Taking a brick & mortar business online!
February 27, 2014 10:02 AM   Subscribe

Looking for guidance on the questions we should be asking and your experience(s) throughout the process.

I am a graduate student (MBA) preparing for my capstone project. I am working with a local business to get them online. While I understand the concepts I do not yet have real world experience; the goal of this project is to get some hands on experience, make mistakes, and learn from them. I have a great relationship with said local business and together we both hope to come out with a solid, implementable, project.

I certainly have educators willing to answer my questions, but I would also prefer to gain insight from seasoned and practiced hands, too.

Some quick? info about the business:
-Retail shop located in Flagstaff, Arizona; high volume foot traffic; low to moderate volume renting gear; online presence is only used for renting gear.

-The main purpose of the proposed new website is to offer the most popular in-store items (top 20%) as purchasable online, too. If it's available online, the customer knows they can buy it immediately and pick it up in the store or have it shipped; no more will the customer need to pop in to see if an item in in stock or call and ask for an item to be held for pick-up.

-Secondarily, the store would like to convert some of the online rentals into sales, as well as tap into the very large volume of hiker/outdoorsy person who bypass our town altogether when visiting the grand canyon to our immediate north. While the current volume of rentals is low, by building a website we would have a reason to further our advertising efforts in areas relevant to where people go with the gear we rent/sell; this should pick up new customers and possibly convert a rental customer into a purchasing customer. For example: we rent tents, backpack and hiking poles, but not sleeping bags (hygiene issues.) We want to be able to sell a sleeping bag to this renter, who quite often buys one online from somewhere else, so that they know they are prepared before leaving home. They do not want to risk arriving in the states, only to find out that we do not have the bag they want in stock (an issue in and of itself that I hope to help the store overcome.) Also, by having a web presence, the idea is to advertise in a manner that garners attention from Grand Canyon visitors. For example: A group from Europe plans a visit to northern Arizona, purchases gear local to them, and fly's internationally. Instead, they could have used their purchasing power to buy gear from our store; this option would have reduced the expenses associated with purchasing the gear, as well as flying both ways with all of it; they purchased gear at a better price and saved half the baggage costs.

What factors should be considered paramount when looking at:
Electronic shopping cart systems/customer accounts
Search engine optimization
Fulfillment apps
Cloud-based/all-inclusive infrastructure.

I am just beginning this process and I am aware that my list of questions is sparse. Please consider offering suggestions for solutions, ideas, and problems I may not have yet considered, as well as problems you did or did not overcome, their lessons, etc.

Thank You.
posted by MansRiot to Computers & Internet (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Besides (and ahead of) the essentially technical issues you list, there is a very important strategic component involving corporate culture, and that is: from the top leadership down to the janitor, the company's team needs to understand that they are now becoming a digital business. Even if their bricks and mortar operation doesn't change much. They are taking a big step in the direction defined years ago by Jack Welch when he decreed that GE would now become a digital business, even though they'd continue to make all kinds of hardware like locomotives and lightbulbs and CAT scanners. Jack's yardstick was: anything that a customer can do with us in person, by mail or on the phone, they now need to be able to do online. And he pushed GE through that transformation, ahead of most other Fortune 500 companies. You can put a test to whether an enterprise is a digital one: ask employees what the central organizing event of their day is. Retail employees will say, it's when the store opens for business. Digital retail employees will say, there is no central organizing event, because people can do business with us anytime, anywhere. The physical store is just a piece of that.

So, regardless of the tools you put in place, you need to push for that cultural transformation. Because if it doesn't happen, this online venture will not reach its potential. It will take a lot of training, a lot of walking the walk, and some people who don't get it will need to get out of the way.
posted by beagle at 10:18 AM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

One thing I'd do is find similar shops with an on-line presence and see what they're doing.

Evaluate the site:

Is it attractive or does it look like their kids designed it?

Is it easy to navigate and find what you want?

Does the site offer suggestions based on what's in the shopping cart?

Can the site offer something above and beyond rental and purchase of gear, to attract searchers to the site (Maps of cool hiking trails in Flagstaff, Sedona, Cottonwood.) Perhaps the tale of the Lost Dutchman's Mine.

Here are thing to consider from a marketing perspective.

If the site is to appeal to international visitors, will it be offered in different languages?

Can the site be linked from other, similar sites, for example, an international tour site.

Can you offer a comprehensive list of items needed for a standard hiking tour? Can you show the ROI of a combo rent/purchase deal vs. buying and shipping?

You're asking some good questions, but you need to ask the RIGHT questions.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:19 AM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are a zillion online shopping carts. You might want to familiarize yourself with "hosted" vs "open-source" carts. It's like the difference between using Gmail and hosting your own email service. Hosted carts (like Shopify and Bigcommerce) are really easy to set up, and you don't have to be super techy or worry about server maintenance. There are a fair number of back-end apps and skins and such, but you don't have total control over look/feel/functionality. Open source carts (Magento is probably the most popular, and there are even some WordPress add-ons) allow you to customize all the code and really get in the nitty-gritty but you have to deal with server maintenance and all that and probably hire a developer. Consider the 3rd-part apps available for any given cart to help you customize your store, add automation, etc.

Another thing to think about, even before fulfillment, is how you're going to manage inventory. You don't want to sell something online that you ran out of in store. There are a lot of third-party apps that do that.

For order fulfillment, if you haven't done a lot of shipping before, you're going to want to get some kind of 3rd-party shipping automation software so shipping doesn't become a bottleneck. There are a lot of them, they all kind of do the same thing, and some are bundled in other software. Also if you're planning on shipping USPS, you'll need Stamps.com or Endicia as well.
posted by radioamy at 10:21 AM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

You need something that can either replace their point of sales system or integrate with it so that both systems always have an accurate representation of what's in stock.
posted by Candleman at 10:12 PM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

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