Managing a brick-and-mortar store is relatively straightforward. You have your inventory, and your customers will walk through your front door in order to purchase that inventory. That’s about it.
On the other hand, managing online sales is a much different challenge, and it can get more complicated as you expand your operations and start selling from multiple channels, or if you need to balance in-store and online sales.
And you won’t be alone in this challenge: There are an estimated 1.3 million e-commerce companies in the U.S. and Canada, which means competition is fierce and the margin for error is small.
Create a quality multi-channel operation
There are so many ways to sell your products online. You can go through Amazon’s Marketplace, or a platform like Shopify, or a social media site like Facebook or create your own sales page altogether. In fact, why not do all four, and then some? (You can even look into creating a branded mobile app to ensure a smooth mobile shopping experience.)
The more places your products appear on the web, the easier it will be for you to sell them.
When creating your own sales platform, create a robust, mobile-friendly landing page and sales page that people will feel comfortable ordering from. If you haven’t built out your site entirely but still want to start selling, use something like the UnderConstruction plugin to fill in the temporary blanks.
Regardless of how many channels you end up operating, invest in a tool like BigCommerce to sync your inventory across all your platforms, so you’re not selling inventory that you don’t actually have. There’s nothing worse for your brand than being unable to fulfill a customer’s order after already taking it.
With that in mind, you may also want a tool that helps consolidate your customer service requests and demands across all of your platforms. A major part of any operation is ensuring you have constant and immediate contact with your customers—allowing a question or issue or languish unchecked could be the difference between a sale, and repeat business, or nothing.
Invest in POS system that integrates with your existing infrastructure
If you have a brick-and-mortar store, you probably haven’t been doing business without a point-of-sale system. The question is, do you have one that integrates with your foray into online sales?
The best POS systems and software not only track inventory, process credit cards, and help with employee payroll—they also help you set up online selling options and support your online sales. They also integrate with different accounting software like Xero or Quickbooks.
Investing in one of these systems means you won’t skip a beat as you move seamlessly from selling in-store to online. By removing the number of steps you need to take to make that transition, you effectively reduce your chance of making errors and underwhelming your customers.
Find software that balances your inventory turnover ratio
If you’ve invested in a POS system or retail software, you’ll have help from this point forward in tracking your inventory levels.
There are, however, other metrics you should track when it comes to your inventory. Perhaps the most important one is your inventory turnover ratio, which measures how many times you sold your inventory in a given period. The formula is simple: the cost of the good sold, divided by average inventory.
A low inventory turnover ratio suggests you spend too much on the holding costs of inventory (such as warehouse space and insurance), and you may be losing part of your investment on deterioration. A ratio that is too high means that you’re often going to run out of stock at crucial periods and won’t be able to complete orders.
Use inventory management software to create a baseline level of inventory, then keep that level balanced, in order to be most efficient.
As a general rule, you should be auditing your inventory regularly—consider at least quarterly or even monthly check-ins to ensure your inventory levels are where they should be, and you aren’t experiencing any points of friction along your supply chain.
Stick to tools that help you engage with your customers
The great thing about selling online is that you can engage and follow up with your customers in ways brick-and-mortar stores can’t. Once people leave in-person stores, they typically disappear from view. But you can keep in touch with online visitors.
Did a potential customer fill up a shopping cart and then abandon it before purchase? You can send them a follow-up email encouraging them to follow through. Does someone have a question about a product or delivery method? Enlist a chatbot to see if their question can be answered with artificial intelligence, no matter what time of day. Need to process a return? Create a clear, streamlined process to minimize customer headaches and your own losses.
Being aware of customer complaints and following up with them is one thing—capitalizing on what the internet is capable of to serve better your customers is another.
Consider outsourcing tasks you aren’t efficient at tackling
You likely didn’t start your online business because you love the intricacies of fulfilling orders. You did it to sell your product or service to the masses.
So if you need to bring in a third-party to handle tasks like shipping fulfillment, marketing, social media management, or creating your mobile app—that’s a fine and worthy investment. The time that you don’t spend doing something that someone can do better will be better spent perfecting your product or creating new revenue streams.
The trick here is to maintain oversight of all of your business. You can still delegate and assign tasks to employees and outside parties, but always ensure you have final say and control.
Good, effective management is all about oversight, transparency, and data. If you can see clearly into your operations and inventory levels, and transmit that information effectively to your customers and partners, you’ll be in good shape. The other parts of running a good business—from branding to advertising to hiring a good team—are all up to you.