Competing with online shops: should you create an online shop?
The e-commerce sector has been growing continuously for many years.
This continues to be the case in France in 2021 with a 15% increase in online sales in a quarter. And growth remains strong in Belgium, with more than €5.5 billion spent in the first half of 2021.
This doesn’t mean that bricks-and-mortar shops are dead: far from it! But it’s important to take a closer look at this increasingly widespread phenomenon.
That’s the purpose of this article, in which I will help you to understand e-commerce, followed by a discussion of the pros and cons of opening an online shop!
What exactly is an online shop?
Definition of e-commerce
Online shop, e-commerce site, web store, e-shop... There’s a wide range of terms which all correspond roughly to the same idea: offering your products for sale on the Internet, generally with delivery (whether free or paid for) to the customer’s home.
In practice, this involves several technical elements:
- you need to have a website which includes an e-commerce module,
- you need to have an online payment solution, whether via credit or debit card, PayPal or something else,
- you need to have the ability to easily retrieve orders received online so that you can process them in your “order picking centre”, which is usually the back office for small businesses :)
Another term to be aware of is click and collect, where customers place and pay for their orders online and then collect them from your physical shop. This option has become much more widespread since the beginning of the Covid pandemic and successive lockdowns.
At a purely technological level, you will need to choose a platform to host your e-commerce site.
If you use a CMS (such as WordPress, for example) for your website, you’ll usually find excellent modules to create an online shop (WooCommerce if you use WordPress).
If you prefer a solution with fewer technical aspects to manage, I recommend considering Shopify, Prestashop or other major market players. These platforms make it possible to create your online shop without having to manage a web server or any technical aspects of online infrastructure. This saves a lot of time and reduces the risk of your site being attacked or disabled!
These platforms cost a few dozen euros per month.
Find our selection of the most efficient platforms to create your online shop.
Formal and informal rules and regulations
When starting out online, you need to follow the rules of the game, particularly when it comes to the General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR.
The aim of this article isn’t to go into the details of the GDPR but to encourage you to use your favourite search engine to find blogs and articles which explain this law and take them into account!
When it comes to informal (but important!) best practices, if you decide to go into e-commerce, I recommend the excellent training (and certification) from Opquast.com.
It explains more than 200 rules and best practices, from how to design an online sales process to how to handle complaints. It’s very comprehensive and very helpful!
Advantages and disadvantages of an online shop
The advantages of opening an online shop
There are many advantages to opening an online shop.
Firstly, you’ll be able to increase your sales, because you’ll reach customers who don’t have (or no longer have) the time to come to your physical shop. These customers may have professional constraints (such as shift work) which make it impossible to visit during your opening hours. Or they may have temporary constraints caused by health issues (difficulties in moving around after an accident, for example) or because of their personal circumstances (looking after young children).
In any case, a customer who cannot come to your shop will still be able to visit your online shop, buy online and have his/her order delivered.
Offering your products for sale online also helps you to differentiate yourself from your competitors; I'm willing to bet that there are few who offer online sales.
Why is that important?
Because your customers evaluate the overall customer experience they have in dealing with your shop. If you provide them with additional options, they will see you as a company which is trying to improve their daily lives!
Lastly, selling online removes almost all borders. You can sell your products in other regions and sometimes even in neighbouring countries. Shipping costs and delivery times are the only real obstacles to your online sales. Regardless of these two obstacles, your catchment area will grow considerably: from a circle of a few miles around your shop to a circle of several countries around your shop!
The disadvantages of e-commerce
There are also many disadvantages of e-commerce and I thought it was important to explain them to you in detail to ensure you can make an informed decision!
Firstly, e-commerce is time-consuming. It will take time to upload the products to your online shop, to prepare and send orders, to manage the technical aspects, to process returns, etc.
Secondly, to run an online shop effectively, you need strong technical/web skills or a sufficient budget to pay someone to do it for you. Even if you use platforms which simplify e-commerce, you’ll need plenty of IT skills.
In addition to technical skills, you’ll also need web marketing and SEO skills. If you don’t have these skills, you’ll need to acquire them, either by training yourself or by hiring an employee or an external provider to help you.
E-commerce also generates additional costs to in-store sales: logistics costs in terms of postage and delivery companies. These can be significant, depending on the weight, size and destination of the packages to be sent.
This is one of the key advantages of our sustainable product platform, Kami Store: delivery is free on orders over €300 with an unlimited number of different products, making it cheaper for you to restock.
That’s not all! With an online shop, you also have to deal with product returns and similar inconveniences: refund requests, returns of faulty products, etc.
Last but not least, e-commerce has become an ultra-competitive sector over the years. It’s becoming difficult to stand out among the tens of thousands of e-commerce sites, all of which are trying to make themselves visible.
The solution: differentiate yourself by the quality of your product offering, by the quality of service you provide your customers and by your prices.