The days of the local shop, serving its offerings to the local people has shifted to a more global model.

What has changed?

Buying habits.

81% of all purchase decisions now start with an internet search (that is a conservative number). The results shown from that search, are not just product information but a convenient opportunity to buy.

So in 2016 what is more valuable – the prime spot on your local high street or the #1 rank on Google?

Now this blog is not an SEO guide to boost your e-commerce store. This is a guide for shop owners that have not made the jump to e-commerce, are only selling on one or two platforms (eBay, Amazon etc.), or have a large amount of manual work to manage multiple platforms.

Continue reading this post if:

1. You work in a retail business with no e-commerce
2. You work in a retail business with limited e-commerce channels
3. You currently run an e-commerce business (well done you) but are spending more than 3 hours a week manual managing your process

Before jumping into the E-commerce element, let’s take a quick look at both changes in small business mindset and modern in-shop and business technology.

This has become a slightly overused term. But it is brilliant and needs repeating, as it goes against what most of us have been taught. As a result, we tend to slip back into the old ways of working.

What is working smarter?

• Efficient and effective processes and behaviours
• Using software, automation and outsourcing to reduce workload and increase profitability
• Avoiding busy work, prioritising important work

To the latter, data entry and filing does not qualify as important work.

While these tasks obviously need to be done, they are not activities that push your business forward or that require your brain power.

These tasks while being boring, menial and easily automated, pull people to them as they are simple to do and have clear endpoints. Whereas value-adding marketing, pricing and growth strategies are less defined and can be intimidating.

“The greatest enemy of progress is not stagnation, but false progress.” Sydney J. Harris

New Horizons (Replacing the old dusty till)
Technology, software and automation used by the modern retailer:

1. EPOS (electronic point of sale)
2. Integrated Cloud Stock
3. Integrated Cloud Accounting

Retail has been at the focus of many great software companies, looking to bridge the gap between brick and mortar stores and e-commerce environments. Vend, Shopify and Airsquare have all seen this coming, creating systems that cover EPOS, E-commerce and even stock.

EPOS systems use a combination of cloud software, tablet computers and till equipment (cash draw, card readers, barcodes etc.). Some of the key benefits of EPOS:

• Built-in reporting
• Card readers with no initial cost or long-term contracts
• No long-term contracts (the standard is 30-day rolling contracts)
• Integrate with stock, e-commerce and accounts

Integrated Cloud Stock System
Cloud stock/inventory systems link with your EPOS, E-commerce and Accounts. This means that your stock levels are live and always up-to-date. The advantages of this are not just reliable stock levels, but we can begin to automate purchasing and improve reporting.

Setting low stock thresholds and preferred suppliers against products, once the stock gets low a PO can be raised and sent directly to a supplier (authorisation can be set-up to ensure there are no unwanted orders).

Cloud Accounting
Have revolutionised SME business software and accounting. Products like Xero make staying on top of your day to day accounts easy, offer great reporting and most importantly connect to your other business software to reduce admin, give real-time data and increase efficiency.

Let’s look at e-Commerce
Taking your first steps into the world of e-commerce can seem intimidating. There are many platforms to choose from, different marketplaces to join and then bringing them together and managing the processes.

While the choice can seem a little overwhelming, managing your e-commerce is easier than ever before. This post will hopefully remove some of the stress of picking your platform, setting it up and importantly linking it with your other software and systems to tie your online and brick and mortar shop.

Step 1 – Picking Your E-commerce Platform:
For the purpose of this blog and the first-time online retailer, I think that the most important feature from an e-commerce platform is user-friendliness and the ability to self-manage.

The most popular platform is Magento, which is a great system that offers a huge amount of flexibility, but usually requires expensive development work and can be complex to manage.

I would instead have suggested platforms such as Rocket Spark, Shopify, WooCommerce, BigCommerce or Airsquare. These platforms are great they offer powerful e-commerce, great themes (design) and all integrate with accounts and stock, which is key for us as we want to reduce workload.

Step 2 – Setting-up Your Online Store:
Another advantage of these websites is the provide guides on how to set-up your new e-commerce website including how to import and update products as well as best practices to help you get the most from day one.

The reality of systems and software of all types is that the initial set-up takes time, CSV uploads can only save so much time. It is this initial time capital that stops most shopkeepers from getting started and ends up with e-commerce on the “later” pile.

