Archant's advice for small retail businesses withstanding a pandemic

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Taking payment and ensuring delivery are two vital parts of starting e-commerce in your business (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Step 1: Pick your battles

You will likely have several products that are your top sellers or essentials - and these are the products to focus on.

You need to work out a handful of items (around 10) that you can sell and that are also worth you selling. The products must have enough profit in them to support your business and they must be easy to ship to customers.

Be realistic, don’t pick wish list products to sell and don’t pick anything that will give you a logistical nightmare.

Step 2: Set up to sell online and over the phone

The two things to be sure of - that you can take payment securely and that you can get the goods to your customers, some of whom may be in isolation.

For taking payment, the easiest solution is cash on delivery. This may not always be possible, however, so if this is your chosen payment method this needs to be made clear to your customers. Otherwise, payments can be taken over the phone or online.

In order to take any kind of online/remote payment you will need to speak to your bank first. Banks are gearing up to help businesses deal with online and telephone payments, so they will be able to give advice and support. This is crucial, as you want the payment process to be secure for both you and your customers. Any e-commerce function used needs to be on a secure site.

Delivery is equally as important. If you can personally deliver (with cash on delivery) then this is simple and quick to set up. If you don't have access to a work vehicle, you will need to figure out how you can package products and send them by post or courier. The easiest and most accessible way is still via your local post office.

You will have to charge for your delivery - factor in the cost of packaging and the cost to send. Take your products and get the post office to weigh them and record what the cost to send is.

Specialist courier services can also be used, with these businesses well geared up to help.

Step 3: Get digital

You need to make sure you can be found and found easily. Even if people just want your phone number they will use Google, so you need to know what your customers see when they search for you.

Set your browser to private mode so you can search without your search history skewing the results. 

The ideal result will have the business website at the top, the Google My Business listing on the right hand side (this is usually at the top on mobile) and listings from social media and directories too. All of the results your customers get should lead to you.

This requires all of those places (your website, Google My Business, social media accounts, Bing for Business and directories such as Yell.com) to have accurate, consistent, up-to-date information.

If you don’t have Google My Business or Bing for Business set up then this should be your next step - both are free to do and very valuable as they are really easy ways for your customer to get in touch.

Step 4: Get your products online

If you have a website that doesn't currently have e-commerce, it's reasonably straightforward to set up. Platforms such as Duda and Wordpress have simple widgets that can be set up for a small number of products quite quickly.

If your website doesn't have e-commerce but does have product pages, you can use Ads, pay-per-click (PPC) and Google My Business to drive customers to a product page where there is a clear way they can get in touch to order. Email addresses or phone numbers will suffice.

Step 5: Make sure customers know you're open

Naturally, you can use social media and email to inform customers that you're still open for orders. Update your website - the homepage needs to be really clear about the fact that you are open and ready to help.

Before throwing communication and ads out there think about what you want to say. Get your plan worked out first, with emphasis on the support for a customer base that can't leave their homes. Being specific about online/phone orders and your willingness to deliver meets their concerns, solves their problems and makes them aware you're easy to do business with.

Think about the channels your customers are using. Are you targeting an older generation? Newspapers are still being printed and delivered, so advertising there might work best. Leaflets can create a 'menu' of products that you can deliver through doors. Search advertising for people looking for specific products on social media will probably be a useful thing to look into.

The key is to be proactive - your customers won't come to you, you will have to go to them, both literally and with your marketing.

 

For more details, especially about some of the digital listing platforms, see 

archanthub.co.uk/retail-in-uncertain-times

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For more information about advertising on this site call commercial account manager Charlotte Lewis on 07785 425135 or email charlotte.lewis@peterboroughmatters.co.uk