Moving Offline to Online: Advice from Four Businesses Taking on Digital Transformation
It’s no secret that running a retail business can be a challenging endeavor. There’s no shortage of decisions to make and costs to weigh, especially as you look for ways to continue to expand your store.
One way that brick-and-mortar businesses are growing is through adding an online store. After all, ecommerce is growing fast with global sales expected to reach $6.4 trillion by 2024. This explosive growth is in part because of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a major impact on retail and customer shopping behavior. Retailers big and small closed their doors last year, with 12,200 stores shuttering in 2020 (for comparison purposes, 10,000 stores closed in 2019).
Meanwhile, in the face of these challenges, many retailers are also seeing opportunities. They can expand their brick-and-mortar businesses beyond the geographic limitations of their storefronts and reach new audiences and potential customers.
Taking your offline business online — or deciding to really invest in your ecommerce site for the first time — can be daunting. To that end, we have a number of resources available to help you get started and troubleshoot specific issues like integrating your POS system or understanding your fulfillment strategy.
But sometimes what you need is to hear from other business owners who have made the leap online, what worked and didn’t work for them and the advice they can give from the other side.
Kintec Finds the Perfect Fit Online and Off
Founded in Vancouver, British Columbia in 1991, Kintec is now a go-to source for specialty footwear and orthotics with 12 stores across Canada. They have also seen a huge increase in their online sales as they have made their ecommerce site an important part of their brand. In fact, their sales for Q1 of 2021 were greater than all of 2019.
The Kintec site is currently built on BigCommerce, but they previously used Magento as their ecommerce platform. However, on Magento they faced issues with site speed and reliability. Tyler Ireland, Marketing Manager for Kintec, explains: “It was a nightmare [on Magento]. We would be preparing for Black Friday and the site would crash, so we would have to get on the phone with our developer and point of sale integration. We were putting too much time and money into something that wasn’t fixable.”
They chose BigCommerce in part because it was recommended by the POS system they work with, NCR Counterpoint through iPaaS.com. They also were looking for a platform that could grow with them as the business scales.
Kintec is invested in making sure their in-store and online experience complement each other perfectly, so customers have a seamless transition between the two. One of the more innovative aspects of their in-store experience is Kintec’s 3D FitScan™ System. Customers step onto the 3D FitScan™ and within 5 seconds, it produces hundreds of data points that build a three-dimensional model of the customers’ foot. Once the scan is completed, Kintec runs the data through their database, powered by AI, to match it to shoe shapes to determine the best shoe for that customer. Kintec is currently working with BigCommerce to integrate this technology to their website so customers who start their Kintec customer journey in-store can continue it online.
Kintec’s top tips:
- Site speed can be a major differentiator when it comes to customer experience. Kintec saw a huge lift when they moved to BigCommerce and stopped seeing lags in page loads. Comparing their last four months on Magento to their first four months on BigCommerce, they saw an increase in site visitors of 44%. “Those numbers speak to the fact that consumers are enjoying our new site, and they’re constantly coming back,” says Ireland.
- Get help where you need it. Kintec utilized agency Weizen Young to help them build and continue to optimize their site. They appreciated the guidance in learning industry best practices and even what apps to download to support their strategy.
- Provide customer feedback and reviews. Kintec uses Stamped to manage their customer reviews. Ireland explains: “A good customer testimonial helps create an omnichannel experience from online to in-store. Even if they can’t try it on, they can know the newest Nike shoe is as good as the previous one; it’s that same fit.”
Gumbo Adds the Convenience of Online Shopping for Their Brooklyn Base
Gumbo is a boutique specializing in unique items from accessories to home goods and particularly kids’ clothing and toys. The name comes from the dish made famous by New Orleans, a combination of different flavors that come together to form an amazing meal. As owner Karen Zebulon explains: “That’s what my store is: it’s a lot of things in one pot. Culturally, I have things from all over the world. I have things for children. I have things for adults; it’s really a melting pot.”
Prior to the COVID pandemic, the store, on Atlantic Avenue in the heart of Brooklyn, was a gathering place offering classes, events and of course shopping. When COVID hit, Zebulon turned her focus to her online store. One of her biggest challenges in the past had been finding the time to invest in it. She did all of the design herself and appreciated that BigCommerce allowed her to easily change the template and move things around. “It was wonderful that I could just pick another format, press a button and then all of a sudden, my site, everything moved into place in a brand new updated format,” explains Zebulon.
Like many small business owners, she was also working around the clock so she appreciated BigCommerce’s 24/7 support: “If I was working at two or three in the morning, and I had a problem I couldn’t figure out, I could just pick up the phone and call, and somebody was always able to help me.”
Gumbo sells directly through its website and on a local online marketplace that lets people shop at Brooklyn businesses and get their orders delivered the same day. Local customers have embraced the Gumbo website because it allows them to see her products before coming in. Gumbo also set up a buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) option which customers have loved, particularly in the early days of COVID-19, so they wouldn’t have to enter the store. BOPIS and curbside options are a great way for offline to online businesses to provide added convenience to local shoppers.
Having an online store has also changed the way Zebulon runs her business. She says it’s provided her more insights into what people are buying and changed the products and quantities she orders. In terms of what’s next, Zebulon says she’s excited to continue building her online business to meet growing demand.
