UBS predicts that 100,000 U.S. brick and mortar stores will close in the next five years.
“Consumers are increasingly shifting towards online shopping,” analysts wrote. “Many of these shoppers may not get back to in-store shopping when the current state is over.”
In other words, it’s time to expand online. Fast.
Learning to take your brick and mortar store online can be overwhelming. There are many ways to do it, and countless businesses hoping to charge you a fee to set you up.
But here’s the thing: You don’t need someone to get you set up. If you want, you can do it yourself – even without a technical background.
In this guide, we’ll take you through everything you need to get up and running with an online store. But first, let’s check out the benefits of expanding your brick and mortar to ecommerce.
(Psst! While we feature certain third party brands in this article, we are not affiliated with them, other than those related to Shopify and Oberlo.)
In This Article
- 1 Why Are Brick and Mortar Stores Going Online?
- 2 How to Take Your Brick and Mortar Store Online in 9 Easy Steps
- 2.1 1. Understand the Ecommerce System
- 2.2 2. Create Your Brick and Mortar Store Website
- 2.3 3. Design Your Brick and Mortar Online Store
- 2.4 4. Learn the Basics of SEO
- 2.5 5. Add Content to Your Brick and Mortar’s Online Store
- 2.6 6. Add Products to Your Brick and Mortar Store Online
- 2.7 7. Optimize Your Product Pages
- 2.8 8. Add Social Proof and Other Trust Signals
- 2.9 9 . Set Up Shipping on Your Brick and Mortar Online Store
- 3 Summary: The Future of Brick and Mortar Stores
- 4 Want to Learn More
Why Are Brick and Mortar Stores Going Online?
Sure, ecommerce can never replace brick and mortar stores’ in-person service or the ability to get up close and personal with products.
However, ecommerce has been growing for a couple of decades now – and for good reason. It provides plenty of benefits for both consumers and businesses. Also with the ever evolving ecommerce technology sector, things like VR and AI are making it easier to close the gap between brick and mortar stores, and online stores.
Here’s what you have to gain from taking your brick and mortar store online.
Let’s start with the obvious: Mandatory lockdowns due to COVID and the threat of illness have prevented millions of people from visiting stores in-person.
Offering your customers an online shopping experience will allow your brick and mortar store to survive this new challenge.
24/7 Cash Flow
Unlike your brick and mortar store, your website will never close. You can also automate your marketing campaigns to work around the clock.
All of this means that you’re able to grow your business and make money when you’re sleeping or on vacation.
Running a brick and mortar store generates many overhead costs, like rent or a mortgage and utility bills. These expenses are often thousands of dollars per month.
Taking your brick and mortar store online doesn’t need to cost anywhere near as much. In fact, you can get started for as little as $29 per month – which is the cost of a Basic Shopify plan.
Unlimited Customer Base
Your brick and mortar store is limited to shoppers in your local area or those willing to travel. On the other hand, your online store is available to anyone shopping online.
As a result, you’ll have access to a far larger market. In fact, it’s not too difficult to start selling nationally or even internationally.
Consumers don’t always want to travel to a store, pay for parking, collect their items, line up at the checkout, and cart their goods to their cars to drive home.
Providing an online shopping experience allows your customers to choose how and when they prefer to shop.
Ecommerce platforms provide an enormous amount of information about your customers and their buying habits. This information is invaluable as it allows you to tailor your business to your best customers’ needs.
For example, the image below shows Shopify’s analytics overview dashboard.
Powerful Digital Marketing Tools
Taking your brick and mortar store online also allows you to tap into highly effective marketing strategies and tools, such as:
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process used to rank your brick and mortar store’s website higher in search engine results, so shoppers can find your store easily.
- Paid advertising services like Google Ads, YouTube Ads, Instagram Ads, and Facebook Ads allow you to target your ideal customers wherever they spend the most time online.
- Content marketing involves creating useful and entertaining blogs, videos, and more to engage your target market and nurture them into customers.
- Influencer marketing is the strategy of partnering with influential people in your niche to market your products and services directly to their fans.
- Affiliate marketing is internet jargon for online referral programs. Setting up a program like this allows you to tap into a pool of experienced online marketers without upfront investment.
- Social media marketing is a way to maintain some of your brick and mortar store’s personality online.
- Email marketing provides a way to connect with potential and existing customers.
Finally, one of the most exciting aspects of ecommerce is how it lends itself to scale.
For example, if you want to triple your brick and mortar store sales, you’ll likely need to move to a larger space or open a new location. This type of expansion can take months of planning, logistics, and upfront investment. And once your new location opens, you’d also need to start marketing it to drive new sales.
However, if you want to triple your online sales, it’s relatively simple. Online advertising and websites work in pretty much the same way, whether you have 10 customers or 10,000. You would just need to ensure you can meet the growing demand for your products or services.
