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Embracing multi-channel retail

Emma HuntIn my previous post, I mentioned Driving Business Online, an initiative developed by PayPal Australia to educate small businesses on the benefits of establishing an online presence. Since June we have visited 14 towns across regional and rural New South Wales, educating small businesses on the benefits of taking their business online. Along the way we have met hundreds of small businesses already reaping success from operating online and have picked up reams of practical advice from these businesses.

There’s nothing like hearing it straight from the source, and I wanted to share with you a great example of one business we met in Orange, Blowes Clothing, a leading supplier of R.M Williams, Akubra and other iconic Australian clothing brands. The Blowes Clothing journey is an interesting one, and one that small business owners can learn from – a great example of how maintaining both online and offline stores can help reach new customers and continue relationships with existing ones.

Blowes Clothing is a family-owned business, which opened in 1936 as Blowes Menswear. Eight years ago, Aaron Blowes continued the family tradition and took the reins of the business, expanding its offering to include clothing and accessories for women and children as well. As many other bricks and mortar retailers would know, the last 12 months have been particularly tough on the retail sector, which has been growing at its slowest pace in 20 years. While many small businesses are finding times tough, thanks to a multi-channel approach, Blowes Clothing has enjoyed record sales every month for the last nine months.

Blowes Clothing is a great example of how to execute a multi-channel business model effectively. Aaron established Blowesclothing.com.au last year to support his bricks and mortar stores in Orange, Mudgee and Bathurst. This not only helped boost sales in a struggling retail environment but also helped open up sales in new markets. Eighty per cent of the web business comes from Western Australia, Queensland and Victoria, all a far cry from his home in Orange. Aaron attributes the success of the Blowes site to its functionality, as well as the use of search engine optimisation. He also notes the importance of accessibility from a back-end point of view, to enable products to be added or changed quickly.

However, while Aaron saw online as an opportunity, he knew that he couldn’t let his bricks and mortar stores become secondary to his business. He has made a conscious effort to continue updating his product range, adding new lines and products from iconic Australian brands to keep his store fresh and interesting for his customers. As most of the business is still driven from local areas, Aaron knows that in-store customer service is crucial and has made sure his staff are well-trained and knowledgeable about the brands they stock. He has found that following people’s experience at the store, the business has had out of town customers buy repeatedly online from their homes.

So what can small businesses learn from Blowes Clothing’s experience? We have outlined some key learnings from Aaron below.

Map out required resources

Remember that opening an online store should not be taken lightly. Plan for your site, and define from the beginning how it will support your offline store. Work out what resources the site will require and commit to providing them. Take the care and planning you would normally perform for setting up a bricks and mortar store. An online business needs just as much planning to make sure it’s a success.

Do some research

Find out what your customers want and what will make them buy from your website. Once you have an understanding of your customers’ needs, you should then consider what you want your website to do. What is the objective? Also look to your competitors for ideas – analyse what they are currently doing online and explore how you can do it better or differently.

SEO planning – to get found on search engines

An online store can do wonders for your overall business and profits but only if your website can be found in the first place! It’s vital that people looking online for the products and services you offer can find your web pages on Google and other search engines.

Improving your position on search engines is called Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Speak to your web developer and make sure they know how to build a search engine friendly website. Work with them to identify effective keywords to search for your business, products or services.

Deliver the right end-to-end consumer experience

Businesses need to ensure they build a consistent brand across both their online and offline stores. When setting up an online shop, intuitive navigation, an engaging user experience and detailed product information are all important in shaping a great consumer experience online. Also think about what makes your bricks and mortar store a success and make sure it is transferred to your online business.

It’s important to make sure that whilst setting up your online offering you continue to maintain and update your bricks and mortar stores. As we have seen with Blowes Clothing, online and offline outlets can support each other to bring in new customers and maintain relationships with existing ones.

In her role as head of small Business for PayPal in Australia, Emma is responsible for helping small businesses to achieve online success by converting browsers to buyers through the implementation of safe and convenient payment solutions.

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