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How to get your business online quickly to keep selling during a crisis

If you can’t deliver your products, you don’t really have an online business

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The COVID-19 pandemic is bringing more customers online, giving businesses an opportunity to get online quickly or enhance their online presence to make sales.

There are many platform options to move your business online if you haven’t already. However, there are also a number of things to consider in order to start selling, says Tyler Lockyer, Business Advisor, BDC Advisory Services.

“Moving your business online will be essential to your company’s survival during this crisis,” says Lockyer.

“It can be done quickly and efficiently with some planning.”

Here are the six key things that Lockyer recommends business owners do to become web-based sellers:

1. Build your product catalogue

Your products need to move from the store shelf to a digital catalogue, Lockyer says. You need to show customers what your products are and what they look like. That means you need an image, description and product attributes, such as colours and sizes, he says. All of this information will live as a product database for your store.

“Start building your product catalogue immediately. You will need web-ready images of your products, as well as accurate descriptions and available variations.”

2. Who picks, packs, and delivers your orders?

When a customer buys something online, it has to be picked off the shelf and put in a package that has a shipping label.

“Do you have a shipping supplier? Can you print shipping labels? At minimum, I would think about your fulfillment process,” Lockyer advises.

“How are you going to manage the delivery of those products?”

Can your retail staff be re-deployed to online sales fulfillment to help get your products shipped, he asks.

Keep in mind that Canada Post and other delivery services may be overwhelmed with deliveries. It may be challenging to find a service to deliver your product, if you don’t already have a good partner lined up.

“If you can’t send the product, then you don’t really have an online business.”

3. How will you receive payment?

If you’re going to be selling primarily online during this period, how are you going to accept payments?

“What’s your plan to manage funds for a transaction?” he asks. “How is the payment going to get into your bank account?”

Although there are several options to receive payment online, and often platform solutions make it easy, some of these options come with higher transaction fees than others. Also, some require connectivity to a business bank account.

Doing business online could be essential to your company’s survival during this crisis.

4. Fees, pricing, and policies

Lockyer says you will need to consider how your new business expenses, such as online transaction fees or unrecoverable fulfillment costs, could affect your product pricing.

“Now is also a good time to complete an online competitive audit to see what pricing has been set in the marketplace.”

You will need to review (and possibly) revise your product pricing strategy as you enter  the world of online sales.

Do you want to provide free delivery to attract customers? Do you need to do any price adjustments, given the situation? Do your existing store policies consider these situations?

5. How will you deal with customer service?

Lockyer says you may have entirely new questions from your customers that you aren’t used to responding to, and in a new format. Someone will need to monitor questions that come from your online store.

“Now, you will have to respond to people in a different way. Be prepared to be responsive to online shopping questions.”

In addition, most ecommerce platforms will include a level of email automation. Be sure to set the right kinds of expectations with your customers in your automated emails (order confirmation, shipping notice, etc.).

6. The importance of technology

If you’re already online you need to make sure that your website is transactional, Lockyer says. There are several options available that require varying amounts of technical support in order to get online.

Growing your business online equates with higher revenues, direct communication with customers and easier access to global markets, says the recent BDC study, Expand Online.

The study found that four out of 10 Canadian SMEs with an online presence sell, receive and take orders online. Consequently, 60% of Canadian SMEs are missing huge growth opportunities.

Getting online fast can make a huge difference to your business at this time.

“These are the crucial things that are necessary for you to do to get online quickly,” Lockyer says.

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