Small business ecommerce — benefits, logistics, software options, and how to get started
Ecommerce is not just for large corporations. Ecommerce has been growing rapidly over the past few years, especially since the pandemic. According to Statista, there are currently more than 8.1 trillion ecommerce websites worldwide.
However, the world of ecommerce can seem daunting to many small business owners. It’s difficult to know where to start, and can be hard to find the capital resources for an expensive, complex ecommerce infrastructure.
The good news is that there are many tools to help small businesses establish an ecommerce presence and manage it efficiently. In this post, we will discuss how to start building your ecommerce application, why it’s essential and cover all the necessary steps. We will also discuss the available platforms and how to market your ecommerce site once it’s up and running.
- Why a small business needs to incorporate ecommerce
- Planning logistics
- How to pick the right ecommerce platform
- Examples of ecommerce platforms for small business
- Marketing with your new ecommerce presence
Why a small business needs to incorporate ecommerce
The shopping landscape has changed dramatically and an online presence is now a necessity rather than a luxury. According to Statista, ecommerce sales surpassed 5.2 trillion in 2021 and are expected to continue increasing over the next few years.
One reason is that customer expectations have shifted, and people want to shop from the comfort of their own homes, on their own schedules. Consumers also enjoy fast, affordable shipping that suppliers like Amazon have made standard.
Ecommerce is especially important for small businesses because most customers prefer to shop small. According to Red Egg Marketing, 82.76% of customers would rather shop locally, but they don’t always have the opportunity unless those stores have an online presence.
And skipping an ecommerce experience leaves business on the table for competitors. Many customers do online research before buying a product or visiting the store. If you don’t have an online presence, you may not be included in the mix and could lose customer trust in addition to a sale.
You might be surprised to learn that only 71% of small businesses have a website, according to a study by Top Design Firms. There is a substantial opportunity for your small business to capture new customers and grow while increasing your competitiveness in the marketplace.
There are other business benefits to adding an ecommerce experience to your brand, including analytics, customer experience, and marketing.
Marketing professionals know that the key to promoting products and services is to thoroughly understand your customers. It’s easier to track customers’ shopping habits online than in a physical store. You will also get more high-quality data about your audience to help you make strategic marketing decisions.
Ecommerce tools for small businesses include great metrics and reporting for marketing and product positioning. Since these tools are built directly into your storefront, you can view and use the data in real time.
Improved customer experience
Consumers increasingly expect convenience in all their shopping experiences. They want to be able to shop whenever and wherever is most convenient and not feel pressured to buy immediately. Your online presence can improve the overall customer experience (CX) with your brand.
For example, offering shoppers a choice to buy online and have their order shipped or prepared for pick-up gives them more control over their purchasing journey. An ecommerce site also enhances customers’ in-store shopping experiences by allowing them to check inventory levels before making a trip to your store.
Extra marketing reach and new customers
An ecommerce storefront allows you to reach far more customers than just those living near your business. A physical store limits your audience because customers will only travel so far to buy your products. An online presence allows you to reach audiences everywhere. You can even expand your business worldwide if you want.
Some small home-based businesses have dramatically increased their sales with an ecommerce website and strategic paid and social media marketing.
The first step for a small business getting started in ecommerce is to develop an online business plan as the blueprint for moving forward. Some key considerations include:
- What you will sell online and how much of your inventory will be available through ecommerce. Consider listing some items online that are only available for pick-up in the store.
- What kinds of payments you will accept on your website. Consider offering multiple payment options for your customers. Provide basic debit and credit card payments, but also digital wallets like ApplePay and PayPal. Giving customers a choice gives you an advantage over the competition.
- What shipping and delivery options you can offer. Think about where you will ship from and where you will ship to. Think about how much time and work will be involved in packaging and shipping products. You don’t want to hurt your in-store work with too much shipping, so a third-party or dropship operation might be helpful. Consider packaging costs and sales tax laws as well.
Planning and budgeting for these logistics will help as you execute your plan to get everything up and running online.
How to pick the right ecommerce platform
The most important decision a small business owner will make about their ecommerce presence is the software that you use to run it. There are a lot of ecommerce platforms available and choosing the right one for your business will make everything easier — from setting up your online store, to running it every day.
