Should your business expand into eCommerce?


The divide between our physical and online worlds is blurring. We work online, get our news online, and more and more of us are even falling in love online.

So it is no surprise that many of us are shopping online in increasing numbers. One report suggests that:

“Online retail continues to grow in Australia with an estimated worth of $22.1 billion last year, a 7% increase on the year before.”

The perception of online retail is that it is an easy way to pump extra revenue into a business.

But setting up an online presence isn’t as simple as creating a cool domain name and having a website. In order to make your web space a successful component of your overall business, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

1) What should my online presence look like?

When setting up a physical retail space, the customer experience should be comfortable, pleasant and cohesive.

The same applies online. The aim is to make the experience so positive that, not only will you make a sale, but you will create an ongoing relationship.

However while many businesses understand that a shop or office must look the part, it can be difficult to apply the same thinking to their online operation.

So what makes a space enticing?

A fantastic example of a business that has a fantastic online experience is Booktopia, Australia’s biggest online book retailer:


By browsing their website you can see that it:

  • Is very easy to navigate
  • Has hi-res product shots
  • Gives valuable timely information – the consumer isn’t overwhelmed with an avalanche of information
  • Has clear and enticing daily offers and specials
  • Creates a community with meaningful content

Not only do these factors create a wonderful buying experience, but the excellence of their content and engagement, have been a massive part in forging a strong link to their local community This ensures that Booktopia is the first point of contact when anything ‘book related’ comes to mind.

2) I have a site up and running. How will people find it?

No matter how specific your business is, you can guarantee there’s always going to be competition in the infinite universe that is the world wide web – even for an haute couture Chihuahua fashion label.

Chihuahua fashion label

One way to ensure that your business stands out may be with pay-per-click (ppc) advertising.

However many people find that ppc can be a costly up-front expense, so if you don’t have the means, you might want to think and looking to a more organic, long-term solution, like rejigging your social media plan – which brings us to the third question:

3) How do I talk to my customers?

There is an assumption that if you have any sort of business then you must be tweeting, Facebooking, Instragramming, Pinteresting or a combination of all these things at all times.

But one potential problem with social media is that the language needs to be very different to real life and learning how to communicate in this new world can be confusing. Being on social media without having a strategy to mitigate this can be completely counterintuitive to your aims, wasting both time and resources.

A thoughtful social media presence gives you an opportunity to consolidate an identity, generate chat and buzz, create relationships and even turn a negative encounter into a positive experience.

One example of a brilliant social media presence is Woolworths. They have made news several times for their excellent online banter, but the below example is gold-star.

A customer was very unhappy with the purchase of ‘less than fresh’ avocadoes:


Woolworth’s response was prompt, funny and sensible:

“Ryan – the disappointment is more than we can bare! Private message us your number and we will hook a brother up!”

And the outcome was not just positive for the customer. The incident went viral:


There was even a meme:


If your social media banter is meme-worthy, you are definitely ‘doing it right’. Not only did Woolworths turn a potential PR disaster into a win, but they generated enormous exposure, forcing consumers to re-evaluate their perception of the brand.

So before jumping head-first into the world of social media consider:

  • What social media will best connect me to my audience?
  • What content will be most valuable in creating a buzz?
  • What is my brand?
  • Are my brand and my online voice consistent?

Social media adds a new dimension to that most essential part of running a great business – knowing how to talk to customers. Get it right and it can be a powerful and dynamic way to reach consumers in the digital age. Get it wrong and you may as well be screaming into a void.

Do I have the means to do this?

Even if you have a fantastic vision for your online business, the most important question to ask yourself is ‘can I devote time and money to setting up an online presence’?

For the foreseeable future, taking your business from the physical and into the cyber realms still means physical dollars – something a lot of  business owners can’t wrap their heads around. Business owners need to be prepared to spend time maintaining their sites, generating content and interacting with customers – or at least be be prepared to pay someone to do it for them.

Even though it is a relatively simple process to start-up an online venture, the realities of turning it into a success can be complicated. However, if you are considered in the way you launch your business onto the web, then the rewards can be abundant.

CeBIT Australia SME Summary Report