10 Steps To Take A Retail or Restaurant Business Online

During the rapid changes in the early days of the COVID-19 lockdown, many retailers and restaurants set up online sales from scratch. Our guest blogger today is Kevin Clay, partner and communications director at Big Spoon Co., a Richmond-based PR and marketing firm. He helped numerous food-based businesses get online during COVID-19 lockdown and below he shares his ten steps to getting online for the first time. Welcome to Virginia Main Street, Kevin!

Unprecedented challenges and changes triggered by the pandemic have turned “business as usual” on its head. Retailers and restaurateurs have seen an increased demand for e-commerce and are now rushing to create or expand their online presence.

Now that more customers than ever are relying on online shopping, if you own a brick and mortar store, you may be asking yourself, “how can I adapt to the new realities of business and prepare for the challenges that come with it?” 

Here are 10 steps to prepare a business for e-commerce and a successful online presence:

1: Have a strong brand identity.

Whether a company has been around awhile or just getting started, developing a strong brand identity is an extremely important factor in its success. Brand identity builds your reputation and makes you stand out from your competition. Your brand is the image you wish to portray to the world visually, verbally and through your actions – it’s one of a company’s most valuable assets.

2. Get online.

Work with a web or marketing firm to build a website or build one yourself. There are several subscription services that make it easy to DIY. Platforms like Wix, Squarespace or Shopify are easy ways to get started quickly. Research features like e-commerce capabilities and email marketing, as these can be bundled into the service you choose. With design and photography, Lineage of Harrisonburg has built an online store that closely tracks with its brand and in-store experience.

3. Select an ordering or delivery platform.

Restaurants may need to work with a third-party vendor to build an online ordering program. Research delivery services in your area like Grubhub, Uber Eats and DoorDash. Consider fees charged by these companies when budgeting and making your decision. Retailers can crosspost their products on sites like Poshmark, Etsy or EBay for increased exposure. Many point-of-sale providers for both retail and restaurant have integrated apps that connect directly with your current platform.

4. Update your online listings.

Coordinating messages across channels help increase brand awareness and familiarity. In order to not cause any confusion, make sure hours of operation, prices and product descriptions are the same across all platforms including Google My Business, Facebook, Instagram and Yelp. Add links for online ordering.

5. Identify the online target market.

You may already know your customer, but you need to find how to reach them online. Finding your audience involves determining their habits, lifestyle and their needs. Create a Google Analytics code to install on your site. The reports are highly useful to see your best performing content, products and the keywords that are bringing in customers.

6. Optimize search results.

While paid advertising can work, the majority of online traffic is driven by search engine results. Showing up on the first page of Google’s rankings can bring your business great success. Implement ways to bring awareness to your site like blog content, keywords and new product listings. You should continuously research trends and update your site to include current keywords accordingly.

7. Package your products.

Whether food or clothing, make sure the product that leaves the business travels well to the customer. Plan for the labor and time it takes to package and ship. Well-designed packaging with your logo front and center helps consumers remember your product next time they are shopping and is alluring for first-time buyers. Ordering a rubber stamp is a cheap way to add your logo to compostable bags or containers.

8. Get them out the door.

Consider curbside pickup from local customers as the number one option. When shipping, retailers should research options from FedEx, UPS and USPS, which offer different rates based on weight, size or volume. Do a test run with friends and family to make sure the process runs smoothly.

9. Manage your inventory.

With sales influx, responsibly manage your food costs and inventory sold so you are not wasting or sitting on unmoving products. Some POS systems and e-commerce platforms have the capability of keeping track of inventory and your cost-of-goods sold.

10: Maintain a relationship with your customers.

Most importantly, your current customers understand the importance of supporting your business right now. Keep them updated about your new offerings through social media, email lists or traditional mailings. If you are a small boutique with a close-knit customer base, consider calling them directly to check-in. Ask for your customers to write honest online reviews. For those customers you are reaching through online channels, be sure to check your direct messaging platforms on a regular basis.

Photo: Gift set by Lineage of Harrisonburg, VA.