The secret to growing your bricks-and-mortar retail business through the internet isn’t necessarily through selling products online; it’s through promoting the experience of visiting your shop.

The reality and the opportunity

Independent retail is hard work, but things are looking bright at the moment. Until recently, things seemed very gloomy indeed. Footfall was diverted to retail parks and everyone was scared about ’showrooming’.

Now it looks very different. Independent business is filling the gap left by the downsizing major brands. This is turn is making the high street a more interesting place to visit.

If you own a shop, and you’re reading this because you want to know how to sell thousands of items a year online, then I’m afraid this article might disappoint you. The companies that dominate the market either specialize in selling online or are major chains with a physical and online presence. The former are incredibly efficient, constantly adapt and pay less tax than you. The latter are often just moving profits around to stay afloat and might be next week’s bad news story.

The truth is that unless what you sell is really specialist or bespoke, and it’s within a market sector that attracts enthusiasts, your online sales are unlikely to set the world on fire.

You can’t compete at what they do, but guess what – they’ll never be able to compete at what you do.

Achieving success lies in working out what your existing strengths are and using the internet to magnify them. This principle should inform everything from promotion to social media, but before you do that, the first thing to consider is your website and work out what you want to achieve with it.

Sell the experience.

Obviously you’re in the best position to know what makes your business valuable, but here are a few things to consider when creating your website.

Range – is it the range you have in store that people are interested in? Then use pictures to illustrate this. Just like an estate agent uses pictures to create the impression of space, so you can with your goods or displays. This doesn’t have to mean including a comprehensive list of what you stock – this is will just be time-consuming to maintain, and the point is to reassure the customer that when they walk in to your shop, they’ll find something they want.

Style – are aesthetics an important element to what you sell? Then take your time when photographing. If your products and shop don’t look inviting then your site will lose customers, not gain them.

Personality – is it the friendliness of your staff, or atmosphere? Then inject this into the language you use. Don’t try to copy what you’ve seen elsewhere – you can still be professional without being boring.

Events – do you have gatherings, meet-ups, workshops or tastings? If so, promote attendance, show pictures and make them prominent.

Expertise – FAQs and reviews on Amazon and no replacement for conversation, consultancy and knowledge. What might your customers be interested in? If customers trust your opinions, then that’s the foundation for customer loyalty.

Store info – make it easy for people to find the answers to the common questions – opening hours, phone number and address.  They’ve already decided to speak or visit, so don’t make them look too hard!

Tell a story. Use a single-page website – you can control the customer’s journey and it will help you focus on the essentials. Don’t write content for the sake of it. According to Hubspot 55% of people spend less than 15 seconds on a website. Make sure they’re looking at the right things – the things that will bring them to the shop.

Do it yourself – don’t pay someone to develop your website. It will cost you a lot and a third party is an obstacle to getting changes done. Use a website builder, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to create your site and it can be maintained quickly and easily.

Working through these considerations, you’ll realise how much value there is in your brand, and that having a website isn’t a chore begrudgingly undertaken out of necessity, but an opportunity to bring across your passion for what you do, a passion that might prove infectious.

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