10 reasons for clients to move their brick-and-mortar businesses online (at least partially)

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It’s no secret that the internet has changed the way we do business. Not only are there more ways to shop and more things to choose from than ever before, but the opportunities (and pitfalls) for business owners are also numerous.

Chances are that you have clients who own a brick-and-mortar business, but don’t yet have an online component to their business—or even much of an online presence at all. There are some great reasons to embrace the next step in the evolution of business, and help them sort out the pros and cons along the way.

A brick-and-mortar business is any business with a physical storefront, where people go in person to do their shopping. It might be a used car lot, clothing store, or even a private consulting or therapy office. Some businesses have gone entirely online, many maintain a hybrid of virtual and physical stores, and others are still resisting the idea of going entirely online.

Moving online: How hard is it?

As far as the details are concerned, moving online depends on the business, but there are definitely pros and cons. Let’s start with the pros.

1. Online is accessible

One limitation of brick-and-mortar businesses is that they have brick-and-mortar hours. If your customers can’t get to the store or place of business when your clients are open, they’re simply going to have to wait until they’re open again—or, worse, go to a competitor. With an online business, customers can shop at their discretion, ordering goods or services at any time of day, week, or year.

The increased accessibility of an online business can also apply to people who are older, disabled, have transportation issues, or otherwise might not be able to get to a physical location as easily as they’d like.

2. Clients will have a larger clientele

When a client owns a brick-and-mortar store, the customer base might be limited to the people in that state, city, or neighborhood. When they take their business online, they have the potential for a much wider audience. With enough success, ambition, and good marketing, a business might even go global. When shopfront is on the internet, people aren’t limited by their location or proximity.

3. Enable customer data and customization to build relationships

While it’s entirely possible—and even common practice—to get to know customers personally in order to cater to their preferences and keep them coming back for more, this relationship generally isn’t an option in online sales … or is it?

One of the major advantages to taking a business online is the amount of data your clients can collect on their customers. If someone comes into a brick-and-mortar shop and buys something, that only tells you a little bit about them. Loyalty programs and mailing lists will only take them so far in terms of customer data, but with the right e-commerce software and technological support, they can collect all kinds of information on their customers without going to a lot of extra trouble.

4. Personalize the experience

When customers buy online, the owner might get access to:

  • Personal demographics, such as age, ethnicity, income, education, marital status, and where they live.
  • Preferential data with regard to what they like to buy, brands they’re loyal to, how sensitive they are to sales or high prices, and other information.
  • Behavioral data, including their purchase history, and when and where they shop at the business. Do they buy full price? How much time do they spend at an online shop?

Information like this can be studied with analytics software. You can not only personalize content to customers without having a one-on-one conversation, but also get hard data on what’s working and what isn’t.

5. Flexibility is key

Just because a store is online 24/7 doesn’t mean the owner also has to be online. If your clients own a brick-and-mortar store, they might have to be there from opening to closing, or even longer. With an online business, owners can set their own hours when it comes to fulfilling orders and being available for customer service requests. The hours may not necessarily be shorter, but they will be the owner’s hours to choose.

6. There may be lower overhead

There are many expenses typically incurred by brick-and-mortar stores that online sites simply don’t have to contend with, such as office rent and utilities. If clients are moving their business online, they may also be able to do their work with fewer employees and staff—meaning they might be able to either bring down the expenses significantly or move everyone to a much nicer working space for the same cost. Depending on the nature of the product or service, the types of things they would pay for could drop dramatically.

7. More convenience for customers

We’ve already talked about customers being able to shop whenever they want at an always-open online business, but there’s also the advantage of being able to shop wherever they want, browsing with a mobile app or browser, and buying things with just a click or two. They also have the option of different payment providers, giving them more choice and flexibility as customers. No crowds, no lines, no driving or trying to find a parking spot. With an online shop, customers enjoy a lot more convenience, which holds a lot of appeal.

8. There is more space

It may seem like a minor thing, but it’s definitely a perk. When you have clients who go digital, it means a lot of your paperwork goes digital, too. That could mean no more piles and documentation cluttering their offices. However, If they move the product to a fulfillment center or other third-party facility, they could free up space that’s normally taken by inventory, and either move to smaller offices or make their existing offices a much more spacious and pleasurable place to be.

