Do I Need a Website for My Retail Business?
Industry research estimates that in the UK lockdown in March-July 2020, 85,000 businesses launched online stores or joined online marketplaces
2020 has been the year we all stayed indoors. It has also been the year we all, more than ever, went online. Throughout the COVID lockdown and beyond, our social lives, work meetings and business were conducted virtually. And even since restrictions eased (for now), many aspects of our lives have stayed digital.
And for tens of thousands of retail businesses in the UK, this has meant building a web presence for the very first time. Industry research estimates that in the UK lockdown in March-July 2020, 85,000 businesses launched online stores or joined online marketplaces.
Here in Manchester – home to new web design agency About Now Ltd – local, independent businesses thrive on the high street. Just a short hop from this writer’s doorstep, there is a bookshop, a butcher, a florist and a fishmonger, a jewellery-maker and a chocolatier – not to mention a shop devoted entirely to products for cats. Up until recently, the success of those local businesses was built solidly on a physical presence on the high street. Their sales were based on footfall through their doors. BC (Before COVID), a Twitter or Facebook page might have been the only nod to e-commerce smaller retailers like the shops on our local high street would make.
But in March 2020, coronavirus restrictions saw 750,000 businesses forced to close their physical doors temporarily, including most of those local shops. Even the essential food businesses that were allowed to stay open faced a dilemma over whether to keep their doors open, for the safety of customers and staff.
The response to this – across Manchester, the country and the world – was for retailers of all sizes to take a sudden deep dive into the digital world. The local fishmonger mentioned above launched a click and collect service to limit the numbers of customers in their shop and the time they spent there; and the upmarket off-licence started to offer booze pick-ups to fuel those endless Zoom quizzes, as well as live-streamed virtual wine and beer tastings. For many of these retailers, sales were now made online only, with collection or drop off the only face-to-face contact between business and customer.
The Reason Businesses Need a Website for Online Visibility
And for many retailers, this digital strategy worked. The strange new world of COVID has marked a bittersweet boom for online retail in Britain: against the backdrop of a dire economic outlook in which more than 20,000 businesses went bust in March 2020 alone, online sales have thrived in the pandemic. Retail analysts predict that COVID will add £5.3bn to e-commerce sales in 2020, with the sector significantly exceeding pre-pandemic growth predictions.
It is clear that e-commerce is the way forward for retail. And while behemoths like Amazon and Tesco continue to dominate the market, growth is predicted across the whole of online retail. The consensus among industry experts is that COVID has accelerated the move online across the industry, with sectors such as clothing, food and pharmacy all moving into e-commerce in unprecedented numbers.
This sudden shift online is one factor that prompted the genesis of web design agency About Now Ltd, launched at the height of lockdown. About Now Ltd brought together the brains of experienced professionals in web design, art and graphics, animation, copywriting and data analytics, to offer a full website creation service to time-poor businesses in need of a digital offering that looks good, and works hard behind a slick shop front.
And while a global pandemic might seem an odd time to start a business, co-founder Dr John Rowe says the timing was no accident:
With more people working from home and shopping online than ever before, our clients told us that they’d seen a huge upsurge in demand in the pandemic, while having less time than ever to devote to making sure their website could meet that demand. Some of them didn’t even have a website. But with so much on their plates, they needed to be able to hand over to someone they could trust to get their website delivering its best performance. And that’s where About Now comes in.
Whether you’re yet to pop your digital cherry, or you’ve had a virtual ‘shop front’ for years but never really known how to use it, now is the perfect time for retail businesses to build a brilliant website – and here are five reasons why:
1. A strong online offering will help COVID-proof your business…
A COVID-19 vaccine for humans may seem a long way off, but building an effective e-commerce offering can boost your business’s immunity to the virus, and its potentially devastating financial fallout. At the time of writing, the UK is heading into a second wave of the virus – and similarly, retail analysts are predicting a more positive “second wave” of e-commerce demand. The first surge happened out of necessity when physical shops closed their doors. The second wave, experts say, will be caused by a permanent shift in shopping habits, as consumers have become accustomed to buying online and realise they prefer it that way. Whatever the next phase of the pandemic brings – whether that’s a temporary “circuit break” shutdown, Lockdown part deux, or simply this second wave of e-commerce demand – being ever-ready for anything means you never have to get ready in a hurry.
