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Why proper online presence should be a new year's resolution for SMBs

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27th Dec 2014
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The recent 20th anniversary of eCommerce put into sharp focus just how far online retail has come – from a single transaction in August 1994, it has now become a multi-billion pound industry, with UK shoppers expected to spend £107bn online in 2014.

Spending in December alone is expected to top £13bn for the first time, underlining how important it is for businesses to be online. Meanwhile, stats show there were more than 2.7 million eBay searches for ‘Christmas’ in August 2013, while big businesses such as Selfridges have been selling festive product lines for months.

With this in mind, it is quite astonishing, then, that only 10% of the UK’s 4.5 million SMBs currently sell online. While it’s true that not every business can commit to channelling all their efforts through getting an ecommerce site off the ground, the fact that 90% aren’t even online means most independent retailers won’t be able to take full advantage of a surge in consumer confidence.

If smaller brands truly want to make 2015 a year to remember, they’ll need to begin preparations in earnest. Waiting around until mid-way through January is arguably too late - especially given the busy sales period just after Christmas. 

So what steps should smaller businesses be taking to make sure they can reap the benefits of ecommerce next year?

Review your web experience

Step one for any business with serious online ambitions should be a full website review. The first impression most customers will have of your business is through your website, so it is essential to make sure it is fresh and relevant. Make sure you de-clutter your pages, and put any seasonal deals front and centre. You also need to think about the browsing experience and website navigation – the easier you make it, the less dropouts you will have. Regular page testing also plays an important part in any good website – it enables you to iron out any faults, many of which may have been contributing to dropouts without you having ever realised. Finally, with so many businesses jostling for shoppers in the early parts of the year, you need to do something to differentiate yourself. This could be something as small as a gift-wrap service or a handwritten ‘thank you for your order’ note.

Market yourself

A ramp-up in marketing activity is one sure-fire way to draw customers to your site, but it needn’t be expensive. Social media provides a fantastic platform for smaller businesses hoping to get themselves noticed, and it won’t break the bank. Consider an unorthodox approach to your use of social channels – giving your brand a distinct tone of voice can really set you apart from the rest. Many consumers will also be scouring social channels for offers and deals, so make sure you’re taking note of the conversation so you can adjust your approach accordingly. Social is also a good way of highlighting positive word of mouth about your brand – nothing is more effective than customer praise.

Prepare your resources

Now that you’ve got a slick website, and have started to drive people towards it with social and marketing activity, you need to make sure you’ve got the resources in place to deal with the demand. Make sure you have stocked up on popular items in particular. Also think about speaking to your server host about temporarily expanding the bandwidth for your site to deal with the additional traffic. You won’t be selling anything if your website goes down and, chances are, many of those customers won’t come back – they will simply go elsewhere.

Give back to your customers

Simply offering great products often isn’t enough anymore. The 21st century consumer has come to expect many of the services that used to be considered ‘extras’ to be included as standard – free delivery being a good example. Now, next day delivery is fast becoming one of the major customer enticement tools to convert browsers into buyers, so if you can offer it, you should. Elsewhere, offering loyalty points on high-value orders not only encourages shoppers to spend more, but also makes them more ‘sticky’, meaning they are more likely to return. Companies such as Webloyalty have made such schemes more accessible to businesses of all sizes.

Give them payment options

The final stage in the customer journey is also the most important one, as it’s where you make your money. Think about having a single-click checkout to speed up the process – ease of usability is proven to increase the likelihood of a sale. Choice is also absolutely critical to customer conversion, so make sure you’ve considered some of the alternative payment types that customers might want to pay through. Giving your customers choice over payment ensures you’re giving them one less reason to shop elsewhere.

Simon Black is CEO of Sage Pay. Follow Simon on Twitter @SagePay_CEO

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