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4 steps to an omni-channel online small business

integrating tech

Image: Integrating tech via shutterstock

‘Omni-channel’ is the latest buzzword in retailing. It means combining online and offline sales, support and processes seamlessly. I heard the term for the first time at a talk on digital commerce from the manager of a large John Lewis store, last week. And it was clear, from the response from the small local businesses in the audience, that omni-channel makes sense whether you’re a retail giant like John Lewis or a spare-room start-up.

If you’re treating the internet as an optional business add-on, you are missing out. Creating a website and getting a domain name are now just the start, not the end, of getting online. The good news is that while integrating technology throughout your business takes a little up-front planning, it will save you time and money before too long.

As for John Lewis: currently over 30% of their sales are online and they expect that to be over 50% before long. Soon most sales will be on mobile devices too. Customers research products before coming to the shop and increasingly they order online and collect in-store. One of the smallest businesses at the event was a designer-maker who uses her web shop to manage inventory and to process sales whether they are made online or face to face sales at craft fairs.

Whatever size or stage of business you are at, our tips will help you make the most of the omni-channel environment.

A Responsive Website

Mobile devices are set to dominate. Already those who use smartphones spend more time on them each day than the average person watches TV. A responsive website reformats instantly to display attractively on all sizes of computer device, from desktop to tablet to smartphone. If you are setting-up or developing a site you need to ensure that it is responsive. Don’t trust your web-developer to do this automatically, quite a few seem to be still stuck in the dark-ages. A responsive website should not cost any more and if your developer tells you otherwise find someone else. Many template sites are responsive off the shelf.

Secure payments

How trust-worthy does your online shop look? If you want customers to feel safe buying your products online, make sure that payments are clearly secure and that checkout services are well-known and trusted. It costs just a few extra pounds to encrypt your website, with an SSL certificate; it will give customers confidence and – according to the latest announcement from Google – SSL certification should also help boost your ranking in search results.

Back-up

What do you if something goes wrong? Make sure that you have reliable back-up in place. That means having a process in place to keep key information backed-up securely. It also means having human back-up to sort out any technical crises. If you plan to rely on a support help-desk, try before you buy. What’s their policy for urgent problems? If they can’t guarantee making a start within one hour of your site going down, find another company who can. When your website is also your store-front and back-office, you can’t afford to skimp on back-up.

Strategic Marketing

Marketing always trumps tech., (think about it!) but those days the most effective strategy is to combine the two. Social media and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) magnify your message, enhance local relationships and take your product or service out into a global marketplace. Effective integration is key to omni-channel business; make sure you apply that principle to your marketing plans too.

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