Bedford shops are finding that it’s a lot easier to embrace modern technology and offer an online service to sell their products than they perhaps previously thought.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced many to rethink how they reach their customers and while eCommerce has been an offering for many years, some have been a little unsure about how to make it work for them.
One of the happier things to come out of this situation has been seeing the incredible support from individuals for local communities, neighbours and local businesses.
But, with so many shops forced to close their physical presence, if people can’t buy what they want locally, they will go online and order it instead.
As no one knows lockdown will end, we are seeing more and more small businesses create opportunities, innovate & adapt to this rapidly changing business landscape by adopting eCommerce.
Is it an option for you?
In a normal world, businesses would have spent time researching if eCommerce is for them.
But with their hand forced by the pandemic ‘lockdown’ many small businesses have dived in. The latest report from the Office for National Statistics shows that 21.9% of all UK retail in March was done online – the highest proportion ever recorded.
Where they’d never have considered selling online before, in order to continue servicing their customers, many have made the most of the channels available to them.
The delivery sector is a prefect example of this. Restaurants have turned into takeaways, and local shops have started doing deliveries & collections.
Deliveries can be left safely because the order has been paid for, and collections can dropped straight into the boot of the customer’s car, to maintain safe physical distancing.
It’s truly impressive how quickly some businesses are adapting, learning and providing the next best thing to business as usual.
When this is over, it is likely that those businesses will stand a greater chance of recovering quickly because they will have maintained a relationship, built up loyalty & earned the trust of their customers.
It doesn’t take long to get your shop online
One of the misconceptions that has put many small business owners off eCommerce is that it would take ages to get their inventory online, but this isn’t the case.
Shops don’t need to sell everything they have in stock on their websites, they just need to be useful & convenient.
A local farm shop in Bedfordshire, with a constantly changing selection of fruit & veg, was able to quickly spin-up an eCommerce site with only about 12 products.
- Three sizes of mixed veg boxes
- Three sizes of mixed fruit boxes
- A salad box,
- Dairy products & bread
This simplified approach made it easier for customers to choose, and for staff to get the prepaid orders prepared and stacked, ready to be placed into the back of the customer’s car on arrival.
And it isn’t just food and essentials that are selling online.
We helped local specialist beer shop, Beerfly, to spin-up an online beer shop, and the lockdown hasn’t stopped people having birthdays & anniversaries so gifts are an easy win too.
One of our clients recorded their best ever online sales in March, primarily because people could not safely visit their mums on Mother’s Day so they ordered gifts to be delivered instead.
While they were formed outside of the lockdown, the Bedford Independent is also a prime example of how developing a modern and flexible business model can create excellent opportunities for what is, for many, a traditional sector.
Knowing that most people read news online now, they’ve captured the local market and reach up to 160,000 people a month.
By focussing online, they can now help other businesses reach their customers directly with less expensive advertising costs and accurate marketing data that it is impossible for print to provide.
Choosing an eCommerce Platform
Most small businesses don’t need advanced eCommerce features for overseas sales or one that integrates with their inventory or CRM with their back-office CRM or inventory systems.
This is especially so for those who are just starting out. There are numerous services available offering all the basic requirements for online sales through easy to use platforms and these can cost as little as £20 per month.
Some offer free trials and a monthly rolling contract, so they make a fantastic way for first-timers to try them out without the risk or cost of a long term investment.
Shopify is a dedicated eCommerce platform and probably the best for start-ups. They are also currently offering a 90 day free trial.
WordPress also offers a hosted eCommerce service.
Or you can come a web agency like Narrative to do it for you.
How to look good
All the services listed above will offer “themes” (for free or a modest fee) that will make your site look nice on mobile devices and desktops.
They normally allow you to upload your own logo and change any images or text to make it personal to you.
It is possible to get away without ever needing to hire a web designer, although many business owners benefit from getting a bit of help with graphics & set-up.
One thing that does matter is your imagery. Photography for eCommerce can be expensive but, under the current circumstances, you can get started with some decent photos from your phone. You may want to keep them simple or get a bit creative.
Just make sure there’s enough light on the subject and the subject is sharp and close enough.
There are also hundreds of online blogs and videos showing how to get good products from a phone camera, if you’re a local shop selling to local customers, people won’t mind if your images aren’t shot in a studio by a professional while we’re in lockdown.
Practically all eCommerce will support PayPal as standard, although Shopify prefers customers to use their own Shopify Payments, so that the store can start taking payments straight away.
A PayPal account takes seconds to set-up but requires the account holder to verify their details before it will transfer money to a bank account.
PayPal has huge brand recognition and many customers prefer to use it because they don’t have to enter their card details.
If a business has a WorldPay, SagePay, or other Merchant Account, they may be able to upgrade to that but it will usually incur some additional costs to set-up. It all comes down to cost-benefit analysis.
Marketing Your Business
Marketing is something specific to each business, so we won’t go into any great detail here other than to say that no-one can buy your products or services if they don’t know you exist.
Even if a business can’t be open right now – like a hotel, nightclub or events business – they can market their brand through stories, history or just by being useful & interesting.
When they are, eventually able to re-open, people will remember that place and want to go.
A nightclub or music venues could make Spotify playlists, have in-jokes with their community, dig-out youtube videos of previous performers, celebrate their regulars.
A hotel might have interesting architecture with a story or be able to celebrate past weddings & guests.
And if you’re online, where your customers currently are, make sure you use an online advertising platform like the Bedford Independent too.
You’ll be putting your business right in front of the people you want to reach.
Delivery & Collections
Once an order is received, it has to get to the customer, this is known as fulfilment. For collections the main thing right now is to do it safely, which means maintaining cleanliness & distance.
- DIY Deliveries & Collections: Many local businesses are choosing to do their own deliveries during lockdown. It keeps it personal and going above and beyond with the social distancing/safety guidelines instils confidence & trust in customers. Failing to observe them has, unsurprisingly, the exact opposite effect.
- Couriers & Delivery Services: If your products can be posted, then there are a plenty of fulfilment & delivery options available to businesses that don’t involve standing in a queue at the post office, and they are probably cheaper than you think. Sites like ParcelHero will help businesses find couriers who will pick-up a parcel and drop it at the customer’s home within three days from as little as a few pounds. Just remember to add a delivery charge at the checkout.
- Fulfilment Services: It will depend entirely on the type of business but, with any luck, there comes a time when too many orders are coming in every day, and it is taking too long to process them all. At that point a specialist fulfilment company like Bedford’s Ark-H Handling Ltd can become a more efficient way of getting products to customers. It’s a bit of a step-up from doing it all yourself, but it frees up time for business owners to focus on building their business and marketing their products & services.
Narrative Industries is a Bedford Web Agency & digital consultancy specialising in eCommerce & integrated websites for business.
We are incredibly fortunate to be able to continue to support our clients by working from home but we are acutely aware that many other local business owners are not as fortunate.
Local businesses are part of the community, so we wrote this to try and offer some of our knowledge in the hope it will inform & inspire those who are able to make use of the information.
We can’t help all our fellow Bedford businesses, but if you are a local business owner and need some assistance or advice getting up and running with eCommerce, or taking takeaway orders online, or if we can help you keep some revenue coming in at this time, please get in touch and we’ll do what we can to help.
In association with Narrative Industries