How to get started online part 1: retail

Matt Lindop14 July 2021

Building and maintaining your own online ordering platform can be expensive and time consuming, but there are times it makes sense.

So you want to trade online?

These days customer expect to be able to order online. The big players have set expectations with customers that they should be able to order pretty much anything and expect it quickly.

For today’s independent shop or restaurant the pressure to provide online ordering is great, and there are some solid tools out there…but also traps to avoid.

The story is different for shops and restaurants, so in this first post we’ll just focus on shops. Watch out for the next post on online ordering for restaurants.

Checkpoint: are you sure?

Trading online comes with costs, both direct (the software licences, for example) and indirect (your time or that of your team). So the first thing to check is what you want to achieve by trading online.

An online presence is a great channel to open up if you want to attract new customers who don’t already shop with you - from outside your shop’s area, for example.

If on the other hand your focus is on keeping as many customers who already shop with you from going elsewhere this may be an expensive route to go down.

How to get started online

The easiest way to start your own website is by using one of the excellent - and affordable tools out there.

Shopify is the undisputed king here: it’s grown massively in the past few years and is now one of the most valuable digital properties in the World. Shopify makes it easy to get underway selling online…but there are still costs to consider:

  1. Licence fees: Shopify charges a monthly subscription fee, which is low (currently $29/month), then a commission on all orders
  2. Add on costs: depending on what you want to do you may need to pay for an ‘add on’ - subscriptions and bundles for example
  3. Your time: the single biggest cost which most businesses under estimate is how time consuming it can be to maintain an online store at the same time as run a shop. If customers in your shop have a poorer experience because you’re busy looking after the online orders this could damage your brand

Online marketing: the bottomless pit

One of the most tempting things to do once you have your own online presence is to start spending money advertising it online. Google and Facebook have tools that make it easy to get started, to target customers, and to manage your spend.

But again, be careful: this can work well, but can also be a quick way to lose both time and money!

Here’s the golden rule: your advertising must result in winning transactions you wouldn’t otherwise have won, at a cost you can afford. Many of the advertising solutions out there will measure your click through rate, or your conversion rate…but won’t help you work out if the transaction was incremental.

Marketplaces: save time, but lose margin?

To save the bother of setting up and maintaining your own website, depending on your category, there may well be a good marketplace you could join. Etsy and Trouva, for example, are great marketplaces for makers and homewares respectively.

Marketplaces work by aggregating stock and inventory from many retailers, then using their scale to be able to compete using digital marketing. The catch is it’s expensive - often +10% on any transactions.

With a marketplace you may not need your own online ordering platform, though you should probably still have a basic website.

Loql: the best of both worlds

We’ve built Loql to allow independent retailers to take online orders affordably. Loql is a marketplace, but one really just for people in your community: it’s there to ensure that if your customers want to buy online they can do so, and you can afford to! If on the other hand they’d rather visit your shop…then we would rather they did too!

How to get started on Loql

Right now we’re in our pilot phase and looking for more businesses to join us! The first step is to complete our quick start form

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