Sold? Okay, now let’s check out how to get started.
How to Take Your Brick and Mortar Store Online in 9 Easy Steps
Taking your brick and mortar store online doesn’t need to be stressful or overwhelming. To make the process easier, here are nine simple steps to get set up with an ecommerce website and start selling online.
1. Understand the Ecommerce System
First things first: Before you break ground, it helps to understand how ecommerce works.
For the purposes of this guide, we’re going to use Shopify’s ecommerce platform and tools.
Although there are plenty of different software services out there, Shopify is arguably the leading ecommerce platform globally, powering more than one million businesses in 175 countries.
The Guardian even called it “the good shop to Amazon’s bad shop.” To compare them, Amazon’s marketplace sits in the limelight, but Shopify works behind the scenes.
So, how does it work? Well, Shopify provides everything a business needs to sell online. Let’s explore some of these key tools.
First up is the professional website builder that’s simple enough for my Gran to use. Pre-made customizable templates will have your website looking great in no time.
What else? Shopify’s POS (point of sale) system. This system allows retailers to integrate brick and mortar stores and ecommerce websites. It tracks sales, inventory, and more.
Lastly, there’s Shopify Payments. This service allows you to take payments online whichever way your customers would prefer. Options include Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Google Pay, and Apple Pay.
Alright, so how can you get started?
2. Create Your Brick and Mortar Store Website
Before you can go from brick and mortar to ecommerce, you need a website.
A domain name is the web address used to identify your website, such as “letstalkaboutmoney.com” or “google.com.”
Ideally, you want your domain name to be the same as your business name. For example, if your brick and mortar store is called “Skyrocket Apparel,” you’d want to get “skyrocketapparel.com.”
Now, “.com” is the most widely recognized extension. However, there are also country-specific extensions like “.co.uk” for the UK, and “.ca” for Canada. These extensions may be a good choice for you if you plan to keep your business in your home country.
What if your brand name isn’t available? Well, you could always choose a strategic domain name.
For example, if you plan to sell garden supplies to the U.S. market, you could go for something like “usgardensupply.com.” A domain name like this would help you rank higher in the search engine results pages, which would make it easier for shoppers to find your website.
To get started, head to Shopify’s domain name generator and start searching.
Here are some extra tips:
- Avoid using hyphens and numbers
- Don’t purchase a domain name featuring a registered trademark (you can double-check on the U.S. trademark database)
- Try to keep it short and simple to spell
Once you choose a domain name, Shopify will walk you through setting up your account.
3. Design Your Brick and Mortar Online Store
Once you’ve purchased your domain name and logged into your new Shopify store account, it’s time to customize your website.
To do this, click on “Themes” under “Online Store” in the left-hand side-bar.
In this tab, you’ll be able to choose a Shopify theme – these are pre-made website templates that make your store look professional and clean.
There are countless themes to choose from so spend some time exploring. Try to find one that fits your needs and your brand’s look.
Once you’ve chosen a theme, you can customize it to your heart’s content.
Start by adding your logo and branding. (If you don’t have branding to use online, use Hatchful for free to create branding assets for your website and social media.)
4. Learn the Basics of SEO
Now that your store is up and running, it’s time to lay the foundations for success – which means learning some essential SEO basics.
SEO, or search engine optimization, is the process of improving your website and online content so that it ranks higher in the search engine results pages.
In other words, you want your site to be at the top of Google, so people see it when they search for the products or services you sell – and SEO is how you do it.
The aim of the game is to work out what people search for when they’re trying to find a store like yours. The terms they search with are called keywords. Once you’ve identified which keywords are the best, you need to work these keywords into your website content in a natural way.
To find out what keywords people search, sign up for Google’s Keyword Planner which is a free tool.
This tool gives you data about different keywords. Most importantly it shows you how many people search for your keywords each month – this number is listed as “Volume.”
For example, the term “chic fashion” receives 8,100 searchers per month. However, “women’s chic fashion” doesn’t receive any searches.
It’s worth noting that, generally, the more searches a keyword receives, the harder it is to rank for it. So, you may also want to focus on keywords with between 500 and 5,000 searches per month at the beginning. It’s also best to choose a selection of “long-tail” keywords – keywords that contain two to five words.
Take some time to create a list of keywords to use in your website’s content.
5. Add Content to Your Brick and Mortar’s Online Store
Now that you have your list of keywords, it’s time to write the content and source images to add to your website.
Your brick and mortar store has plenty of personality – and people. So, it’s easy for customers to understand your business. However, your website needs to contain information to educate new customers about your brand and products, or services.
You also need photos of your business and some stock photos. (You can get stock photos that are free for commercial use on Burst.)
Start by writing the content for five main webpages:
- Homepage: This should contain a short, engaging description of what your business does and the key benefits your products offer customers. Also, add some high-quality visuals showcasing your products or service.
