It’s no secret that the future of business is digital. While we are all craving a return to ‘normalcy’ and look forward to visiting our favorite stores in person, online shopping will continue to grow. As business advisors, it’s imperative that we stay educated on the ever-evolving digital landscape so we can best support you, our clients.
When it comes to the world of e-commerce, we turn to a long standing VtSBDC partner, Jacob Dubois, founder of Uptown Cow. Jacob started Uptown Cow in 2016 and has grown his business into a full service eCommerce marketing company that helps e-commerce store owners manage and grow their online store in order to spend more time on the things they enjoy.
As we enter a new year, and online shopping becomes even more relevant, we asked Jacob to share some insights into what he’s learned, what trends are heading our way and tips for Vermont business owners. Check it out!
The Starting Point: What have you learned this year through your work with local businesses?
Jacob Dubois: There’s no question that COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact on retail stores across Vermont. We’ve watched some businesses use existing online stores to keep their business alive; some businesses were forced to close and some are still making a decision whether to go online. While we (Vermonters) maintain an appreciation for traditional brick-and-mortar storefronts, online stores have enabled businesses to share their products and services to customers all while ensuring everyone’s safety. In some ways, online stores provided a level of comfort and connection for many while we followed guidelines to stay home.
I’m not saying this because my job depends on it, but eCommerce is truly here to stay. Online shopping has been steadily growing year-over-year and 2020 skyrocketed eCommerce exponentially. Everyone is asking, will retail continue to resurge as the pandemic calms? The answer is yes. When it’s safe, we will return to stores but shopping behaviors have drastically changed forever. Online stores will continue to be a part of how consumers receive their goods and services and they will expect more from brick-and-mortar locations. Just as Amazon made lightning-speed-shipping an e-Commerce norm, the pandemic has made curbside pickup and delivery an expectation.
The Starting Point: What can businesses do to ease the transition from in-person to online?
Jacob Dubois: The good news for businesses that are transitioning from in-person to online (or some combination of the two) is that advice, tools & guides are readily available. The common platforms (Shopify, BigCommerce, Square) have detailed documentation that make it easy to find answers when building your online storefront.
Our Online Presence Guide is a great resource for understanding your current website status and clearly lays out the options when considering selling online. After assessing your current website, the guide will help you choose a next step based on budget, personnel, etc. Building a successful online store is not an easy task for most businesses as there are a lot of moving parts, so I highly recommend reaching out to a business advisor to help guide you through the process if it’s your first time. Local businesses, like Uptown Cow, are also great resources as we are dedicated to the success of local businesses and the Vermont economy as a whole.
At the end of the day, the best advice I can give is to really commit to the transition from in-person to online (or both). Businesses who find the most success online tend to have a dedicated team (or person) regularly reviewing analytics, sending email campaigns, updating products and more. This person doesn’t need to be a full-time employee, there are a lot of great independent contractors around this state!
The Starting Point: You just mentioned businesses having a combination of in-person and online. How can retail and online complement each other?
Jacob Dubois: During a time when customers have varying levels of comfort, your business needs to meet them where they are at. Enabling customers to buy online and ship directly to their home or pickup at your store may be the feature that keeps those customers coming back. Who doesn’t love browsing products from the couch AND supporting local businesses?
In response to the pandemic, e-Commerce platforms have really stepped up their game. There are so many tools available right now, it has never been easier to set up a website and start selling online. With reduced foot traffic, your website has become the storefront of your business. I would highly recommend upgrading and styling your website so it really represents your business and brand. Like I said, e-Commerce is here to stay so it’s important that you always put your best foot forward, like you would in person.
The Starting Point: Any tips, tricks or things to keep in mind?
Jacob Dubois: Ah, I can’t give away all my secrets! But my biggest advice to business owners is to choose a platform that integrates well with your POS system. Importing products can be extremely time consuming when moving online so it’s always helpful to research which eCommerce platform plays well with your POS system & vice-versa. (If you don’t know, we can help you figure that out.) You’ll also want to consider integrations with your payment processor and accounting software.
That’s the technical side of it. From a business perspective, Always be collecting email addresses! I can’t stress this enough. So many retail businesses do not collect information on their customers for future marketing purposes. I try to remind my clients that it is much easier (and less expensive) to encourage an existing customer to purchase again than it is to start a relationship with a new customer. And when it comes to transitioning to e-commerce, whether you’re going completely online or supplementing your retail revenue, it will be exponentially easier if you have contact information for your existing customers.
Finally, don’t stress and don’t get overwhelmed. There is a LOT of information floating around the Internet about how to start an online store and not all of it is great. Again, I highly recommend starting with a conversation with your VtSBDC Advisor and working through our Online Presence Guide to get organized before diving in.
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