Gumbo’s top tips:
- Look for opportunities to expand your reach beyond just your site. Depending on your niche, this could be traditional marketplaces like Amazon or Walmart, but keep an eye out for unique opportunities as well. For Gumbo, finding shopIN.nyc (an online local marketplace for New York businesses) was a great way to reach a wider audience, while maintaining their shop local ethos.
- Find a platform and partners that can help you launch quickly and grow your business as you’re able. Zebulon was able to work on the Gumbo site incrementally and get support 24/7 along the way.
- Zebulon’s biggest piece of advice is to always focus on promoting your business: “Find as many ways as possible to direct people to your website. Include your business card with your web address in all in-person sales. Post frequently on Instagram and Facebook and use hashtags.”
Bead World Delights Hobbyists with Wide Selection and Fun Tutorials
Bead World began as a brick-and-mortar bead store in Phoenix, Arizona back in 2004 and soon expanded to a second location in Scottsdale. In addition to being a top location for beads and jewelry making supplies, they are also known for their high quality gemstones.
Kiara Thompson joined her mom, Karen Thompson, as business partner and Director of Online Sales in 2019 to build the online branch of the business. She initially considered Shopify, but ultimately chose to build the site on BigCommerce, in part because the platform supports large catalogues — important as beadworld.com has to date over 10,000 SKUs and growing! Thompson explains: “With making jewelry, you can’t just have ten different options. We need hundreds of options for colors, finishes and styles. The filters BigCommerce has are helpful for people to find what they need.”
Thompson says she appreciates BigCommerce’s SEO capabilities that make listing new products and getting them to rank easier.
The Bead World website launched in October of 2019. Just five months later, in March of 2020, the world changed and their business along with it. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, their physical stores were temporarily shuttered, and their online business saw a huge influx in business. Shortly after the pandemic began, the number of orders quadrupled from one month to the next. Since launching their store, they’ve also grown their email list significantly.
Efficient fulfillment is important for customer satisfaction in any industry, but particularly for craftspeople and hobbyists eager to work on their projects. Thompson says they’ve received a lot of positive feedback on the site, particularly because of their efficient shipping through ShipStation. ShipStation also benefits the business because it allows them to get competitive shipping rates to make it easier to stand up against the larger bead suppliers. Local customers have enjoyed getting fulfillment even faster by utilizing the buy-online-pickup-in-store option.
One of the big challenges Bead World initially faced was promoting their store with new customers. Thompson explains they’ve leveraged Pinterest to help get the word out and used their blog to bring in beading enthusiasts. By regularly posting educational content like beading tutorials, they’ve been able to generate significant traffic. In fact, 30% of their traffic comes through social media, with 85% of that from Pinterest.
Another challenge they faced was getting people to buy beads online, as beads are something buyers would traditionally like to see and feel in person before purchase. Thompson said for their business, it’s been particularly important to take really true-to-life product photos so customers get exactly what they’re looking for.
Bead World’s top tips:
- Providing promotions and discounts can be a powerful tool not only for customer acquisition, but also retention. One of Bead World’s successful marketing tactics is weekly 40% coupons which consistently bring orders and keep customers coming back for more.
- Content is key. Doubling down on blog posts, sharing beading tutorials and then linking them on Pinterest has significantly increased traffic.
- Thompson offers this advice for businesses new to online: “Don’t be afraid to make a lot of mistakes in the beginning. The mistake you make when you are little will hurt a lot less than making the same mistake when you are bigger.”
Defcon Brings the Heat to Their Online Store
John Dilley created Defcon Hot Sauce after being a connoisseur of wing restaurants for years and deciding one day to create his own hot sauces to surpass what he’d tried. Starting in 2004, the business grew quickly and steadily, mostly through word of mouth and attending events.
Flashing forward to the present day, Defcon is available in all 50 states and 32 countries. While not a typical offline to online story because they never had a brick-and-mortar storefront, they have slowly pivoted their strategy from attending trade shows and farmers markets to letting their online store shine on its own, while still selling their products through wholesalers and on marketplaces.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, many events Defcon attended were closed, but the site increased in sales. People were staying home and cooking more and loving that they could get a condiment to kick things up without leaving their homes. Defcon’s online sales increased 65% year-over-year in 2020.
John and his wife Maggie built the store on BigCommerce after they experienced site crashes and poor customer service on their previous platform. As Maggie explains: “BigCommerce was and is a breath of fresh air, and the customer service is a pleasure to deal with. It was a pleasure to set up as everything was self-explanatory, and very easy to use.”
Defcon’s top tips:
- Let your brand and products shine. Defcon doesn’t spend much on marketing now because they have firmly established their brand and can rely on existing customers and word of mouth. To get there though, they participated in events, hosted a radio show, shared recipes and offered other creative forms of content. BigCommerce also provides a number of marketing tools out-of-the-box to help you establish your brand and build a following.
- Dilley also stresses the importance of simplicity in the customer experience: “Make it as simple as possible. If you think you need all sorts of crazy options on your website, you’re probably wrong. People want to be able to order quickly and safely, and don’t need a bunch of bells and whistles to make up their minds.”
Adding an online store to a brick-and-mortar one can increase your reach, while also providing advantages to local customers. If you’re considering taking your offline store online, check out these resources to get started. Another option to take your offline business online is to monetize your knowledge with digital products – selling online courses or hosting a membership community.
The BigCommerce platform is a great fit for businesses of all sizes looking to grow their online presence. Start a free trial to see if it’s a good fit for your brand.
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