In today's increasingly digital landscape, establishing an e-commerce website has become a game-changer for retailers. Whether you're a small boutique or a multi-location specialty store, the power of e-commerce can help you thrive in a competitive marketplace - but there is a lot to learn and work to be done to be successful. In this blog post, we will share insights and key learnings from two retailers with successful e-commerce track records in the gift and home décor industry.
Meet our Featured Retailers
Wilford & Lee
Wilford & Lee Website
Bonita Springs Location
Ft. Myers Location
John Gieseke and Bill Heise met as sixth graders in Illinois and began a long friendship that's still strong today. In 1988, they founded Wilford & Lee Home Accents with the goal of providing beautiful coastal decor to Southwest Florida. Bill's son Will joined the business in 2014 with the specific role of building and managing the store's e-commerce website business.
Opal & Olive
Opal & Olive Website
Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey Storefront
Opal & Olive, located in Point Pleasant Beach, NJ, offers quality items designed to bring warmth and comfort to your living space with timelessness and conversation. Owner Anthony Grieco started the store after years of working with his family's beverage store business. He wanted to branch out to other products and put his love of marketing and technology to use in the retail space.
If you haven't already started down the path of building an e-commerce store for your business, figuring out where to start and a checklist of what to do may feel overwhelming. According to Bill and John from Wilford & Lee in south Florida, "it's definitely worth the effort", but they say it will take more time than you think it will. Anthony from Opal & Olive agrees, as long as you are willing to learn a few new skills.
Specific technologies aside, these two retailers shared with us their own key learnings, pitfalls to watch out for, and benefits they've seen from their combined years of e-commerce experience.
Opportunities & Benefits
Aside from increasing sales - Opal & Olive does almost half of their business online after 4 years in business - Anthony says his website has actually created a way to embrace the customer and teach them new ideas, as well as allow them to shop at their own convenience 24/7. He utilizes live selling tools to show customers how to pair items to create different looks, and then pushes those examples out via social media, where he tags the products back to his e-commerce store to make it easy for customers to find just what they are looking for.
The Wilford & Lee website acts as a gigantic online billboard for the store, with a strong enough presence that Bill and John don't do any other local advertising. Their team also utilizes the site in-store with customers to quickly find product details, stocked quantities at their other locations, or product variations that might be available on the website that aren't offered in-store. Beyond that, they often have customers talk about the research they did on the website prior to coming into the store and then they are more quickly able to make a final purchase decision in the aisle.
As an added perk, both stores mentioned regularly receiving orders for large quantities of a single item, often gifts for parties or meetings. These one-off orders likely would not occur in-store, and help them create connections with new customers.
Buying online and picking up in store is a consumer shopping trend that evolved out of the COVID era but is here to stay. Anthony says he frequently has customers that will shop online for a last-minute hostess gift for a party, request his gift-wrapping service for the purchased item, and then stop by the store to pick it up on the way to their event. He has stopped offering local delivery service, but in-store pickup is still a solid revenue generator.
Finally, collecting emails and reviews are both a boon to business. Online purchases require an email address, which can then be added to the store's database and utilized to drive additional awareness of store offerings, build loyalty, and drive revenue. Collecting reviews - both at the product level and the business level - can provide great social media and email content that helps build trust in the store, but can also help unearth potential issues that can then be addressed by the store.
Building a successful e-commerce business isn't without challenges. These shouldn't deter a store owner from diving in but rather should be managed with care to avoid creating problems. First and foremost is the time required. The team at Wilford & Lee cautions, "Building your site will take more time than you think it will."
From building your database of product details, to curating images of every product you place on the site, to connecting the back-end technology with your existing Point of Sale system, simply getting started will take a large effort, depending on how many products you choose to start with. Anthony recommends starting with a focused set of products you can be successful with, and starting in your off season. That will allow you to learn and grow the business with the least amount of added stress.
Another area both stores called attention to is shipping - both the costs and figuring out which packing materials to keep on hand. Wilford & Lee and Opal & Olive both started only shipping smaller items that were simple to package and grew their shipping capabilities. Over time they improved the pricing they were able to offer. Both stores also offer "buy online, pick up in store" on all merchandise. The Opal & Olive team isn't afraid to add an extra layer of bubble wrap in their packages to help prevent shipping damage, and Wilford & Lee has implemented a pre-packaging inspection to each item to look for minor flaws in an item that, had the customer been shopping in-store, would have caused the item to be set back down on the shelf.
"Search for local packaging supply companies near your store, you'll be surprised how many options you have."
- Anthony, Opal & Olive
When it comes to the cost of shipping, "the Amazon effect" and everyone expecting free shipping was a big challenge for Wilford & Lee. They have since settled on free shipping on purchases over $100 and continually work to manage shipping costs as best they can. One beneficial tactic they've taken is working between their UPS and FedEx representatives to get the best pricing possible. They also utilize PirateShip.com to improve their rates. Opal & Olive takes a similar approach, using ShipStation.com, which not only helps manage cost but integrates with their Shopify website and POS system.
Finally, be prepared to handle customer inquiries for website traffic. Questions ranging from "what color is it, exactly", to "how soon can I get it delivered", along with the inevitable damaged goods issues, will all take time to handle. "People have interesting expectations of online orders," says John from Wilford & Lee. "In the store, they might have rejected an item on the spot, but now they have to figure out what they want without ever handling the item. But you'll get the sale if you provide the assistance."
Advice to Retailers Getting Started
With all of those opportunities and watch-outs in mind, if you believe that an e-commerce website is the right next move for your business - or if you want to improve the one you've got - then invest time looking at a number of websites from other retailers. Keep track of what you like, intriguing features you see, and what you don't like. Then decide what features you want in your website.
Determine what level of help you need/want to get things started. You might hire a local digital agency for full support or build something on your own using templates from an e-commerce website provider like Shopify. Anthony from Opal & Olive suggests utilizing services such as Fiverr.com, where you hire freelance creative and technical people for specific tasks ranging from copywriting and graphic design to SEO work and website development. Canva.com is another great resource that makes design work simple and easy to manage, and you can even purchase templates for websites and social media imagery from Etsy.com.
Once you've done both the technical and creative work to get your e-commerce site set up and you are live for shoppers, then the fun really begins! Utilize social media, in-store advertising, and other avenues to promote your website.
But don't just 'set it and forget it'. Take time, at least monthly, to fully review your website. Click all the links, try following the entire shopping path through the checkout process, check for missing images, and so on. Look for anything that might trip your customers up and prevent them from having a quality experience. You can even ask a trusted customer to purchase something online and give you feedback on the process.
Beyond that, watch for online trends just like you would spot them in your store, and change up your home page images and featured products regularly to align with those trends. Your home page is your virtual storefront, so make sure it reflects your business well! Don't forget to collect emails at every opportunity (without being annoying about it) and then use your email list to drive traffic, both to your store and to your website.
Unlock Your Potential
As you venture into the world of e-commerce for your independent retail store, keep in mind that it's not just about setting up a website; it's about building a seamless and rewarding experience for your shoppers. Be prepared to regularly review and optimize your website, adapt to emerging trends, and always prioritize the customer experience. With perseverance and a customer-centric approach, your e-commerce venture has the potential to unlock new growth opportunities and position your business for long-term success.