Do you think it may be time to take your business online? Your store-front business is doing fine. It’s down-to-Earth, provides you a comfortable living, and you enjoy interacting with your steady stream of regulars. But in the back of your mind, you know that because of how great your product is, your company could really be launched into the stratosphere, and opening an online shop might be just the step you need to take to do it. Ironically, though, before you even launch, you ought to take a look at the big picture.

You’ve been selling your wares from your Main Street storefront for years, and you really like it. You don’t figure you’ll ever close up shop, but the past couple of years have been tough. With the pandemic, people just aren’t wandering in as much any more. Maybe the trend will reverse, as it’s been starting to do, and things will finally get back to normal.

But then again, maybe the next pandemic is just around the corner. And then the next. You read that Atlantic article about barreling towards the next Pandemic, and you’re not sure your business as just a brick and mortar could handle it. If you think it’s time to take your business online, we agree with you, and hopefully this series on the Big Picture can help you as you do.

Why go online?

Since the first thing you need to do to move at least a portion of your business online is to choose a platform, let’s consider some benefits of going online, and then how your choice of platform can help you capitalize on those benefits. We at SeaMonster Studios recommend Shopify, so I’ll explore how it meets the various metrics after we go through them, but any other platform that can do these things would also be a good choice.

Online is scalable

First off, an online business can be scalable. If you’ve already got a physical presence, this is tremendous. It means you can start small and slowly add some online sales to your existing business without having to spend a fortune to completely change gears. In time, you can add more and more online capacity so the balance of your business shifts to whatever you’d like it to be.

Online is simple

Second, your online business can be simple and adaptable, both for you and for your customers. By choosing the right platform, you can ensure that the role you play in your business is straightforward and well within your capabilities and desires.

You may have to learn a new way of doing things, but if you can manage an email account, you can probably manage your business online. And the new customers you look to serve online are likely well versed in doing their shopping online, so there’s not much chance of their finding anything particularly difficult in your new online experience…

Online is automatable

Third, your online business can be automatable. Certain actions need to be taken to keep your business going, of course, but one of the great things about any business is that you, the business owner, don’t need to be the one taking those actions. With a brick-and-mortar business, you can hire someone else to do things for you, but online you can even take it one step further.

Online you can set things up so that a lot of the necessities happen automatically. Your shop can be open twenty-four hours a day and taking orders without needing you to sit at the till, but that’s only the beginning. You can set shipping labels to be printed automatically, or set the entire shipping process to be automatic. You can also automatically send thank you messages, request customer reviews, post their reviews, and even automate your customer support. Such is the power of the internet. It often takes some time and effort to set these things up, but once they’re set, there may be little needed of you to keep them going.

Online is accessible

Fourth, your business can be fully accessible, and at this point it really must be (more on that in a minute!). With this accessibility, though, your products or services become available to all people, regardless of whether or not they could walk down the street to your shop and step in to peruse your wares. To be fair, you did put in the ramp in the back of your shop to accommodate people who couldn’t walk, but maybe not many people have even used that.

Your efforts at online accessibility, though, will make your site easier to use for nearly all your visitors. For example, by following the contrast-ratio part of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), you make your text easier to read for everyone. Even if most people might be able to strain their eyes to read text without the right contrast ratio, it’s less strain on everyone’s eyes not to have to.

Furthermore, online it’s not just folks with obvious disabilities that you can build in accessibility for. You can make sure you accommodate people with cognitive disabilities, blind people, deaf people, and even deafblind people who you’d have no clue as to how to accommodate if they walked into your shop. As you’re building your store online this accommodation can be done from the start.

In fact, because of the recent ruling by the Department of Justice, you’re officially required to do just that, as your online shop is required to comply with the ADA. This is actually a great thing, though, since this compliance can open you up to an even wider audience than your physical compliance to the ADA offered to your physical shop.

The online community is helpful

Fifth, you can get a lot of help to put your business online. When you opened your brick and mortar store, you might have been on your own, and figured it out as you went. Or maybe you inherited the business from someone else who’d done that. In any event, getting the business going in the first place, or even keeping it going, might have been a fairly solitary activity involving you and maybe just a few other people.

One of the nice things about going online is that there are hundreds or even thousands of people going through the same process as you, with active and vibrant online communities dedicated to sharing experiences and tips. You just need to find a good forum somewhere, and you’ll have plenty of advice, motivation, and support to keep you going.

