How to Leverage Ecommerce for Your Business
On the occasion of Small Business Month this October, and in the context of a global pandemic, we thought it a good idea to dive deeper into ecommerce. Ecommerce has changed a lot in the past decade, and whether you're a small business or entrepreneur, keeping apace ecommerce tools and trends can help you grow your business.
In this blog, you'll learn about different ways ecommerce tools can be used to help your business succeed. These range from finding your market niche, to digital marketing and search engine optimization, building a digital store, gaining access to online marketplaces, finding suppliers and distributors, and leveraging consumer data. For each of the topics, we'll link to TPL resources that allow you to learn and delve deeper into the topic.
This month we're also pleased to resume our annual Entrepreneur in Residence program with business leader Hamid Rizvi. Complementary to this blog, he will be conducting workshops on topics as varied as digital marketing, business plans, and customer relationships. You can also book him for one-on-one consultations until November 21, 2021.
To foray into ecommerce, it's important to understand what the options are. There are four types of business models:
- Business-to-Customer (B2C): sells directly to the customer. An example would be an online store where you sell organic products.
- Business-to-Business (B2B): sells to other businesses. This can involve any business in the supply chain before reaching the consumer.
- Customer-to-Business (C2B): less common where a consumer sells goods to businesses. An example would be a sole proprietorship servicing a larger business.
- Customer-to-Customer (C2C): where consumers sell directly to one another, usually through an intermediary like eBay or Kijiji.
Like any small business and entrepreneur, you'll have to decide what space in the market you want to fill.
And this will depend on what type of business you're running, in what industry, and what type of product you're selling. This doesn't mean, however, that you have to neatly fall into one of the above categories.
The simplest way a small business, whether it be a consumer product or service, can leverage the web is to establish an online presence. Having a strong online presence means discoverability, more customers, and therefore business growth.
The first step requires having a functional and elegant website that makes it easy for your customer to get what they want. This involves knowing whether you want to include a digital store or not.
Besides your website or digital store, you also have to think about where your audience spends time on the web. And many people spend a tremendous amount of time on social media. This means that you can leverage social media channels to learn about your customer and grow your clientele.
Furthermore, tools like Google My Business aid discovery by listing your business contact and address in the search engine. With it, you can also build a positive reputation via Google Reviews.
- SEO Ecommerce Strategies
- Building a Small Business Website with WordPress
- Google Ads Essential Training
Social Media For Small Business: Marketing Strategies for Business Owners by Franziska Iseli
Digital marketing: strategic planning & integration by Annmarie Hanlon
There's a difference between having a web presence and having a digital store. And often this has to do with the logistics of producing, packaging and distributing your product. Many ecommerce businesses sell their products exclusively online. This saves them the costs of maintaining a brick-and-mortar store.
Whether you choose a hybrid approach or exclusive online retailing will depend on what you're selling, the scalability of your product, and your role in the supply chain. For example, if you're selling a service, you may take care of the transaction online but the service could be conducted in person. If you're selling a consumer product, it could go either way.
Further, growing in popularity are retailing models like dropshipping and affiliate marketing. Dropshipping involves marketing and selling a product, but redistributes the onus of manufacturing, storing and inventorying to a third party. The advantage can be that it takes those tasks out of your hands, and lets you reap a percentage of the revenue. The disadvantage can be that it takes away your control over the products you're selling. Affiliate marketing, on the other hand, only involves marketing a product for a third party in exchange for a percentage of the sale price of the product.
- WordPress Ecommerce: How to Build Two Stores and a Membership Site
- Building Your Online Store with WordPress & WooCommerce
- Affiliate Marketing
There are several ways you can leverage marketplaces. One way is to sell your products on them. This means that you don't have to worry about building a digital store or establishing an online presence since the likes of Amazon and Alibaba are some of the largest online marketplaces out there. On the other hand, you have to abide by their rules, face fierce competition, and challenges in differentiating your product from others.
The same goes if you're selling a service. Platforms like Dribbble allow graphic and digital designers to showcase their portfolios in exchange for potential recruiters and customers. If you're starting out, it might make sense to use these platforms for exposure and building a clientele, but branch out on your own once you have a more robust business model. Shopify, on the other hand, provides you with readymade tools to build a custom online store for a monthly fee. It is important to explore your options and do a cost-benefit analysis to find your niche and know whether these intermediary platforms will serve your interests.
Digital Main Street
Digital Main Street is a free incubation resource forged in partnership between the City of Toronto and corporate partners like Google & Shopify. Its purpose is to help you establish a web presence and leverage digital resources to grow your business.
To use it, you need to sign up with a valid email address. This allows you to get an assessment of your digital shop or how to get started if you don't have one. Moreover, you also get the opportunity to win a digital transformation grant provided you meet certain criteria.
Here's what you can expect from Digital Main Street:
- Tools for getting found
- How to build your web presence
- Making money with ecommerce
- Managing your operations
Finally, the advantage of ecommerce and selling your products online is that it makes it easy to detect trends. You can do this by linking your website to a free analytics service like Google Analytics, Stat Counter, or free WordPress plugins. Other tools include proprietary software like Microsoft Power BI.
You can then use the data you collect from web visits, clicks and transactions to predict consumer behaviour, recalibrate your product, and make suggestions to your audience.
- Google Analytics 4 (GA4) Essential Training
- Remarketing Strategies with Google Ads & Analytics
- Introduction to Business Analytics
- General Business Analytics Resources
For more small business databases, print and electronic resources and programs please visit our Small Business Portal.