If we’re learning anything during this pandemic, it’s that almost every small business can profit by selling something online. Without it, many brick and mortar storefronts and restaurants would be left without a means of income. Yet, you don’t have to be a traditional “shop” to use a platform to sell online.
Think about businesses like restaurants, dry cleaners, consignment stores or ice cream parlors. They can tailor what “goods” they can monetize and place on a platform to sell online. It could be gift cards, merchandise, books, memberships, virtual event registrations or meal kits. When your doors are closed (whether it be for 8 hours or 8 weeks), your business can still be generating income.
Here are some ideas for opening an online store that, even when we get back to more normal operations, you may find can contribute a valuable revenue stream.
With so many available, how do you choose one platform to sell online? The first thing to know is that with most of them, what you see is what you get. Be sure you understand what the specific platform can provide — because all the offerings differ. Customizing is either cost-prohibitive or not even available. Some have limited payment gateways or can’t accept pre-orders. So be sure you know what you need and if that platform will perform the way you imagined. Lastly, is the platform easy to use? We’ve seen that some can have set up that is intimidating to beginners, which can lead to frustration when the design doesn’t match their vision.
That’s where we step in. Just because you’re choosing an out-of-the-box platform, doesn’t mean it can’t be brought to life. ACS Creative can walk you through the finer points of these platforms. We can adjust themes that don’t speak to you. You’ll find that it’s not as easy as clicking a few buttons. You’ll still need a designer’s eye and technical know-how to create a successful site.
Let’s take a look at some of these online selling platforms.
We find that customers have the most success with WooCommerce. It’s an extension of WordPress, which is used for a vast majority of websites. It gives you a lot of control and creativity. WooCommerce works really well when you have an existing WordPress site and want to add functionality, whether you have physical or digital products, like a digital download or virtual product. The upsides are that it’s one of the most customizable platforms, it’s affordable and it becomes part of your site, unlike most other online selling platforms.
Shopify is another good option that is ideal for selling physical products for the side hustlers, solopreneurs and crafters. If selling a product, like quilts or t-shirts, is your core business and you don’t need a full website, it’s a solid choice — Shopify is optimized to sell products. For beginners, the set up is easy. You can get started in the morning and be fully operational that night. There are free themes and templates to get started. Just remember that you do give up customization: Tons of other stores could potentially use the same design. Platforms like this may have deals with shipping providers and provide discounts.
Although this sounds relatively simple, remember that Shopify is still complex, as it is an e-commerce platform hosted by the provider. Areas to watch out for are figuring out the shipping, taxes and payment tiers.
Both WooCommerce and Shopify have marketplaces to buy extensions and plug-ins to amplify the functionality. This is another area where you may need help. Even though the core can’t be adjusted, there are always ways of improving it if you have the design sense and are tech-savvy.
There are many other platforms out there, but most are not as user friendly or functionality friendly as WooCommerce and Shopify. Just remember the cheapest route most likely will not have everything you need. So, compare your options before investing your time, energy and money.
The investment of including a platform to sell online will help you diversify your sales channels offline and online, now and when we get back to our more normal operations.