biz ladies: transitioning from brick & mortar to online

rosie_the_riveter1
design*sponge regulars, lisa congdon and rena tom of rare device have graciously shared with us some valuable advice on transitioning from a brick-and-mortar store to an online store. with the economic changes of the past two years, the online market has become a popular addition (or in some cases, replacement) to the traditional storefront.  lisa and rena’s shop is the perfect example of how the two styles can work together successfully.  thanks for sharing your helpful advice with us ladies! -stephanie

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Our online shop [Rare Device] was launched within a year of the launch of our original storefront in Brooklyn (that store now closed and we are curretly located in San Francisco). Our successful online shop accounts for between 40-70% of our business, depending on the month of the year. Having an online shop has helped us to stay afloat during these hard economic times when business at our brick and mortar shop has slowed. Here are some tips for those of you thinking of starting an online shop.

1. Write very clear product descriptions and use detail photos. People like to know what they are ordering. If you don’t provide enough detail about the item, you’ll be inundated with questions from buyers when you could be selling things. The more you say upfront about an item, the more likely that the customer will be satisfied with the product once they receive it.

2. Ship items within 1-5 days. The faster people get their stuff, the happier they are, and the more likely they will come back.

3. Be prepared for volume if you get blogged or written about in a print magazine. We’ve been lucky enough to get lots of online and print press for items in our online shop over the years and press can really increase sales. Stock up on items that bloggers and magazines are writing about (most writers will tell you when they are about to feature you in a post), because the right press can send sales through the roof!

4. Keep the site fresh with new merchandise often. We try to add new merchandise every week. We’ve got a “new arrivals” page on our site that allows folks to view the newest products. We also link to this page on our site using social media a couple of times a week. New stuff keeps people coming back.

5. Avoid the problems of keeping inventory straight. More likely than not, if you are a small brick and mortar shop, your online inventory will be the same as your in-store inventory. Make sure you’ve got a system (whether manual or automatic) to adjust your web inventory when someone buys something in the store. Keeping inventory straight is very important.

6. Suggest affinities and think carefully about product groupings. When folks come into your shop, they see groupings of products that they can choose from. This helps them make the right selection from a group of like items. When designing your online shop, group products in a way that makes sense and suggest alternatives on every page to keep people engaged and looking around (for example, use a link that says something like “you might also like…”).

7. Ship internationally but be careful of scams. 20% of our online sales are international. We love our international customers and have many regulars from Great Britain, Canada and Australia, in particular. While most international sales are legitimate, it’s important to know that there are thousands of international internet scammers out there who use stolen credit card numbers. Look out for international orders that include larger than normal items that could easily be resold on the street (6 watches, 4 purses, etc.) and call credit card companies every time you have a question about the legitimacy of an order.  Remember, in the end, you have the right to refuse service to any customer—even online customers.

8. Be very clear about your shipping and return/exchange policies. Write as much detail as you can about your policies around shipping rates, returns and exchanges. Make customers acknowledge at checkout that they have read and agreed to these policies.

9. Use social networking to get people interested in what you have to sell. We use our monthly newsletter, our Facebook fan page and Twitter to announce sales and new items. This form of media keeps people coming back and tuned in to what you are doing. [*stay tuned for a biz ladies post on social media in the coming weeks!!!*]

10. Keep your storage room filled with the best shipping supplies and pack fragile items with care. Spending money on good quality boxes and wrapping supplies and spending more money on packing material for fragile items will be worth your while. Customers will appreciate your effort and fewer items will arrive damaged and broken.

Liz Demos

Thanks Grace, this is very timely having just closed my brick and mortar and transitioning to online in the summer.

krystyna81

Interesting reading! Many of us Visual Artists are still struggling with selling on-line vs. in a Gallery/B&M shop. Thanks for the link!

Chris Sicam

Thank you so much for these tips. I’m hoping when the project I’m launching, Trends: Design Gallery, takes off, I can utilize these concepts for continuous growth!

audrey

Thanks so much for this! You made great points and I really appreciate it. Do you have any tips on the best methods of international shipping?

Courtney

Do you have any recommendations for where to buy good quality, but affordable shipping supplies in bulk?

Shelley

How timely, as I just today received a suspiciously large order from a company in Thailand. How do you verify the legitimacy of a company whose trade name isn’t even English?

Susan

Great primer for those of us that have both Bricks- and -Mortar and on-line stores. You make mention of being picked up by Blogs or Print magazines. Did you pursue them, or did they just find your product on line?

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