Types of ecommerce software
There are different types of ecommerce software and what works for one business may not be best for another. The first step to choosing the right platform is knowing which type of software you need.
- SaaS (software-as-a-service). SaaS software is the most common type of ecommerce solution for small businesses. SaaS users are essentially renting the technology from a third party so you don’t have to worry about maintaining it, installing upgrades, finding web hosting, or any other web-related issues. Using a SaaS solution is a great way for small businesses to get up and running quickly. Most of these services offer training and support options if you get stuck.
- Open source. Open source software is installed on your own web hosting space and gives owners complete control to build and maintain their own ecommerce website. It’s a great option if you want detailed access to every aspect of your platform and have the technical knowledge to do it. You could also pay a web developer to build it for you. However, it can be costly to build your own site because you might have to pay more for hosting, development, maintenance, and security than you would with a SaaS platform.
- Headless commerce. Another option for ecommerce is a headless commerce solution. These offer the best range of features and functionality, but they can be complex. With headless commerce, the front-end and back-end of the site are entirely separate, allowing you to update the look and feel of your website without affecting your inventory or the fulfillment or sale of products. Headless commerce is great for growing and larger businesses.
A SaaS solution will serve most small businesses best, so those are the options that we will focus on.
Seven tips for choosing an ecommerce platform for your small business
When selecting an ecommerce platform to use for your business, you need to consider price, ease of use, payment options, web design, analytics, and other factors that can affect your overall success.
Most small businesses do not have an unlimited budget. Figure out your budget for an ecommerce solution first and stick to it. Find the right balance between features and cost that work for you.
Accept free trials and inexpensive lower tiers while also thinking about the future. These are great options for trying out new software, but consider if a mid-level payment is in the budget before you invest in a smaller one. If you can’t afford to upgrade when you need it, switching platforms later is much harder.
Be aware of extra expenses like domains, security certificates, themes, plugins, hosting, and credit card processing fees. As you compare prices for SaaS solutions, note which ones include hosting and which don’t. Take stock of which have a large library of affordable themes and plugins as well.
2. Ease of use
Running a small business takes a lot of time already. Make sure you choose a platform that is easy to use and runs smoothly. Read reviews to see what other business owners had to say about set up and maintenance. Note the kinds of support and customer service each platform offers as well.
3. Flexible payment options
You will want to offer your customers the flexible payment options that they are used to on larger ecommerce sites. However, you need to consider the transaction fees you will have to pay for each credit card processing service. Some payment gateways are less expensive than others, so shop around when choosing payment options for your website.
4. Web design
The look and feel of your ecommerce website are critical. Think about how unique you want your site to look and if you are okay with using a template. Most ecommerce solutions offer a wide variety of templates that look great and are easy to customize, but there are varying degrees of customization available. Some are also easier to adjust than others, so consider your own skill level as well.
5. Extensive analytics
Analytics help you measure your website’s performance and track customer behavior to understand better how to market your products and your business overall. The ecommerce platform you choose should include extensive analytics and reporting that are easy to use, so you can make smarter decisions and sell more.
Be sure the platform has data on the entire customer journey so you can get a full picture of how well your site is helping your audience.
6. Additional features and tools
Ecommerce is much more than just establishing a website and marketing it. Choose a platform that simplifies your process and offers built-in features like automated promotions, discounts, customer groups, social sharing, email marketing, and integrations to help you grow your small business. These capabilities are available from other plugins as well, but the fewer third-party apps you have to deal with, the more streamlined your ecommerce experience will be.
Some other features to look for with your ecommerce platform are inventory management, product recommendations, and customer account management. Reputable platforms also offer sales across multiple channels, multiple brands and sites, different geolocations, B2B and B2C sales, and self-service options for customers. Be sure your chosen platform has reliable security and compliance as well.
As you enter ecommerce, choosing a platform that fits your business is essential. You don’t want one that is too big or complex for your current business, but you also want it to be scalable so it will grow with you as your business expands. Establish your ecommerce presence on a platform you can stay with for the long term so you don’t have to upgrade later. Find out if your chosen platform has any caps that you should be aware of before moving forward.
