This time last year we were a few weeks into a new year and a new decade, and companies were either grabbing new opportunities or letting their resolutions slide a bit. But no matter where you fell on this scale, you weren’t prepared for a global pandemic to flip global business on its head.
A few months before the pandemic, an Equinix report found that only 37% of Irish businesses planned to invest more in eCommerce in 2020, and the rest had a mountain of catching up to do when the first COVID-19 lockdown hit in March.
It was a sink-or-swim moment, and the Government offered a lifeline with the COVID-19 Online Retail Scheme — €12 million shared so far between independent Irish companies, with up to €40,000 in eCommerce transformation grants. Hundreds of other businesses jumped in at the deep end by moving online for the first time — from craft breweries like Dead Centre and Rascals, to platforms like shopcountykildare.ie, a “virtual shopping centre” with nearly 150 businesses trading through a common online hub, with centralised home delivery.
If you were lucky enough to secure State funding, or you came up with an inspired innovation for going digital, you have a good chance of survival. But even if you’re still stalling, it’s not too late. Don’t wait around for the future when it’s happening in front of you. Every business will have an eCommerce platform sooner or later — just don’t be one of the last ones.
Here are five steps for making sure you don’t get left behind in this last big push for moving online.
1 – Up your social media game
Even if you have no online business to speak of, you’ll at least be on social media (or you’re really in trouble). Your social media strategy is crucial because your customers already use these platforms every day — make sure these channels are a way to engage properly with your audience, rather than simple directory information with sales pitches.
Connect through sharing useful information and offering professional advice, video tutorials and content that will appeal to your target audience. Try not to desperately chase trends and let your audience grow organically. If you find yourself Googling, “How to go viral on TikTok”, you’re not doing it right.
Selling directly through social media is also exploding exponentially, with ‘social commerce’ expected to become a €600 billion market over the next seven years. Don’t get left behind in this revolution either.
2 – Build or upgrade your website
Unless you want to rely on an embedded microsite within huge platforms like eBay or Etsy, you’ll need a well designed and developed website with reliable future-proofed eCommerce functionality.
At this stage, don’t get ahead of yourself with a wishlist based on the biggest brands — start with these two essential offerings:
When deciding on your online store, you can either set up on huge eCommerce hosting platforms such as Magento or Shopify, or transform a site on a Content Management System such as WordPress into an eCommerce platform through plugins like WooCommerce.
Your eCommerce path depends on your web development abilities. WordPress offers virtually limitless customisation, but if you have little development knowledge you may find Magento or Shopify an easier entry, or the ‘drag & drop’ ease of a CMS like SquareSpace a lot more forgiving.
However, if you’d rather focus on running your business and attracting customers, you could invest in a professional developer.
3 – If you build it, will they come? SEO management is crucial
Google makes thousands of changes to its search algorithms every year, and investing in search engine optimisation (SEO) will boost your chances of being seen. A strong SEO strategy will raise your Google ranking and maximise sales, leads and conversions, and make sure most of your traffic comes from organic searches.
Whether it’s through in-house training or hiring a team of professional experts, you’ll need to monitor ever-evolving SEO trends, track keywords, use SEO tracking tools and rethink your whole content strategy to include engaging web content and a regular, informative blog.
4 – Only launch when you’re ready
While you’re waiting to launch, don’t panic thinking of the cash you’re potentially losing. Don’t set an unrealistic tight deadline that forces you to cut corners. You want to make a first impression with a reliable and robust online platform for your business — not the latest Fyre Festival of the eCommerce world. If you rush out a half-built site full of bugs, it could be almost as bad as doing nothing — you’ll make few sales and you’ll also harm your brand and online presence while you’re retreating back to the drawing board.
5 – Don’t forget essential housekeeping
So you’ve just launched your new eCommerce site and it’s a success — sales are rocketing, feedback from customers and peers is all positive, and you’ve even been featured on an industry movers & shakers list. Don’t get smug and complacent — put down the champagne bottle and start thinking about the long game.
Your eCommerce site isn’t like a catalogue with a hard deadline — once it’s launched it’s definitely not ‘done’. Your site needs regular maintenance to monitor performance and reliability — from updating product descriptions, prices and store policies, to fixing broken links and other bugs. An online store is like a car — give it regular maintenance and ‘love’, and it’ll reward you with years of high performance and reliability. Don’t wait until a customer sends you an irate email about a 404 error or a payment problem — catch problems as soon as they happen and make sure your site stays up to date and competitive. You have your offline and online reputation to think of now.
Improving your eCommerce or moving online for the first time can be daunting, but it’s never too late. Matrix Internet has a solution for whatever stage you’re at, through our three departments Design, Development and Marketing. Get in touch with us today and we’ll make sure the future doesn’t leave you behind.
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By Conor McCaffrey
By Ruchi Singh