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Calling all product businesses: it’s time to get online!

by David Leach
calling-all-product-businesses-it-s-time-to-get-online
A guide to help businesses set up an online shop for the first time.

A constant topic of conversation in these past few weeks has been how we can all help our favorite local businesses stay afloat and survive the coming months. I’ve written this blog to help business owners quickly set up their first online store and start trading, which I hope will help many businesses in navigating this challenging time.

David Leach
CEO, Cin7

Online shopping is almost certainly going to be a big part of the new normal in a post-coronavirus world. If you run a product business with one or more stores, you’ve likely had to close your doors during lockdown.

Experienced product companies have gotten very creative in selling online, using Instagram, for instance, to reach more customers. But selling online begins with an eCommerce website, and in the coronavirus crisis, this has proven to be a vital complement to physical retail.  

Likewise, for product companies that never needed it before, it’s now recognized that an online store will be indispensable. Even as governments cautiously ease restrictions, as in New Zealand, physical stores will remain closed, highlighting the importance of an online shop. 

Online stores are open 24/7 and can attract buyers from anywhere that you’re willing to ship to! An online store will not only expand your potential customer base, but will give your existing customers an easy alternative to shop and an easy way to get their family and friends to shop with you too. By going online, you’re diversifying the ways you sell and reducing some of the risk to your product business. Here are four steps to easily get your product business online now.

Step 1: Set up your eCommerce website

Setting up an eCommerce website is not as complex as it used to be. You can do it yourself, but you can also get help if you want it.

You will need to choose a domain name (for your website’s URL), or use the one you have already. (Here’s a handy domain name generator if you’re stuck). If you believe you might one day sell internationally, it’s a good idea to buy a “.com” domain name.

You’ll need to use an eCommerce platform. The platform you choose will depend on what you need. We partner with four of the best online store builders that make it fast and simple: Shopify, BigCommerce, Magento and WooCommerce. For example, Shopify has themed templates you can select to give you a great looking website in minutes.

If you need additional help building a website, it’s easy to find. For example, you can go to https://experts.shopify.com for a directory of professional website builders. You can also check out one of our partners, Lucid, who can help stand up a complete eCommerce website on Shopify. Look for eCommerce websites from similar businesses to share with a professional as examples of what you want your website to look like and to accomplish. 

Step 2: Upload your products and prepare to sell

Your online store is where many customers will first encounter your products. That’s why your products need good descriptions, sizing and other attributes. Above all, we recommend you have excellent product images. 

If you are selling apparel, it’s worth noting that it always sells better if it is photographed on a person, alongside text that includes details that may not be seen in the image. So you will need a decent camera and a great space to take photos. Aim for good product images on a white background or obtain high-quality images from your suppliers. There’s a good product photography guide here.

You will also want to be ready to start shipping your products. Our partners ShipStation, StarShipIt, and others will help make this process easy. Technology has come a long way to help make your online store a unified, cohesive experience not only for your customers but for you too.

Step 3: Finish off your website


There are some important things you ought to have from day one. A basic part of creating an identity for your website is your logo. Modern logos are often simple enough to produce on your own, but if you feel too “design-challenged”, it’s not hard to get help from professionals through gig sites like Fiverr and Upwork

Alongside a logo, you may need to consider some basic branding. Your branding helps create a consistent message and experience no matter how a customer shops with you. You can learn more about branding here.

It’s also important that you set up some web pages from day one, such as “About Us”, “Shipping Information”, “Returns Policy” and “Contact Us” pages. Obviously, you’ll want to promote your physical store and opening hours, too!

Your web page should tell your customers about your brand: who you are and what is important to you.  More than ever before, consumers are basing their purchasing decisions at least partially on an alignment of values. They want to know about your purpose and your story.

Finally, don’t let perfection get in the way of a web store launch. The key is to get online, fast. You can always update and improve your website as you go along. 

Step 4: Promote your online shop

Launch and tell everyone about it! If you have a good customer database, we recommend contacting them by email, phone or letter in the post. Sending an email or a branded postcard is a nice personal touch for telling your customers about your launch. 

You can also make use of your social media networks to promote your online store. For example, if you’re on Instagram, you might consider creating a post and entering customers into a draw for store credit if they tag three friends. 

It’s all about getting creative to raise awareness, thinking outside the box. For example, it doesn’t hurt to call in a favor to get an article published in the local newspaper or even local TV news for your “15 minutes of fame”!  And of course, when lockdown restrictions end, the most obvious place to advertise your online store is in your physical store(s). The goal is to let word-of-mouth spread far and wide, at least everywhere you can ship products.

After the launch, sending a monthly email to customers is common (unless they unsubscribe). As a little tip, sending bulk emails with good branding and mobile-friendly layouts usually requires a tool like Mailchimp. The same tools help manage those that unsubscribe too, so you’re not sending unwanted emails.

Digital marketing has become critically important these days. You can do the basics yourself, but it may pay to get some help from the experts. In case you weren’t sure, the term “Digital Marketing” often includes:

  • SEO (search engine optimization). SEO increases the chance that your website will appear in Google search results, which helps potential new customers find you.
  • Paid advertising such as Google Ads and Facebook Ads.
  • Content marketing. Writing blogs and adding helpful web pages also help attract potential customers.
  • Social media presence: LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and even TikTok.

All of this will give you a fast start that you can build on over time. After the initial launch of your new online store, there’s a lot more fun you can have to make your online product business more attractive and more effective! Ask yourself some questions, like:

  • What additional products could I sell online?
  • How can I reduce my shipping costs and also deliver faster?
  • Where should I store my products?
  • Could I add more sales channels, like Amazon?
  • What if I started selling internationally?
  • How do I keep track of my stock levels?

Keeping track of your inventory and understanding your sales analytics is vital to making a multichannel business thrive. Cin7 integrates your eCommerce and brick and mortar in one system to manage your stock and shipping and to easily scale with new channels, like online marketplaces. Our team is here to help: managing inventory in a store and online are easy if you have the right tools.