Examples of ecommerce platforms for small business
There are dozens of ecommerce platforms to choose from when you’re ready to get started. Here are some of the more popular platforms you can use to quickly and easily develop an ecommerce presence for your business.
- Adobe Commerce. Previously Magento, Adobe Commerce is a flexible, extensible, and scalable ecommerce platform designed to create personalized B2C and B2B shopping experiences. The easy-to-use drag-and-drop interface allows you to get up and running fast. The platform includes a visual merchandiser, inventory management, robust data reports, analytics, many payment options, and is fully secure and compliant.
- BigCommerce. BigCommerce is an ecommerce platform designed for small businesses that are growing fast. Although it has many advanced features like SEO optimization, it can be complex to learn and use. If you are just starting out with ecommerce, you might want to consider an easier solution.
- Shopify. Shopify is a very popular SaaS ecommerce platform, and you can extend its built-in functionality with dozens of plugins. The service offers features like integration with other programs and includes SSL. However, Shopify was designed exclusively for small businesses and imposes limits on the number of SKUs and products you can use with it.
- Squarespace. Squarespace is a website builder that leans heavily on design so customers can use Squarespace to design a visually appealing online store in minutes. But Squarespace is not primarily for ecommerce, so it has fewer ecommerce features than other platforms.
- Volusion. Volusion is an ecommerce platform specifically designed for companies that are growing. It offers all the features users need to create an online store combined with metrics, customer tracking reports, and site performance gauges. The downside is that Volution caps bandwidth and does not offer payment options outside the US.
- Weebly. Weebly makes it easy for business owners to get started with a small ecommerce presence. You don’t need any technical knowledge to get up and running, but it lacks advanced features, is not as customizable as other platforms, and is not scalable for growth.
- Wix. Wix is a highly-rated storefront builder that makes it easy for beginners to get started in ecommerce. It includes a drag-and-drop interface, lots of design templates, and dozens of customizable options. It also automatically optimizes your online presence for mobile devices. The platform supports many payment gateways and easily handles sales tax and shipping. However, your online store could slow down if you have a large inventory.
- WooCommerce. WooCommerce is a free plugin that extends the WordPress content management system (CMS) with a full-service ecommerce solution. It has become very popular due to its integration with WordPress. Users can also extend its functionality with additional plugins. It’s open source, flexible, and customizable, but you need some technical knowledge to set it up and your site needs to be on WordPress.
Marketing with your new ecommerce presence
Marketing your new ecommerce presence is essential, but it’s important to note that it will be different from marketing your in-store business. The first step is cultivating awareness that you have an online storefront. The good news is that you don’t have to convince customers to come to your store — only click to make a purchase.
Digital marketing for your small business ecommerce store can take many forms. Start with the one you’re most comfortable with and expand slowly, as you have the time and resources.
- Email marketing. One very effective method of marketing your ecommerce store is email marketing. You can target specific customers with deals they might be interested in or products related to their past purchases. You can also reach out on birthdays or anniversaries to offer special discounts.
- Content marketing. Online content marketing is a great way to reach your audience, offer them valuable information, and gently steer them toward your products or services. A blog can be used to provide information, insights, and in-depth reviews about your products. It can also function like a physical newsletter for small businesses alerting customers about deals, discounts, and new products.
- Search engine optimization (SEO). Ecommerce SEO is a digital marketing channel that helps your site content show up in Google search results. It’s another essential aspect of marketing your new ecommerce presence. Make sure your website runs smoothly and is optimized for search engines so that customers can find you easily. Then use your blog to answer common questions that your audience has, related to your industry.
When choosing an ecommerce platform, it’s crucial to find one with built-in marketing tools to make the entire process more manageable.
Getting started with small business ecommerce
Ecommerce can help your business expand its reach, create a better brand experience for your customers, and collect insightful data on customer interactions. Establishing an online storefront can drastically boost sales as well.
Get started by deciding what you need from an ecommerce solution. Develop a strategy about how many products you will offer and how you will take care of shipping and handling. Those guidelines will help you decide what you need in ecommerce software.
Adobe Commerce offers everything in one place, including an easy-to-use storefront builder, inventory management system, deep, robust analytics and reports, multi-channel support, multiple payment options, and full integration with other Adobe products.