- About Us: This page should share the story of how you got started, your mission, and your vision. Also, add some lifestyle photos to showcase the people behind the brand.
- Returns & Refunds: Use this page to detail your returns and refunds policies in a way that shows how much you care about your customers. Add links to this page in the footer of your website to make it easily accessible.
- Contact Us: This page should contain a contact form, the address and opening hours of your brick and mortar store, perhaps a phone number, and links to your social media profiles.
- FAQ: Done well, this page should save you countless hours responding to customer service inquiries.
Remember to write your content using your keywords in a natural, subtle way – readers shouldn’t notice that you’re using keywords. You can also use an SEO plugin to help optimize your pages and keywords.
Lastly, don’t forget to proofread your content!
6. Add Products to Your Brick and Mortar Store Online
It’s time to add your products!
If you’re not sure how to begin, start with your brick and mortar store’s bestsellers, then focus on other relevant products. Finally, add the bulk of your inventory.
Before you start adding products, you need to consider how to categorize and organize them.
When using Shopify, there are three ways to add products to your brick and mortar’s online store:
- Manually add one product at a time – you can use the Shopify Mobile app to take photos of your products as you go along.
- Bulk upload your inventory into Shopify using a CSV (comma-separated value) file.
- Use Shopify’s free POS data migration service to migrate your POS data into Shopify’s platform. Migrations are available for most systems, including Lightspeed, Quickbooks, Square, Shopkeep, Vend, and more.
7. Optimize Your Product Pages
Once you’ve added products, you need to optimize each product page to give them the best chance of converting visitors into customers.
What should a great product page look like? Here’s an example from fashion brand Taylor Stitch:
Notice the clean design, quality product images, product title and price, color and size options, and highlighted benefits, such as free shipping and returns.
But that’s not all.
Scroll down a little, and you’ll find detailed descriptions of the product, materials, weight, specifications, and more.
When writing content for your product pages, make sure to include details about both the features and benefits.
Features are specific to the product or service. For instance, Taylor Stitch describes its shirt as “100% Organic,” with “Dark Horn buttons.” However, benefits are what the features provide customers. For example, the shirt is described as “comfortable, classic, and constructed for years of use.”
8. Add Social Proof and Other Trust Signals
To give your website a boost, you can add some forms of social proof and trust signals.
The term “social proof” refers to the simple fact that people are influenced by the opinions and actions of others. It’s why 61 percent of customers read online reviews before buying a product or service.
Some common forms of social proof and trust signals are:
- Testimonials and reviews
- Logos of other brands that you’re affiliated with
- Calling out numbers, such as “Join Over 1,000 Happy Customers”
- Awards or accreditations
For example, the shoe brand Greats showcases logos of well-known publications that have featured its products on it’s homepage.
So, find a way to add social proof and trust signals to your store.
9 . Set Up Shipping on Your Brick and Mortar Online Store
Finally, you need to set up shipping. Shipping costs can eat away at your margins, so it’s vital that you plan for them.
There are two main options: Offering free shipping and increasing product fees slightly or offering different shipping options for varying prices.
Whatever you do, keep a close eye on your shipping costs and continually tweak them until you find the optimum cost.
You may also want to consider using Shopify Shipping.
This service works with USPS, DHL, and UPS in the U.S., and Canada Post in Canada. It allows you to save up to 90% on your shipping costs with industry-leading discounts. Plus, you can save time waiting in line at the post office by buying and printing shipping labels in Shopify.
Summary: The Future of Brick and Mortar Stores
The future of brick and mortar stores is uncertain, but you can help future-proof your business by expanding online.
There are plenty of benefits to moving your brick and mortar store online, such as:
- Ecommerce is resistant to the effects of the COVID pandemic
- You’ll never have to close your doors and can earn money 24/7
- Online stores cost as little as $29 per month to setup and run with Shopify
- You can access a national or international market
- Online stores provide additional convenience to your existing customers
- You can track customer behavior to identify ways to improve your business
- There are tons of powerful digital marketing tools that you can harness
- Ecommerce businesses typically scale easier than brick and mortar stores
If you’re worried about brick and mortar stores closing and want to start selling online, follow these simple steps to get started:
- Choose a domain name and create your Shopify store
- Choose a theme and customize the design of your store
- Learn the basics of SEO and gather a list of keywords to use in your content
- Write the content for your core pages using your list of keywords
- Add products to your store with Shopify’s bulk upload feature, import feature, or app
- Optimize your product pages with custom images and detailed descriptions
- Add social proof and trust signals like reviews and awards
- Create your shipping settings and continue to optimize them
Will brick and mortar stores become obsolete? Probably not. However, expanding your brick and mortar store online is a great way to safeguard and grow your business.