent roles next month
  3. eMarketer (2020) Global eCommerce 2020: eCommerce Decelerates amid Global Retail Contraction but Remains a Bright Spot
  4. Fleishmann Hillard (2012) 2012 Digital Influence Index Shows Internet as Leading Influence in Consumer Purchasing Choices
  5. Telzio (2014) The Cost Benefits of Switching to a VoIP Service
  6. Hobo (2020) How Fast Should a Website Load 


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