Establishing a successful online shop: step by step
No market is growing as quickly as e-commerce, and the coronavirus pandemic even gave internet shopping an extra boost. As a retailer, there has probably never been a better time to get into the online business. And with the following tips, you can navigate the challenges of opening your own online shop.
Online retailing is booming, and the furnishing industry is no exception. (Photo: Igor Miske on Unsplash)
The German furnishing industry: digital potential
The assumption that it’s impossible to sell furniture online took a long time to shake off – which is understandable considering how convincing the arguments seemed at first sight. After all, purchasing furniture used to involve a long customer journey with numerous touchpoints: several weeks could pass between the initial research, long hours spent in furniture stores and the completion of the sale. However, consumers are increasingly drawing inspiration from social media platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram. And the nearest online shop is then only a click away. We are seeing a trend reversal in which customers are increasingly prepared to buy furniture without having tested it in person. And large online retailers such as OTTO have been demonstrating for a while that furniture can be successfully sold via the Internet. Amazon offers furniture retailers another attractive distribution channel . So how can companies ensure a successful start in e-commerce?
Positioning your online shop
There are a number of things to consider before implementation. Firstly, you must define what exactly it is you want to sell. Are you selling goods or also providing services? What kind of goods or services? The more precisely you can define this, the easier the next steps will be. Because you now need to analyse the market: find the competition, look at what they do, and draw conclusions from those observations. Is the market already saturated? Is there a space where your idea can flourish too?
Having a clearly defined target group is just as important as an understanding of the market in which you operate. There is an abundance of online shops so it’s vital that you position yourself very clearly. Those who try to be an allrounder, providing everything to everyone, run the risk of losing out to big players such as Amazon. It’s also worth taking a look at the offline world. If you already have experience in traditional bricks-and-mortar retailing, ask yourself what does and doesn’t go down well with your customers there. Take those insights and observe your target group closely. What are their habits? What value do you offer customers? What is your target group interested in and what are their needs? The answers to these questions are important for selecting an appropriate way to address them – because communication with customers is a key element of clear positioning.
Selling furniture online: from theory to practice
As soon as you have defined your positioning as precisely as possible, you can start setting up your online shop. Thanks to the numerous providers of modern shop systems, it’s no longer necessary to programme a shop from scratch. Intuitive modular systems allow even amateurs to build a visually appealing online shop. Providers offer templates and modules for a monthly fee – all you need to do is choose. The right provider for your needs will depend on how many customisation options you require. You should bear the following points in mind:
- 1. Entering the website
Whether the user arrives at your site via an advert or an organic search result, it’s vital that they can immediately see that they are in the right place. To make sure that’s the case, your logo must be positioned at the top of the page. The part of the page that is visible first is also suitable for placing limited offers.
- 2. Navigation
Users who don’t find what they’re looking for are often gone after just a few seconds. It’s therefore important that they are guided intuitively through the page. Navigation plays a key role here. Use appropriate descriptions and categories. (This is also important for good SEO.) Categorising by products makes just as much sense as by rooms.
- 3. Payment methods
PayPal, Apple Pay, credit cards, instalments, on account: e-commerce has far more payment options than traditional retailing. For smaller online shops in particular, it will not be possible to offer all payment methods due to the costs involved. However, it is advisable to offer customers at least two options so that you don’t lose them at the crucial point.
- 4. Contact options
Nothing strikes potential customers as being more unprofessional than having no contact options in your online shop. You have a variety of options in this regard: you can either offer a traditional contact form or, if you have the staffing capacity, a live-chat function.
- 5. Visuals
Furnishing is an aesthetic topic – and you should bear that in mind at all times when setting up your online shop. The user should enjoy shopping in your store, so it’s vital that it has a clean, tidy look. In the field of interior design, product images are a decisive factor in the success, or failure, of an online shop. The user must be able to imagine how the chair, table, etc. would look in their own home. Product photos that were taken in a realistic setting are particularly helpful – the bed in a bedroom, the couch in a living room or the table in a dining room. Give the customer a feeling for how the furniture looks in action. And to top it off, provide a description that appeals to the senses. For example, if customers can’t touch fabrics themselves, they should at least be able to imagine how they feel.
Special aspects of online retailing
When it comes to doing business online, the importance of search engine optimisation (SEO) is often underestimated. Even the best online shop will struggle if customers can’t find it. Findability is the keyword – because unlike a traditional retailer, you can’t expect chance customers online. Very few people will find your online shop at random if it is listed by Google on page five. Having detailed written descriptions and pictures of the products is therefore all the more important. In addition to organic (i.e. unpaid) optimisation, search engine advertising (SEA) is another important factor. Paid advertisements are a way of getting a higher ranking in the search results and thereby be more visible to customers. SEO and SEA are factors that should never be underestimated in e-commerce, and professional support in this area is recommended.
Flourishing in the digital age
The furnishing industry is looking forward to a lucrative future: according to industry experts, market volume will reach around Euro 44 billion by 2025 – up from around Euro 41 billion at present. The challenge over the next few years will be to take advantage of this growth and to carry it over into the digital sphere. Because the latest developments in e-commerce speak for themselves: it’s worth investing in an online shop.
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