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The Digital Business Kit for Retailers

Learning Outcomes

Retailers will understand the different technology and strategies that can assist their retail businesses to begin or improve selling their products and/or services online. [printfriendly]

mod-arrow Selling Online Plan

Creating and executing an online sales program

An online sales strategy and plan supports a successful online sales experience for your company, customers and vendors. Your plan should include measurable goals to review, and adjust your online sales strategy accordingly. The scale of the online operation is also flexible; current retailers can start by offering a limited range of their products online instead of all of the inventory. New businesses can also strategise start-up methods to test which products will sell well and provide the best return on investment (ROI).

Plan the stages to develop a unique plan for your business.

1. Understanding the online sales process

Typical online sales process

  1. Customer finds product (on your website or 3rd party channel).
  2. Then reviews product information to allow for sale (price, features, policy, etc).
  3. May call for more details or buy right away.
  4. Client adds to shopping cart.
  5. Transaction processed through merchant account.
  6. Funds flow to your business.
  7. Confirmations/receipting.
  8. Product delivery.
2. Process documentation

Documenting your process is important so you can measure and calculate the process costs and changes over time. This also enables an evaluation of the costs and benefits for adding additional online selling process steps into your existing business processes.

Documenting a process can be done in varying levels of detail and should be based on the capacity of your business. A basic excel sheet may be enough, although there are templates for more complex process documentation in the resource section of this website.

You will need to consider the other elements on this page as you create your documentation.

Example: Checkout process (current):

  1. Greet customer: 1 min
  2. Ring through 1 item (this can be multiplied later for scale) : 1 min
  3. Collect payment
    • ask for payment type
    • swipe card or do cash, etc.

The above example is for a simple point-of-sale transaction that typically does not require the shipping of merchandise. Selling Online does not necessarily replace existing point-of-sale processes and is most often introducing new internal processes. The expectation is that online sales drives additional business revenues through access to a broader market, i.e. new customers that you would not be able to access without Selling Online.

Other existing business processes to consider include:

  • Shipping – Do you currently ship products to clients?
  • Inventory – How will you forecast inventory requirements when you add online selling? How will you place orders on inventory from a completed online sale?
  • Customer service – How do you currently provide customer service and support? How will this change when you add online selling?
TIP: This may seem like a lot of work; however, it is important for measuring the impact of changing systems and deciding where most time is being spent (and where greatest ROI may be recognised by sales process automation). Results from this documentation will be used in selecting eSolutions, evaluating ROI, and writing the online sales strategy and plan. Click here to view articles, examples and templates of process documentation.
3. Core elements of a website

The following descriptions give an overview of the typical core components used to facilitate online sales. Expanded definitions, functions, value proposition and more, for each component, can be found on the expanded definitions page.

Website: Most online sales methodologies will require a website. This is your online storefront and the environment for your customer’s buying experience. Most of us know what a website is; however, for a wiki definition, click here.

Your company website is the hub of the online sales machine. It is where customers will come to view products. It will link to or have stores and shopping carts embedded in it. The website can also contain many other tools and features, such as catalogues, reviews, comparison tools, etc. It is also where your brand will be typically explained most broadly online. Other online entities may promote your brand using product videos, social media posts/shares, etc., but all of these will lead back to your main website where the customer will take action to buy a product or service.

Merchant account: A type of bank account that allows businesses to accept payments by payment cards, typically debit or credit cards. As a retailer, you will need an account to accept payments which is typically different from the “swipe POS” account you may already have. You do NOT necessarily need to get your own account. You can use a 3rd party provider like PayPal instead, for every purchase which makes it easier for your customer! PayPal is a service that allows you to pay or receive payment online. PayPal is used worldwide, and you can connect PayPal to your bank account to buy or receive payments. PayPal is free to use for your customer. Treat your Paypal account like a bank account and review the account frequently, as thieves can hack into PayPal accounts just like bank accounts. Keep a strong password and keep your computer security updated.

Shopping cart definition: Software that allows shoppers to indicate a purchase, add it to the cart and continue to shop. There is a wide variety of shopping cart features from a basic collection of items to allowing for quantity edits, comparisons, discount code entry and more. Shopping carts can be purchased as a software to be installed into a website, accessed using a 3rd party provider (Software-as-Service) or custom-built.

Online store definition: Software-as-service that provides a variety of services and products for individuals or companies wanting to sell online. These are essentially turnkey sites that include everything you typically need to sell online.

Additional tools: These tools commonly include customer relation management systems, inventory management, customer review, customer service and up-sell tools.

4. Key process elements in your sales plan

Order fulfilment: In your planning for online sales, don’t forget what happens AFTER you get money for selling a product. You need to get the product to your customer. Order fulfilment can be a key element in how scalable your online selling eSolution is, and there are several main models for delivery. There are differences on how orders can be fulfilled based on whether the orders are for products (and what type) or services.

