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As consumers increasingly opt for online shopping experiences over in-store, businesses of all sizes can ill afford having a lacklustre ecommerce presence – or worse, none at all. In the Amazon era, that means obscurity, even oblivion. But how can small businesses with limited resources go about establishing an effective ecommerce presence that captivates new and existing shoppers?

That’s the question we put to a dozen thought leaders, this week, for our exclusive “Let’s Talk…” feature examining ecommerce. As one commentator assured budding e-tailers, “the proliferation of digital e-commerce tools, platforms and services has brought down the cost of entry, making it possible for almost anyone to set up an online trading presence”. Read on for further insights from this week’s line-up:

Mick Spencer, CEO, ONTHEGO: “The trick for resource-poor businesses is creativity. You need to assess what roles staff can play, what additional skills they have and what can be outsourced. Think scalability. Why hire someone in house who is a jack-of-all trades when you can draw on a network of specialist freelancers? By tapping into on-demand talent you can better service your team and clients, without the fixed cost of a salary. Also, not all jobs require people. In the age of the internet, technology and systems can aid your online presence – think engagement through automation i.e. scheduling EDMs, harnessing sharing platforms and leveraging off other people’s audiences to grow your own.

Rohan Lock, Regional Director (APAC), dotmailer: “In order to establish an effective ecommerce presence, an efficient website design is needed. The emphasis should not be on costly and overcomplicated designs but on providing a seamless and smooth experience for the user. From browsing to payment, make sure that the interface is intuitive and supports mobile devices.

“Maximise the value of the ecommerce platform via targeted email marketing campaigns that drive traffic to your website. Consider the likes of abandoned cart emails or targeted promotions/sales to boost traffic. Contemporary customers actively choose to engage with brands that provide relevant content; leverage this to your advantage.

“As word of mouth is indisputably the most effective form of communication, make sure to prioritise the positive customer experience. With such customers acting effectively as your brand ambassadors, your ecommerce presence will effectively be tied with trust and authenticity.”

Ivan Lim, Co-founder & CEO, Brosa: “There are plenty of off-the-shelf solutions that help with getting an ecommerce presence set up with templates and functionality right out of the box.

“For example, if you want to get a store set up you can use tools like Shopify or BigCommerce to have a website up and going in less than an hour.
“There is a wealth of tools online that are just a google search away, this can be varied, everything from email marketing through to social media tools and advice can be found via searches.”

Kristy Chong, CEO, Modibodi & Portfolio CEO, Heads Over Heels: “There are numerous ways to establish an ecommerce presence without money, all of which require time and good content. My number one recommendation is earned media, which involves pitching your brand/product to online media and influencers who represent the customers you are talking to. For those influencers who want payment, suggest a commission instead, where they make a percentage of the sale for every referral. I also suggest writing a weekly blog that includes engaging, SEO-rich content that is shared via social media channels and pitched to online media. Lastly, it is useful to partner with like-minded brands with large followings and offer giveaways or incentives for their customers.”

Greg Taylor, Group VP (APAC), New Relic: “For any business looking to set up an online presence at low cost and quickly, an e-commerce platform can bring a lot of benefits.

“There are some great e-commerce platforms such as Shopify, Amazon or Magento that upstart businesses can partner with to establish an effective online sales presence.

“This online presence can take various forms such as a branded website, marketplaces like eBay or selling on social media platforms, which can significantly expand customer reach.

“Just moving to an ecommerce platform is not enough in itself. There are many ways to sell to consumers over the internet; however, to be successful from the get-go, businesses should focus on high value products that can be easily consumed online. It is also very important to use tools like SurveyMonkey to test and improve the user experience and make it as easy as possible for consumers to access, navigate and buy online.”

Dan Ross, Managing Director, Optimizely ANZ: “Going up against the likes of Amazon, Kogan, and The Iconic is no small feat. In a resource-poor environment, you aren’t going to outspend your competitors so you must find ways to outflank or out-innovate them. “The only way to do that is to make the most of every digital decision and investment you make. Utilising experimentation (aka A/B testing) with your digital experiences and testing variations of a customer’s journey will allow you to identify winning and losing digital experiences, thus focusing your limited resources to greatest effect.”

Fran Ereira, General Manager, Sales & Solution Delivery, zip.co: “You need to ensure your website is optimised and that your customer hat is firmly on your head. Just like a physical store where the layout is changed frequently, your ecommerce store needs to instantly captivate and invite new and existing shoppers. Really welcome your shoppers and let them know what options you have available as early in the buying journey as possible to ensure they don’t go elsewhere. Banners on homepages, product page call outs, checkout pages, eDMs, social and other marketing channels are all keys to success.  Simple to implement and very effective.

