How to Run an Online Retail Business While Keeping Customers First

How to Run an Online Retail Business While Keeping Customers First


As a small business owner, you likely cherish the close relationship you foster with your customers, talking with them face-to-face, getting to know their needs, and offering solutions with your services. For retail store owners, venturing into the e-commerce arena may seem like a betrayal of that in-person interaction, but it doesn’t have to be. An online retail business could let you tap into a new demographic of customers, reaching people who may not live close by. It also makes it easy for your customers to keep buying the products they love when they’re too short on time for a walk-in visit.

Whether you plan to add an e-commerce branch to your brick-and-mortar store, or if you’d like to revamp your existing site, your goals are likely the same: to attract more customers, provide them with a more satisfying shopping experience, and sell more products. These six tips for running a retail business online can help you accomplish those goals.

How to Run a Successful Online Retail Business

1. Build a Great Site

The website design of your online retail business is like its storefront. It should showcase your brand and draw customers in to explore what you have to offer. Your site should be easy to navigate, so customers can find everything they’re looking for — from your business’s contact information to your product catalog.

If you’re planning your first foray into e-commerce, it’s important to spend the time getting this step right. There are many layers of decision-making when it comes to taking your small business online. You’ll need to choose the logo, theme and product categories. You’ll be negotiating with manufacturers for the right to list their products on the site. You’ll need images and descriptions of each product, as well as other content to fill the site’s pages.

You’ll also have to decide how to create the site. You can either hire a website developer to produce an original site to your specifications or use a website template that you can customize.

If you’re thinking about revamping your existing online retail site, consider making it more mobile-friendly. By 2021, more than half of U.S. online shopping will be done on mobile devices, predicted Statista.

2. Make Ordering Easy

Knowing how to run a successful online retail business includes making the customer experience as smooth as possible.

According to Baymard Institute, nearly 70 percent of online shoppers abandon their carts without making a purchase. One in four U.S. online shoppers say they decided not to place an order solely because the checkout process was too long or too complicated. The average U.S. checkout process for an online retail business has more than 23 elements, but the ideal process involves only 12 to 14 elements.

Cut down on the number of clicks your customers must make before they get to the “place order” button, and they’ll be more likely to complete their purchase and return to your site for more shopping.

Online retail business owner processes a customer purchase on a tablet

3. Prepare for Secure Credit Card Transactions

If you plan to accept credit card payments on your e-commerce site, you’ll need to complete two essential steps before your site is ready to process these sales. First, you’ll have to select a payment gateway, a service that authorizes you to accept credit card payments, encrypts sensitive information on customers’ cards, and sends the information to the payment network for processing. The other preliminary step is signing up with a credit card processor to handle those transactions.

As noted in Entrepreneur, obtaining a payment gateway and processing service requires that your e-commerce site have a secure checkout process, a privacy policy, a return policy, a shipping and delivery process, and a working customer service phone number and email address.

When planning your online retail business, make sure you allow enough time (and money in your budget) to complete this step that’s vital to your customers’ shopping security and convenience.

4. Give Shipping Special Attention

No e-commerce retail business will survive long without an efficient process for filling orders and getting them out to customers in a timely manner. You don’t want to give customers a reason to choose your competition because they’ve been kept waiting long after your estimated shipping date.

To keep those orders flowing, you’ll need to have a system and a budget in place for maintaining adequate inventory. You’ll also need to decide which shipping vendors you will use.

If your online retail business will be selling its wares to international customers, be sure to factor in those additional shipping costs. Also, do your homework regarding any shipping restrictions that apply to your products due to either federal, state or local laws or carrier policies.

5. Use Technology for Process Improvement

You can streamline many of the tasks involved in operating your online retail store by employing technology like inventory and order management software. Your website’s loading time can also be a game changer when you’re running a retail business online. From the time customers enter your site and start browsing until they finalize their purchase, you don’t want anything slowing down the flow.

If you need funding to purchase software for managing inventory and customer orders, upgrade your site, or improve your cybersecurity system, explore retailer and equipment financing with a business lender.

6. Promote Your Store With Digital Marketing

Whether you’re launching an online-only retail shop or adding an e-commerce component to your brick-and-mortar business, moving online opens up the possibility for creative digital marketing strategies. When potential customers engage with these marketing messages and want to learn more, they can do so with a simple click connecting them to your site.

Consider including a blog on the site or publishing an email newsletter. The content can include how-to guides and creative ideas for using your products, as well as other articles about industry-related topics that interest your target market. YouTube videos that demonstrate your products and offer expert advice on how to use them can be another effective way to promote your online store.

Learning how to run a successful online retail business doesn’t happen overnight, especially if you’re used to interacting with providers and customers face-to-face. Implementing these best practices for your website development; ordering, shipping and payment processing; and marketing strategy may require a significant investment of time and resources. If cost is a concern, research retail business loans to find out if there’s a solution that matches your needs. If e-commerce feels like a natural progression for your business growth, it’s worth setting aside the time to make your next move feasible.