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How to move your small business online

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In recent months, the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) led to a stampede of small businesses rushing to set up an online presence, as their premises were forced to shut down due to lockdown.

This surge in interest is reflected in figures published by IE Domain Registry where registrations of .ie domain names increased by 56% in Q2 of 2020.

Even large companies that were previously stalwarts of brick-and-mortar have made moves.

Dunnes Stores is offering grocery delivery in Dublin and Cork, through the grocery delivery app, Buymie. And Aldi has partnered with Deliveroo to trial deliveries for customers in Dublin.

But how does your small business with potentially limited resources go about making such a shift? Read this article to find out what you need to do.

Explore financial assistance and training resources

Want to move your small business online? The good news is there’s help out there, including financial government assistance.

Companies with up to 10 employees can apply for the Trading Online Voucher Scheme, worth up to €2,500, through the Local Enterprise Office network.

And companies that have already received a voucher can now apply for a second voucher, where upgrades are required.

There’s a plethora of information and free training available, too.

One example comes courtesy of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce. It’s launched a guide for SMEs on how to sell online.

Meanwhile, the eCommerce Association of Ireland has put a team of mentors together that offer a minimum of five hours of free mentoring.

Do your research

However, while there are plenty of resources available, it can still be a daunting prospect to move your business online.

Your company’s previous online foray may only have been a Facebook page. But if you want a weightier presence, you need to think about payment processors, delivery partners, ecommerce platforms and more.

Niall Bodkin, chair of the eCommerce Association, has a word of caution: “The first thing we would say is do not rush.

“Everybody is clamouring to get online and the decisions you make now can have a detrimental effect on your business going forward.”

It’s imperative to put in the research before rushing into any decisions.

Bodkin adds: “Our advice is to really think about your idea now, to look at doing some research on Google of like-minded websites.

“Take screenshots of the little features that come up on the website and make a collage of something that you want, and come up with your idea then.”

Take baby steps

Your business doesn’t necessarily have to go all out from the start. Baby steps can be a good policy.

While it may not seem as glamorous as having a bespoke website, your company could simply choose to sell on eBay or Amazon.

As Bodkin explains, it depends on your product.

He says: “The advantage of eBay and Amazon is you’ve a ready-made market and everything is done for you. But there are also issues as well – you’ve a lot of competition and it might bring your price down.

“So, it really depends on what your product is.

“If your product is a bespoke product, then you really don’t have any competition, so go on to eBay and Amazon and start selling it there.”

There are also smaller, focused marketplaces and several of these were developed during lockdown, such as Beer Cloud, which was set up by a group of Irish craft brewers.

However, if you decide you want your own website, you have two main options.

You could buy an off-the-shelf option from online website builders such as Wix, Shopify and Irish company Magico, or you could employ a developer to design a customised website.

There are plusses and minuses with either option.

Using an off-the shelf option is cheaper and quicker – you could have a website up and running in a day. However, the process also requires a certain amount of know-how.

By using an experienced designer, you could avoid many pitfalls and may save money in the long run.

Offer a great customer experience

But no matter how you get your product to market, it must be a seamless experience for your customer.

Bodkin says: “The battleground for the next 10 years in ecommerce isn’t price. People buy because of the convenience. People buy because of the customer experience.

“So, let’s say you have a bad returns policy. It’s more than likely that person will never buy from you again.

“There’s so much competition out there, so you must make sure that everything is as smooth as possible.

“It’s about the overall experience, from landing on your website, to finding the product easily, and the whole thing of how it’s delivered to your door, how you paid for it.

“And if there is a problem, is it going to be handled efficiently? Our advice would be to work all that into your pricing.”

Provide an easy and secure payments process

An important part of the customer experience is making payments easy and secure.

Choosing from the numerous payment processors such as PayPal, Stripe, Bank of Ireland or AIB merchant services is an important decision.

“A lot of companies choose payment providers based on the rate or commission being charged, and that would be a mistake,” says Bodkin.

“It goes back to your customer experience. You really need to think about your payments, because they’re part of your customer experience.

“If somebody has an issue in the payments end of your website, and it’s cumbersome, and it’s not one-click easy, they may not come back.

“You need that process to be streamlined, you need that process to be secure and you need to have an after-sale service in your payments.

“There’s a lot of payment vendors out there and our advice is to go and talk to each of them and let them sell it to you. See what the different features are and whether they suit your business. They’ve all got different benefits.”

An online presence is more important than ever

With the impact of coronavirus still making an impact, the way of doing business has changed forever.

In this new normal, where pensioners are now shopping for groceries online and making videoconferencing calls with their grandchildren, small businesses also have to adapt and ensure they have a well-thought-out online presence.

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