Sales and customer service: How will you manage sales and customer service requirements? Who will answer questions about your product, document client details, provide training, returns, complaint management, etc.? Document the sales and customer services your product requires, research how you can automate as much as possible using online tools. For example, when a client enters sales details, does it populate your customer relations system automatically and weigh the cost of features against savings they may provide? If it is a new business venture, how can these costs be avoided? For example, sell a product that does not need training or a sales person, such as a track of music.

Integrating online sales to your current business process: There are a number of processes that may need to be modified or new processes may need to be implemented for your organisation to accommodate online sales.

Planning will include mapping out the online sales process and all the components to identify areas where online sales must integrate with existing business processes.

Consider how you currently manage your product or service sales cycle through to order fulfilment, and determine how and when the online sales process must be integrated. This can include varied aspects of the online sales process – from how you manage customer interactions, maintaining and updating the website content, order and payment tracking, placing orders on inventory, and post-sale processes.

5. Calculating ROI

Calculate ROI (return on investment): Your company can compare what effect change will have on the business financials, and whether it is from additional or reduced staff efforts or other costs associated with the process.

A spread sheet can be used to compare the current process with expected results with online sales technology in place. This must consider both the cost impacts as well as expectations for online sales revenues.

See a sample of an excel sheet being used to calculate ROI here.

Saving time and money: Online sales can also improve your company profit margin by saving time and money. Creating a spreadsheet as per the example link above can help your company decide on where the best return for investment will be found in adopting online sales. For example this company would save $1200.00 a year on receipt generation alone as receipts are sent automatically. For more details on how ROI calculators work to determine the best online sales methods, visit the online sales page of this website.

6. Choose an eSolution

Which components does your company and business model need? In the chart below, the typical online sales methods are shown with the core elements marked as Y=yes required, N=not required, V=variable based on the business decision can be Y or N. One or more online sales methods may be applicable to a business.

Choose an eSolution

How to pick the right online sales components: Choosing which online store, shopping cart or payment system will depend on your type of product and online sales methods. Overall considerations should include:

  • The process your company employs: How do you currently perform retail sales? How do you want to sell online in the future?
  • Your budget and ROI (return on investment) plan.
  • Providers’ up-front fees and ongoing maintenance fees.
  • Credit card fees.
  • Transaction fees.
  • Transaction limitations (Do you need to have a certain amount of sales processed before you get your revenues?).
  • How long do fund transfers take?
  • How are the funds managed and transferred?
  • Certification and compliance of providers (Any company managing your customer information and credit card sales must be PCI [Payment Card Industry] compliant).
  • Complexity of your product (Does it require a lot of images/text to describe?).
  • Complexity of your inventory process (if you have a warehouse and/or a lot of inventory that may affect availability as well as multi-staff managing inventory); you may want to invest in an online sales system that includes an inventory management system.

Create a spreadsheet to catalogue and measure the current steps for each sale from initial customer contact through buying and order fulfillment. Then calculate the savings/changes through the online sales process.

7. Test you online sales components

Test your online sales components: Once the eSolution and components are in your website, test the new features before you open the pages to the public or market testers. Testing usually involves completing all the same steps a customer would take using a test credit card number (provided by the vendor) to ensure that all of the expected functions work properly.

8. Market test

Market test: Some companies choose to complete a “soft launch” in which select customers/industry associates review and provide feedback on the website. The website and sales components should be tested prior to this step. Create a feedback form based on the optimisation plan to ensure customers are understanding the message and the products and are finding the checkout process easy, as well as any other optimisation goals you have established in your strategy.

9. Deploy online sales

Deploy online sales: When you are satisfied with the test results, it is time to make the pages with your online sales components live on your website. Announce the new opportunity in-store and in all of your current communications such as newsletters, email footers, social media, etc. Now that the online sales infrastructure is ready, your business will implement the online sales optimisation and marketing plan.

Other: Visit eBusiness module for Security.

Marketing: Visit eBusiness module for eMarketing.

10. Convert shoppers to buyers: best practice

If your website and system can’t perform the functions below (or you don’t have a website) visit the tutorial on website platforms for an easy to apply solution that is unique to your business.

  1. Clear product displays: Convey what you are selling and why is it superior quickly.
  2. Confidence: Give your online customers faith to buy. Include testimonials, ratings, display your security levels, make it easy (or do the comparison shopping for them via a chart showing how your product and service is better).
  3. Upfront cost: Make sure they understand ALL the costs upfront and tell them. The #1 cause for shoppers to not complete an online sale is finding out part of the way through check out the real cost whether you had shown a discount based on volume, hidden shipping etc.

Some of the other reasons shoppers don’t buy are listed below.
Need a new website with a better online store? Check the tutorial for easy, low cost options to improve sales. Follow up with customers who left the shopping check out using retargeting and other eMarketing techniques and brush up on your ecommerce practise with the Selling Online module.

Visit the Resource page for articles on this topic.