9. Technology support is readily available

Website development no longer has to be a painful, expensive process. Services such as Squarespace can get you set up with a beautiful, functional website in a matter of days or hours.

  • Instead of hiring a graphic designer for online promotional materials or creating a graph in Excel, the client can become versed in free tools, such as Canva, to create appealing graphics from existing templates.
  • The business’ social media presence doesn’t have to all be done manually, and can be scheduled with online tools. These include Hootsuite and Buffer.
  • The business can migrate its phone services to resources like Nextiva’s multichannel contact center to use voice over IP.
  • A roadmap and timeline for a business is typically done on paper, but can be migrated to an online service, including Preceden or other timeline tools. This software is not only more flexible and visually appealing, but also much easier to share and collaborate.
  • The quality of your client’s customer service doesn’t have to take a major hit just because they’re no longer face-to-face with customers. They can still provide top-flight services with a variety of online customer service tools, and even entrust some of their customer service to chatbot software, which can handle common customer service needs without having to involve additional staff. Top 11 FreshDesk Alternatives is a great guide that goes over all the top help desk software, and the pros and cons for each one.

10. Scalability is important

We’ve already touched on the possibility of your client’s business reaching a global customer base, but another advantage of taking your business online is that going global doesn’t necessarily have to mean a logistical nightmare. With brick-and-mortar stores, going nationwide or international can be a huge undertaking, and expanding too fast has killed more than one business. An online store doesn’t necessarily require building brick-and-mortar shop fronts worldwide, hiring staff in other states or countries, or a number of other scaling problems.

Cons to moving online

While there are a lot of perks to taking a business online, it’s not all sunshine and roses. Here are a few of the potential downsides and challenges.

1. There’s a learning curve

Going online may mean a whole new way of doing business, which means your clients have plenty of things to learn all over again. All that handy software has to be installed, implemented, learned, and mastered. If there are employees, they’ll have to be brought up to speed as well. The way order fulfillment is done may change drastically, and you will still have to deal with some scaling issues if your client hits it big.

2. It’s a building process

It may take some time to attract new customers to the online business, and existing customers might be resistant to shop online, at least at first. There will need to be some solid marketing to get the name out there and establish a reputation, which means fulfillment and customer service will have to be top-notch. If your client fears some of their customers might jump ship and go to a competitor once they move online, they’ll have to implement some strategies to retain those customers.

3. There will be more time demands 

Although a business can choose its hours by moving to the internet, it’s also very possible to let the business and personal life blur a little. When a business is online 24/7, it might start to feel like the owner should be, too, and that’s a recipe for disaster. Advise your clients to take measures to make sure they don’t spend so much time tending to the fine details that burn them out.

4. What about refunds and returns?

When customers buy online, one thing they often can’t do is try out a product before they purchase it. As a result, more customers might end up dissatisfied if they find out the product or service isn’t what they wanted or expected. With that in mind, it’s critical to have solid refund and return policies in place to have a better chance of keeping those customers happy.

5. Don’t forget about security

Cybersecurity is an ever-present and growing problem, and not enough business owners take enough precautions when it comes to keeping their business. More importantly, they want to keep their customer data safe. Keeping track of when and if an identity was stolen has become a full-time job for many employers. A major part of setup time should be dedicated to making sure everything from the website, to social media, to apps is as secure as possible.

6. It’s crowded online

With a brick-and-mortar business, your client may be the oldest, most well-known, or even the only such business in the neighborhood or town. But when going online, they’re stepping onto a much bigger stage, and chances are that competitors are already there. To be successful, the owner will have to find ways to get noticed and set the business apart from the others, and that means having a great marketing plan in place by the time the business is ready to open up online.

Hybrid solutions are possible

While you can help your clients sort out the pros and cons of moving online, there is, of course, the possibility of a hybrid solution. The client maintains a brick-and-mortar presence, but also has an online marketplace.

The key to a hybrid solution is to stay organized, especially when it comes to tax and accounting. You can guide your clients with a lot of the points in this article, but you can also take the lead when it comes to sales tax, e-commerce reporting, and many other matters. QuickBooks® and the tax software you use is a large part of your solution. 

If you have clients who have a hybrid sales model, leave a comment below to start a dialogue of best practice solutions.

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