2. …and it will keep your business relevant
Even before the pandemic, the shift towards e-commerce was already coming down the track, and fast. In 2019, experts predicted that, by 2028, 53% of retail in the UK would be online. Meanwhile, some retailers are finding that an online offering built out of necessity during lockdown has become a boon to their business that they want to keep. So that local fishmonger mentioned up the page, which started online orders when lockdown hit, has continued its click and collect service even after it has opened its real-life doors. Simply put, the future of retail is digital, leaving businesses owners wondering if the question is not whether they should have a website, but whether they can afford to be left behind.
3. The right website will build your brand identity…
In today’s digital world, your virtual shopfront is as important as your physical one. About Now believe that a website is the visual representation of you and your business – an essential means of communicating your brand ethics, aspirations and identity. And there are a multitude of ways of delivering these messages: not just with words, but with artwork that reflects the spirit of your business, and video, audio or even animation through which you can speak directly to your customers. In fact, 72% of consumers prefer video to text on websites. Having the right creatives on board to help you unlock the potential of these media will ensure that your business is showing its best self to the virtual world.
4. …reach new customers
The aim of a website is not simply to act as a virtual version of your physical retail business- it should also act as a magnet, drawing new customers to your brand. When built effectively ‘under the hood’, your website will be optimised to attract the attention of search engine algorithms. So when a potential customer types in a question pertinent to your business, it’s your website that will pop up on the first page of their Google search (other search engines are available…). The experts at About Now Ltd use a combination of analytics to track your competitors and understand how they work. Then they utilise this data to outbid them on website and social media marketing campaigns through strategic keyword analysis and focus. (You don’t need to know what that means. You just need to know that it works).
5. …and help you to build relationships with those customers
As the Manchester off-licence which started virtual wine and beer tasting sessions during lockdown discovered, having an e-commerce offering isn’t just a means of processing sales. It’s an invaluable tool for building connections with your customers, finding out what they love and delivering not only physical products, but online content that enhances their experience of your brand. During the COVID-19 lockdown, livestreaming by businesses “exploded”, with Facebook Live reporting a 50% increase in use between January and June 2020. A livestream, a blog post, or an animation that engages your customers will keep them coming back time and time again. And these days, e-commerce is a two-way conversation. A website and a strong social media presence allow customers to deliver value back to you: to leave reviews, provide feedback, to share what they love about what you’re doing with their own networks. It’s like having a chat at the till – but with potentially hundreds of customers at a time.
So those are five reasons why you should have a website. The next challenge is how to make it work. Simply having a good-looking website isn’t enough. Your website needs to work hard for you. And that involves lots of techy concepts. Concepts like: Backlink analysis. Competitor rankings. Site health. Concepts which would seem daunting at the best of times to many retail business owners, and positively overwhelming at a time when they are already swamped by reams of every-changing government COVID guidelines, and grappling to get their heads around a host of other new concepts that impact on their business, like furlough and social distancing. For many business owners who got into retail to follow their passion for their product, and never imagined e-commerce would become so vital to their livelihoods, the techy stuff can leave them wanting to run for the hills.
But the techy stuff? It matters. Knowing which keywords to populate your pages with to attract the attention of Google bots, and how to generate links back to your site to give it the clout it needs to rank highly on search engines’ radars, are the pathways to online success. A good web design agency can unlock these pathways with their toolkit of expertise, letting you focus on what you do best – selling the products you are passionate about, and working to help your business survive and thrive in these challenging times.
Dr John Rowe of About Now Ltd puts it this way:
For businesses that need a website, going online for the first time can feel like a huge step. But while it’s pretty much a given these days that retailers need an effective e-commerce offering, it’s not down to the people running those retailers to understand how to make that happen. That’s our job.
At the time of writing this blog post in October 2020, here in the North West we are poised on the brink of a second wave of restrictions, without ever really fully emerging from the first. And the rest of the UK looks set to follow suit, as the government rolls out its characteristically confusing tier system. In a world where the “new normal” seems to change almost daily, and the future for many businesses seems hard to visualise, two things are clear.
First: that future is digital. E-commerce is increasingly becoming the cornerstone of consumer behaviour. And second: COVID is going nowhere fast. But an effective online presence, built by experts and fine-tuned to reach and attract the right customers, can help keep your business in peak health, whatever the winter brings.
About Now Ltd is a web design agency with a difference. Cutting edge analytics and valuable data is used to understand your competitors. This will give you a powerful advantage in getting your business in front of the right people. If you need a website or more information on boosting your online visibility and getting your website working click on the link below and we’ll get back to you within 24 hours.