Selling Online In Ireland: it's easier than you think.

“The sooner we drop the ‘e’ out of ‘e-commerce’ and just call it commerce, the better.” - Bob Willett, former President of Best Buy International

Just over 30 years ago a proposal for an information management system was drafted by Tim Berners Lee. This ‘Vague, but exciting’ document led to the creation of the World Wide Web and ushered in a new phase of global commerce, triggering a countdown clock for brick-and-mortar stores to take advantage, or risk becoming irrelevant.

The sooner we drop the “e” out of “e-commerce” and just call it commerce, the better.

Bob Willett

Former President, Best Buy International

The mindset Bob Willett was tackling is one that places commerce and e-commerce into two separate categories, when really they should be thought as the same thing. A stickler for technicalities would insist that e-commerce must include an electronic transaction. But it’s your business, there is no rule that your website needs to take online payments. There is no rule that you must offer a delivery service. There is nothing stopping you from using all the benefits of ecommerce, social-media, and search results to drive more customers to your brick-and-mortar store, or accomplish any other goal you identify. There is one governing rule: you just need to make the transaction more convenient, mutually convenient.

I understand that business can feel a bit apprehensive towards offering online payments. It can feel like you are hiring an employee that you know very little about, and they are going to be handling your company transactions, dealing with your customers 24/7 365, automatically responding on your behalf, it’s scary and I get that. So why not start it off a little easier, it would be very convenient to be able find local products and services with a simple email or call to enquire button with easy maps navigation. This alone would place you on a track to competing with global online sellers in your local market. If you are thinking online foreign retailers beat you on price, you might be pleasantly surprised to find consumers will pay more for convince such as quicker time-frames; The option to go get what they want right now rather than waiting for shipping and delivery.

Once you start seeing the benefits of your online activity you still have many options to tailor your digital experience to your existing business. A “Click To Reserve” button for your products would send an alert to your business that a customer wishes to reserve specific items for collection. Activating a free service like Facebook Messenger for your business can provide a direct line of instant communication between you and your potential customers.

It is important to note that you can offer online payments without providing a delivery service. “Click & Collect” is a very good way of giving customers the option of paying online and collecting in store. The Click & Collect process is like the old way of grocery shopping where the customer would say what they want and the shop keeper would personally take it from the shelves and package it up. In this modern version your store gets an electronic notification or automatic docket print out of an order, your customer gets a personal shopper who already knows where the items are kept, and the checkout process is streamlined for everyone with the items ready (and sometimes paid for) upon their arrival.

I believe it is imperative for all business to have a dedicated website showcasing their products and services, but there are still many opportunities to be found in promoting those product pages with digital marketing. The high-streets of the digital world are prime locations on Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, & LinkedIn. They all offer amazing opportunities to drive website traffic and in-store visits, promote your brand to a wider audience, and communicate directly with your potential customers. The great thing about social-media is that it has always been tailored to be user-friendly, to be used by anyone and everyone, and their free marketing tools reflect this.

Climbing the Google rankings is the big challenge, it can be the toughest one to do. There is such a high demand to appear at the top of Google search results because up there you are capturing a customers intent to buy. While social-media is largely you calling out to potential customers, a Google search is a customer calling out to you (and your competitors) looking to make a purchase. The tried and proven route to the top of the Google search results page is having other relevant websites linking to your product pages, known in the industry as “back-linking”. Back-linking essentially allows services like Google to use links on websites like a voting cards, the pages with the most amount of links from relevant articles, reviews, and social media posts appear higher-up in search results. So if you want to climb you need to be active, give people something to write about with pages to link back to.

You might think that you do not have the digital skills to take advantage of online opportunities for your business, and statistically speaking you are probably right. But so far I have not met anyone that cannot pick-up computer coding, let alone basic digital marketing tools in just a couple dedicated hours. And once they do, they rapidly pick-up more advanced digital skills and begin using more publishing tools. The rate of improvement is not a mystery: the tools you need are easier to use than you think, and an increase in customers is great for motivation.