How small, local businesses can expand online

If you run a small, local business, chances are you have some kind of website. You may even be set up to sell a few products online here and there. But you may not yet have tapped into the huge potential of building a true e-commerce arm for your business. And you may not realize how easy — or how lucrative — it’s become for small, local businesses to get online.

If you’re still largely tied to physical products, it’s time to consider a change. Here are some low-risk, high-reward ways to successfully scale into the digital world.

1. Perform a digital reboot

As noted, you may already have a great website or even a decent online store. But it’s likely you could do a lot more to make it competitive with other ecommerce sites in your niche.

If it isn’t already, your site should be hosted on, or at least integrated with, a platform designed for ecommerce, such as Shopify, Squarespace, or BigCommerce. Make sure it’s easy to use, intuitive to navigate and has a clean, simple design. It may be worth having a specialist conduct a user experience audit.

Perhaps most importantly, make sure your site is optimized for mobile users. Remember that 91% of Americans are between the ages of 18 and 49, probably most of your target audience,shopping on their smartphone. Most web design platforms allow you to convert your desktop designs into mobile layouts almost automatically. But you still need to make sure that the mobile version is attractive and usable.

2. Harness the power of online testimonials

Getting good product reviews on your site and other platforms can do wonders for your business. Consumers don’t trust brands, but they rely on the experience of others with a brand or product. Positive reviews can be just as effective as hearing directly from people they know in real life.

Smallbiz Technology recommends that companies post reviews and testimonials directly on their website and social media channels. But they notice that too positive reviews on third party sites like Google, Yelp, and Trustpilot can generate tons of traffic.

To encourage customers to write reviews, they suggest offering customers free products or discounts as an incentive. However, keep in mind that if you sell products through a marketplace like Amazon, exchanging gifts for reviews may violate their policies. You can also reach out and simply ask customers who like your product to take a moment to write a short article.

3. Offer convenient payment and shipping options

Your customer won’t buy from you online if you don’t make it as easy for them as shopping on Amazon. It is imperative to offer fast, free or cheap shipping and remove any trace of friction from the shopping experience. The tiniest details can make a customer wince, even if they were already quite serious about making a purchase.

Whatever you do, don’t force your customers to create an account before checking out. That’s one of the fastest ways to turn a ready-to-buy customer into a customer who just closed your site’s browser tab. It is also essential to offer a number of convenient payment options in addition to standard credit cards, including PayPal, Apple Pay and Google Pay.

If you’re just starting out, you can save money by packing and shipping your own orders in-house. But as a small company you don’t have the infrastructure to continue doing that on a large scale. Ultimately, you need to contract with a third-party fulfillment service. Shopify offers its own internal option and maintains a list of others recommended fulfillment services you can try.

4. Be smart with email marketing and social media

One advantage you have as a small local business owner is that you already have a devoted following. You have people in your corner who support your business and want to see it flourish. If you create content that appeals to your greatest champions, they will be happy to share it with others.

Email marketing remains one of the best ways to drive engagement and sales for your brand. After all, it is one of the few forms of brand communication that customers like to receive. However, think carefully about your content: you don’t want to annoy your loyal fans with ads for the same old products. Use email to make announcements, share informative blog posts, or offer valuable discounts. That’s the kind of content your devotees will be happy to pass on to their friends.

Social media is also a powerful tool for connecting with existing customers and reaching new customers. This is especially true if you actively interact with users, such as responding to Instagram comments or merging videos on TikTok. Collaborating with influencers through a platform like Grin or Afluencer can also help drive engagement.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

Just five or ten years ago, small businesses had to move to e-commerce on their own. They needed their own systems for everything from packing and shipping to handling customer service to accepting credit card payments.

That has all changed. Now there’s an easy, affordable third-party solution for just about every ecommerce problem imaginable. You already have a small, probably overworked staff. Don’t let them – or yourself – create systems from scratch when there’s likely a ready-made solution with a quick Google search.