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How indie retailers can turn bricks into clicks

Technology is constantly changing how we work, live, and shop, which means online stores are no longer a luxury item for independent retailers – they are a must-have.

Customers expect to be able to buy from you online, and if they can’t, they will often turn to ecommerce giants instead. So how do independent businesses compete with big brands, and where should they start?

If you are setting up online for the first time, or overhauling an existing website, you are effectively building another branch so you will need a decent plan, startup capital, long-term commitment, plenty of elbow grease, and ongoing marketing to reach and retain a loyal customer base.

There is a lot to consider initially – choosing the right payment gateway, creating appealing content, deciding on how you want your online store to look and so on. However, it is important to stay focused on your store’s primary purpose: it must be built to sell, and therefore offer an engaging, functional retail experience that rivals that of your bricks-and-mortar store (and of course, your competitors).

Map out your store’s customer journey, from the moment shoppers land on your site to when they open their first order (don’t forget the returns and exchange process too), and streamline every step to make it easy for shoppers to browse and buy. Always keep in mind that on the internet your customer is only ever a couple of clicks away from your competitors, so you need to create a user-friendly journey, and remember the ‘three click rule’, that your shoppers should be able to find any information in no more than three clicks.

While there are plenty of lessons to be learned from the big players in your industry, don’t try and mimic them too much. Stay true to what makes you successful, highlight your USPs and make sure your brand personality is visible throughout your content and marketing, just as it will be in your bricks store. A lot of retailers over-think the initial stages of the process, especially the design – they want it to be very different to anything else out there, but in reality, different doesn’t always work. For instance, you would usually have the basket in the top-right corner, so don’t try to place it in the bottom left, as it ends up being a case of style over function and can easily alienate customers.

It is imperative to think about the future development potential of your website. Mobile technology is the key driver of the future; for many fashion websites between 50% and 60% of traffic is generated through mobile devices. On some sites it is as much as 75%, especially where it is backed by a strong social media campaign, so it is wise to either offer a mobile version of your online store, or invest in an adaptive/responsive solution that caters to different devices.

If you are looking for inspiration as to what can work well, just look at indies like Psyche (www.psyche.co.uk), Jules B (www.julesb.co.uk) and Daniel Footwear (www.danielfootwear.com), which are all clients of Visualsoft.

All of this just skims the surface of what is needed to succeed, and there is no denying that there is a lot of hard work involved in the process. However, selling online offers enormous growth opportunities for those with passion and drive, and as shoppers continue to evolve, it is crucial that retailers do too.

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