Build your business: 4 tips for selling online

In the economy of the future, a strong online sales presence will be vital. You don’t need to be Jeff Bezos to profit from online sales.

At a glance

  • Australia has the tenth largest e-commerce market in the world, with eight out of 10 Australians shopping online.
  • The approach to improving online sales presence involves four key focus areas: technology, marketing, payments, and fulfilment.
  • It is also important to stay abreast of competitor strategies, seek expert advice and be open to revising strategy, if needed.

Small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) owners can be placed in three broad groups when it comes to their approach to online sales. At one end of the spectrum are the luddites. These are individuals who have made little attempt to adapt to the digital economy, and are not about to start.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the technophiles, who are early adopters of any shiny gadget that comes along.

Between those two extremes lies a vast number of SME owners – business people who are aware that e-commerce is of growing importance and feel they should be doing more in that area, but can never quite find the money, time or energy to take significant action.

Five experts explain why SME owners in this group should build an effective online sales presence and how they can go about doing so.

The catalyst for change

Dr Meena Chavan is a former auditor who is now a Macquarie Business School academic specialising in small businesses.

“Eight out of 10 Australians shop online, and Australia has the tenth largest e-commerce market in the world,” she says. “Pre-COVID-19, the prediction was that in 2021, 10 per cent of Australia’s total retail sales would be online, and Australia’s e-commerce market would be valued at A$35.2 billion.”

Chavan forecasts nervous Australian consumers may buy less overall than predicted, but will ultimately make many more online purchases than previously expected.

“Australians have now become accustomed to buying everything from houses to racehorses online,” Chavan says. “Likewise, the more innovative SMEs have been pivoting from real-world to virtual interactions to serve surging online demand. For example, I consult with a medispa. It’s gone from selling on-premises beauty treatments to offering online make-up technique courses. Things won’t be going back to the way they used to be after the lockdown is lifted.”

Getting your digital ducks in a row

There are few silver bullets when it comes to online sales. What works for one industry won’t necessarily work for another. Selling goods online differs markedly from selling services, and it is not uncommon for similar businesses using similar technologies and pursuing similar marketing strategies to generate divergent results.

That said, it can be useful to examine the following four areas when seeking to improve a business’s online sales presence.

1. Technology

Michael Kava is the director of Little Marketing. He argues SME owners will get the biggest bang for their buck by concentrating on the basics. “Most SMEs now have a website, but often they are suboptimal websites,” he says. Kava’s advice is to:

  • Use a reputable hosting company: “You don’t want your site to crash or get hacked.”
  • Invest in quality copy and images: “Spelling mistakes and cheap stock images will turn off potential customers.”
  • Harness SEO: “Your potential customers will almost certainly start their buying journey by doing online research. You want to make sure your site is on the first page of Google.”
  • Focus on user experience (UX): “It’s a rookie mistake to create a site that looks beautiful, but is difficult to navigate. Your potential customers won’t have the patience to scroll endlessly to find the information they want.”

While it is possible to renovate an existing website, Kava suggests SME owners consider starting afresh with a one-stop-shop e-commerce solution or a custom-built platform. E-commerce solutions provide a platform that websites can be built on. They also facilitate the straightforward integration of payment gateways, accounting software, marketing software and social media sites, as well as remarketing and analytics tools.

“There is plenty to choose from – WordPress and Shopify are two popular options,” Kava says. “People should be shopping around to find the solution that has the right fee structure and features for their business.”

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