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3 reasons to expand online

How to grow your online sales when you're used to selling offline

Catherine Erdly is Founder of Future Retail Consulting

Among the many considerations about how to allow shopping in a safe way and safe environment, there will be other concerns about how much footfall will actually return to shopping areas, and if we may even experience another lockdown in the near future.

With all of this in mind, one thing is clear – developing your digital presence and online selling capabilities looks like a wise move to help increase sales and will help to keep your business moving through the coronavirus crisis. If you stay positive and think strategically in these times you will help your business weather the storm in the long run.

But apart from protecting yourself in the case of further lockdowns, why else should you consider growing your online presence?


One of the outcomes of the Coronavirus has been an acceleration of the move towards online shopping. The UK has always had one of the highest percentages of purchases made online of any country in the world, but the closure of physical shops has pushed this selling behavior even further towards online and now according to an article from over 30% of all sales are happening on the internet. It's this percentage that proves an online presence is key during this time.

Clearly we may see a reversal of this trend as physical shops reopen and a 'new normal' way of shopping lasts beyond the virus. However it is unlikely to revert back to the previous selling levels and therefore all physical shops would be wise at this point to start focusing on how they can build up their digital presence and adapt to the ever-changing landscape.

Online shopping will now have been opened up even for customers who previously were resistant to it and experience shows that once people start shopping online they tend to continue in that way so it is more important than ever to reach these customers and encourage them to buy online from you as well.


Omnichannel retailing is not a new concept, this idea has been around for many years now and what we have seen over that time is that customers who shop with you across more than one channel are typically more loyal customers. Therefore they are spending more money with you.

Studies show that customers who shop with you both in-store and online are typically going to be spending around 15% more than customers who just shop with you online or who only shop with you in your physical store.

It therefore makes sense to encourage this behavior through having a user-friendly website that corresponds with your physical store as well as offering services that encourage omnichannel behaviour such as offering the option for customers to buy online and then pick up in-store, in-store returns, and encouraging your online customers to visit your shop for promotions or offers.

Many physical shops that have opened online websites also find that the fact they have a physical shop acts as a regular reminder to customers that they exist and helps drive their online sales. Many independent retailers have found that they need to think even more carefully about products they display in their shop window and these must mirror what they're displaying on the home page of their website.

By using this technique they are more likely to capture sales from people who have walked past the shop, see something they like, and complete the purchase online via the shop's website. Another advantage of having an online presence as well as a physical presence is that your customer may come across products online that they haven't seen in the store before, maybe they were sold out on their last visit or simply hidden behind another product.

The customer journey from interest to purchase these days is often long and complicated and involves multiple touchpoints therefore having a well thought through website as well as the physical store allows you to keep connected with the customer as they go through that buying journey.

It is also important that you encourage online purchasing as much as possible by making your website address clear and prominent in your window, on your receipts, and on anything else you are handing out to customers to promote your physical shop e.g your carrier bags.


Another compelling reason to develop your online sales is that you can reach much further than your local area. Many independent retailers who have grown their websites have seen sales come not just from the local area but also from people looking for their products further afield and even internationally. Having a website allows you to access a completely new audience for your products and expand your reach further than you can in your local area and regular customers.

With more people at home and reluctant to go to the stores even when they are open, online shopping – if done right – will boom, but what if you've not sold online before? Fear not - there are many lessons from your offline sales that can be applied to online selling.


What if you are not used to selling online? To start, think about a few key ways in which you can learn from your offline sales. If you are somebody who is good at selling offline – good at selling in your store – chances are you're going to be able to replicate that online.

Ask yourself 'why do I believe I've had success selling offline?'. Think about how that works when you're selling in-store and what it is that makes it effective for you to sell face-to-face. It usually comes down to two things:

Number one – passion You are able to portray your story, your passion for your product, and the thinking behind your business to the customer face-to-face. When somebody walks into your store, what do you tell them? And you will know, because if you think back you were probably saying this a hundred times in a day, so cast your mind back to that.

When you look at your online presence, whether that's your product descriptions, your website, your 'about' page, or your social media – do you talk about those same things? Do you have 'a story'? There are a lot of incredible stories about how retailers started their businesses, what the motivation was, how hard they work to get the right product, how they spent time finding brilliant partners to manufacture the product or to purchase from, and yet those stories are sometimes not visible on all retail websites or the corresponding social media.

Think about what you say to your customers when you're with them face-to-face and ask yourself, are you saying those things to your customer online?

Also, can your customer see you? Can they see your face? Can they hear your voice? Are you visible? Customers experience that human connection when purchasing face-to-face so you need to replicate it online. Include your photo, hone your writing so it sounds like you and show them who the business is.

Number two – information Customers knowing key information about a product is key for offline selling. Is it the ingredients, the dimensions, the size, the benefits? How can you replicate that online?

Include photos that show the product in it's best light. Videos are powerful – you can really go into detail and explain the product and the customer experience will be as if they are using the product already.

Are you giving sufficient information in your product listings – dimensions, size, ingredients, materials, scents – the list goes on and potential buyers love this detail.

If the product is made from particular materials or ingredients - can you link to another page with more detail on this? Perhaps the manufacturing process and why it's important.

If you are dealing with multiple producers or product suppliers make sure that you get photography and product details from them to avoid you having to recreate everything yourself. Ask the suppliers for any interesting information that you can serve your customers as stories behind the product for example, or the businesses that produce them.

So, in short, selling online right now is critical. And if you can move to online selling which is recommended you do during these 'strange' times, think through all the lessons you've learned through selling offline as you will be able to replicate successes online. In fact, doing that will be key.

Join Catherine's Resilient Retail Club – – to feel in control of your sales numbers and cash flow with a clear idea of what's ahead. You'll be part of a community of over 100 people who are just like you.

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