The low cost of e-commerce set-up may surprise you.

Step 3 – Online Marketplaces:
There are several places you can sell your goods online alongside your main website. Places like Amazon, eBay, Etsy and Not On The High Street are examples of this. Simply set-up a sellers account, list your goods and start selling.

There are many benefits of using online marketplace:

• Audience – Each platform provides an audience, Amazon, for example, is the second largest retailer in the world (second to Alibaba) and has over 304 million active user accounts. By joining a seller, you can get your products in front of this huge audience.
• Find your niche – Sites like Etsy, Folksy and other smaller sites are a great avenue for sellers of niche goods.
• Reach – Open your offerings to the world as the marketplaces attract a worldwide audience who you can supply.
• Marketing – Not only do the new customers that you bring in through the marketplace become part of your client base, but your products can be pushed in front of potential buyers with features like “people who bought this also bought”.
• Trust – Being part of an established online marketplace provides a level of trust between you and the buyer.

The one major downside is that there is a cost to selling on these websites, usually, a commission is charged per sale. Click these links for Amazon’s seller fees and eBay’s seller fees.

Worried that adding multiple sales channels will increase your workload? This is only true if you plan to manage everything manually, which as modern cloud retailers we do not.

Step 4 – Integrated Stock:
Your cloud stock and accounting systems will become the hub of your business.

Cloud stock/inventory systems link with your EPOS, E-commerce and online marketplaces. This means that your stock levels are live and allowing for reliable stock levels, live stock levels on websites and automating purchasing.

Setting low stock thresholds and preferred suppliers against products, once the stock gets low a PO can be raised and sent directly to a supplier (authorisation can be set-up to ensure there are no unwanted orders).

Step 5 (optional) – Wholesale Order Platforms:
A great development for hybrid wholesalers (those who sell both retail and wholesale) as now you can offer your wholesale clients a value-adding ordering portal, which makes ordering easier for them and managing it becomes largely automated for you. That’s right no more orders by phone or email.

These portals allow you to select the products and prices that your client can choose from. With some, you can even offer a branded portal with their logo and colour themes. The ease and specificity give you an edge over your competitors.

Step 6 – Integrated Cloud Accounting:
Along with stock, the accounting element is at the core of your cloud e-commerce environment. There are a few great options QuickBooks, KashFlow and Xero, the later will be our focus. Why Xero? What is it? Xero is a cloud accounting system with an array of established integrations with stock, e-commerce and other very useful bits of software, known in the Xero world as Add-ons.

While the stock/inventory software becomes the core of all your goods, sales and purchasing, your cloud accounts package is your financial centre where you can check invoice, view reports and reconcile your bank.

When set-up correctly these will be the areas you will do all your work. Product description/image/pricing updates conducted in your stock system will be replicated across all your e-commerce environments. All financial details revenue, cost of goods sold, and overheads are managed within Xero. This completely removes the need to log in and out of all your e-commerce platforms and cloud applications.

The Wrap Up
The future is bright for small businesses as new global opportunities open to companies of all sizes, new cloud software improves work habits and automation becomes commonplace.

This mix of new opportunities and cloud software specifically benefits the retail industry as online revenue streams are becoming stronger than offline. E-commerce has been growing rapidly over the last 10 years and now it’s at a point where owning a retail business and not selling online could be considered malpractice. The opportunities and scalability offered vs the cost and effort required, have made it the fastest route for growth for a retail business of all sizes, especially small and new companies.

The vast majority of first-time retailers now start selling online first. It is more accessible and cost-effective than leasing and fitting out a brick and mortar, you reach a much larger audience for far less cost and you can manage your business at your convenience, your e-commerce store is open 24/7 but you may only need to work just a few hours a week to manage that.
Software and automation for the SME retail business (integration is king)

Technology, software and automation are used in a traditional shop:

• Point of sale
• Accounts
• Stock.

Traditional small retail businesses have a till system, requiring a manual cash-up at the end of the day. This information is either input into an accounting system like Sage or into Excel spreadsheets.

Stock too is usually managed manually on spreadsheets, taking regular stock checks to update and then manually raising purchase orders where required.

These different systems are usually linked together through manual data entry only. Which is great right!? I mean, there is nothing like a long evening of data entry after a busy day working in your shop to relax and love life…