How to move your retail business online

Business Insights

The high street has been facing an uncertain future for several years, but over the past eight months it has undoubtedly endured its greatest threat to date.

The nationwide lockdown forced businesses to close their doors for months on end and while some have been able to reopen, they have had to do so with many restrictions in place.

Of course, under the new three-tier lockdown system that is being rolled out across England, high street businesses will be bracing themselves for a second shut down as we move into the winter.

While the government is offering support, the reality is that it will not be enough for many businesses which run the risk of having to close their doors for good.

For this reason, high street businesses must take steps now to adapt to the situation to ensure they not only survive the next six months but thrive.

And to do this, they will need to take their businesses online. Below, we discuss four key things to consider when doing this.

Come up with a plan:

Before moving your business online, you need to come up with a comprehensive strategy about how you will do it and the steps you will need to take to ensure a successful transition.

It is possible to take pretty much any business online, whether a deli, legal practice, stationers, clothing shop or art gallery, so long as you have the right plan in place.

You will need to consider how you can offer the same products without physical premises to sell from, the website that will work best for you and other things like payments and marketing.

Of course, you can still use your premises to manufacture your goods – if a deli you can still make sandwiches and sell them online, for example.

Some businesses may actually find that not being able to operate from high street premises can reduce overheads and streamline their costs.

For example, participation in bingo is on the rise, but with retail venues unable to open it is online-only operators such as 888ladies and Wink Bingo that are capturing the rise in demand.

Their overheads are significantly lower than those of land-based venues, so they are able to drive even greater profits from the rising demand and other high street businesses can do the same.

The most important factor when transitioning a retail business online is the website and/or ecommerce platform the business will use as its new “shop window”.

Launch an ecommerce website:

The type of website required will depend on the business you operate. If selling services, a simple brochure site will suffice but if you sell goods you will need something more complex.

A website does not always need a substantial investment; brochure sites can be created using platforms such as Square Space costing as little as £21 per month.

If you sell products you will require a more complex website that includes the functionality to list stock, for customers to purchase items and for you to manage distribution and refunds.

Shopify is a great solution – prices start from around £22 per month.

There are other options available, but both Square Space and Shopify also help with areas such as SEO, mobile optimisation and email.

Offer frictionless payments:

Regardless of which website platform you use, you must offer a wide range of payment options including debit cards and credit cards like Visa and Mastercard.

Buy you must also offer alternative payment methods like PayPal, Klarna, Apple Pay and Google Pay as more and more consumers are using AMPs than ever before.

The payment gateway must be smooth and seamless to ensure that customers can purchase your products quickly and easily – especially if purchasing from mobile.

Get savvy with your marketing:

Marketing will also play a crucial role in your transition from retail business to online business and again this is an area that does not require huge investment if you are savvy and smart.

If you do still have high street premises but have been forced to close them, cover the windows with branding and information about your new website.

If you haven’t already, create social media accounts, post regularly, join local groups and even consider putting a small budget behind promoted posts.

Contact your local newspaper and speak with the business reporter about your move online and your plans to grow your business.

There a plenty of ways to market your business and the more creative you can be, the more impactful your messaging will be among your target audience.

Moving a retail business online is a tough task, but with so much uncertainty ahead it is the only way business owners can ensure they can survive the next six months.

Of course, those that make the transition successfully will see their businesses thrive in this new normal.