“Delivering personalised and relevant content to your customers utilising best-of-breed marketing automation platforms differentiates you from your competitors and builds loyalty. Finally, don’t forget to provide choices that your customers want with regards to delivery and payment. Options like express shipping and digital wallets are what consumers want. They will help you minimise cart abandonment, increase basket sizes and maximise conversion.”

Simon Banks, Managing Director, Hyperwallet APAC: “New digital marketplaces are emerging every day, and there is a myriad of options for both ecommerce buyers and sellers. If your online payment process is slow or complicated, users can simply choose to move on.

“This is a particular concern for two-sided marketplaces. Roughly 59% of independent sellers and gig economy workers report that the speed of earning payments are essential to their sense of platform loyalty. Marketplaces hoping to retain these users need to ensure they’re making their payouts as fast and convenient as possible.”

Ben Pfisterer, Country Manager, Square Australia: “With the rise in DIY platforms and affordable cloud-based payments software, e-commerce is now more accessible than ever for businesses on a budget. No longer is the online world populated only by the big retailers, there are now plenty of opportunities for smaller players to start selling online.

“Firstly, they need to decide whether it makes more sense for them to create their own online shop or host their goods on an existing site that already has great traffic and can help smaller retailers promote their wares to the world (such as Etsy, eBay, Amazon). For hobby sellers, an existing website that they can host and sell their products through is probably more viable, but for those looking to get a bit more serious with online sales, they shouldn’t be scared off by the cost of deploying their own web presence.”

Nima Yassini, Founder & CEO, New Republique: “Ensure your online and offline environments are connected. Automation is key and there are a variety of tools that will help you automate and improve your level of conversion. For example, Shopify is an excellent e-commerce platform that can help you set up your e-commerce business online. If you have a physical footprint then it will plug in with your point of sale or warehouse to help you collect data on your customers so you can continue the conversation post sale.

“As someone who specialises in conversion rate optimisation (CRO) and UX design, I believe price and shipping are critical factors you have to get right. The older the customer, the more likely they are to be enticed by free delivery. Another useful software tool is Criteo, which allows you to track when customers put items in their cart but don’t complete the transaction and then follow them up through targeted emails and tailored social media ads.”

Azam Kassim, Owner, Hab Shifa: “Some of the primary factors that have contributed to the success of Hab Shifa’s ecommerce presence can be attributed to the following: an operational website, sophisticated content management system, effective marketing strategies and fluid logistic operations.

“A functional website that is in line with current website trends is key in capturing a consumers’ attention and being able to retain that attention for longer than a few seconds.

“Successful content management systems comes with a strategy that effectively manages inventory, dedicated purchase, payment, and support systems along with customer relationship management procedures and efficient logistic management.

“The marketing strategies used to drive sales have been a combination of social media marketing and an investment into online advertising such as Google Adwords.

“Establishing and maintaining an effective ecommerce presence requires an ongoing investment in research, marketing and financial resources to be able to capture and sustain a strong presence in the online marketing space.”

Andrew Johnson, CEO, ACS: “This is an excellent topic as smaller companies and businesses may not have the internal skill sets and capital to establish an e-commerce presence. Fortunately, today the the proliferation of digital e-commerce tools, platforms and services has brought down the cost of entry, making it possible for almost anyone to set up an online trading presence.

“As a result, entry is not so much the issue, but rather finding the right fit for your business – is the platform just an online shop front, or does it provide POS capabilities? Can it integrate with social media services like Facebook? Does the service provide adequate security? Does it fit your unique business requirements? And importantly – can it scale if your trading takes off and your business grows?

“Finally, examine how flexible the tools are to build and maintain the e-commerce presence, keeping in mind any training for your staff. One other important factor to consider — depending on the service, the e-commerce site may sit on the service provider’s domain name, which you ultimately won’t own. Remember to register your own unique site address and re-direct it — this is your brand, and from the start you want to ensure that as its presence grows it’s associated with a domain you own.”

About “Let’s Talk…”

“Let’s Talk…” is an exciting weekly initiative that provides entrepreneurs and industry experts with a forum to share rapid-fire views on a range of issues that matter to start-ups and SMEs. Every Wednesday, we pose a themed question to a line-up of knowledgeable industry figures, with a view to picking their brains for valuable insights to share with you, our readers.

Related: Let’s Talk… Ecommerce (2017)The ‘perfection mindset’ is an e-commerce killer: get online quickly, cheaply to help win customers and Focus on what you can ‘uniquely own’ on Amazon, BigCommerce CEO tells e-tailers.

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James Harkness

James Harkness

James Harnkess previous editor at Dynamic Business

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