Or you can simply tap into the resources assembled by the platform you’ve chosen, as they are uniquely motivated to see you succeed. Either way, you’ll have a community, and it can be as big or as little as you feel comfortable with.

Choose the right platform

In order to make your online business as scalable, simple, automated, and accessible as possible, you need to pick a platform that can do all these things well. Here at SeaMonster Studios we feel like the best platform choice for these various concerns is Shopify, and I’ll spend the rest of this post exploring how it handles these things, but if you’d like to read up on other options for your ecommerce business, you can check out ecommerceCEO’s post on the best ecommerce platforms. You can come to your own decision, but here’s why we think Shopify is the winner:

Shopify scales well

Shopify's price structure: Basic for $29/mo, Shopify for $79/mo, Advanced for $299/mo

For less than the cost of a soda a day, you can start your Shopify store and sell products every hour of the day with the most basic Shopify plan. Even if you only sell a few items a month, you can probably cover the cost of the basic plan. Of course, there are paid apps you can add, and there are benefits to increasing your plan as your online business scales up, but it’s nice to have a low bar of entry.

Setting Shopify up is simple

Shopify Setup Settings: Plan, Users and Permissions, Payments, Checkout, Shipping and delivery, Taxes and duties, Locations, Gift cards, Markets, Sales Channels, Domains, Notifications, Metafields, Files, Languages, Policies

All the areas needing to be set up to manage your entire business online can be seen from the Shopify Settings page. Walk through those (with helpful Learn more links and tooltips sprinkled throughout), and the business side of things is in order. After that, you just have to choose and set up a theme and you’re ready to go.

If you decide to fit your online experience to whatever Shopify theme you decide on, you can most likely get your shop set up by yourself. Shopify itself has developed eight free themes you can choose from, though there are almost a dozen more available for free from other developers on the Shopify theme store, along with hundreds of paid themes, and like I said, if you choose one of these and fit your store to it, the process is pretty simple. Adding features your theme doesn’t come with adds complexity, though it’s your choice whether to do that or not.

Shopify is automatable

Many of the settings you just entered automate aspects of your business that now you won’t really have to think about, or they automate the early steps of processes you’ll only really have to think about down the line. Shopify has many built-in automatable abilities like keeping track of your inventory, buying and printing postage labels, sending customers purchase and shipping notifications, collecting taxes, and many others.

It’s likely that after learning a few management tasks for the Shopify side of your business, you’ll find it more hands-off than your storefront. You might even want to run your storefront business tasks through Shopify’s Point-Of-Sale devices to unify your inventory management and sales processes.

Shopify can be accessible

Disability symbols, white lines on blue backgrounds: wheelchair, brain, sign language, figure walking with a cane There are many factors to consider when working to make sure your site is accessible, and unfortunately not all themes take all of them into account. The basics of accessibility should be achievable by every theme, though, and Shopify has a great article in the help section about some of these considerations. Check out Shopify’s article on accessibility here, and for a deeper look with a few more examples, check out our series of posts on accessibility here.

The Shopify community is extensive notes, along with many other interesting points, that Shopify is the fastest-growing online store builder, and it’s got a community to match! At the time of this writing, just yesterday 148 questions were posted in the Shopify Discussion forum. Halfway between one and two hundred questions on a typical day! Of those 148 questions, more than two thirds had already received at least one answer. That happened within hours of their being posted!

This is an active and helpful community. Plus there are tutorials Shopify has put together, and local and online events, a partnership certification program, and a large network of Shopify partners available for hire to make sure your store gets set up right and hums along doing its job. You are not alone, and the community continues to grow and grow!

line graph showing the market-share trajectory of five major ecommerce platforms. the Shopify line goes continually up
data points visualized from the ToolTester post

30,000-Foot View

Despite our enthusiasm for Shopify, if you decide one of the other platforms is a better fit for you, you’re likely to find similar benefits in the other platforms, along with help along the way in getting things set up to your satisfaction. Once you do, you can count on an elevation change according to the trajectory you set out for your store’s online portion, whether that’s a small and gradual entry into the online space, or a tremendous takeoff that will take you into the clouds. From there you’ll see the big picture that it wasn’t so difficult, and though it did take work, it was worth it. Watch for our future posts in the Big Picture series to explore the other steps in the process of setting up your online store.

Thinking of launching your online business? Contact us for a consultation and we'll make sure you've got the big picture before launching your site.