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From Bricks to Clicks: How to Build a Retail Website

Considering building a Web site for your retail shop? Have one that’s so outdated you wonder if it’s really worth updating at all? Many stores suffer from a poor online presence, or worse, no online presence at all.

Don’t let a small to nonexistent budget keep you from having a great Web site. Today’s online tools make it as simple as three steps.

Step 1: Plan It

A good Web site is appealing and functional. Don’t simply throw text and photos up and call it a day. A clear purpose is critical. What looks like an easy site-building tool in the beginning may be tough to manage depending on your end goal.

List all the functions you need so you can easily evaluate templates, widgets and other add-ons to build precisely what you want. Do you want to feature a lot of fresh content? Display lots of merchandise? Gather e-mail addresses? Show video demonstrations? Share reviews and testimonials? Sell online?

Like shopping for a POS system, it pays to plan ahead for future needs when choosing a Web site platform. So even if you aren’t ready to plunge into online sales, make sure it’s an option before you start. Kate Stottlemyer, vice president of operations for Tweed, a gift and home store in Richmond, VA, uses her Web site to showcase products and offer customers more services. “Customers who shop off hours or new customers who don’t live nearby can shop with us through our Web site. We offer the option to buy online but pickup in-store, which is very popular.”

Test the waters with a couple of options before launching into a complete Web site build. Instead of automatically using your current Internet provider or the hosting solution with the best Super Bowl ads, check with retailers that have built their own sites to see what they used.

Step 2: Build It

Now that you have a plan, it’s time to execute. Here are key considerations for building your site:

  • Multiple channels: With more shoppers using mobile devices, your site needs to serve multiple viewing options: computer, tablet and phone. Look for “responsive” templates ones, that automatically adjust to the device they’re being read on.
  • eCommerce capabilities: An eCommerce site requires a cart system with a backend that integrates with shipping and payment, secure authorizing gateways and merchant banker and SSL protection. But don’t freak out—there are shortcuts. Products like Shopify offer easy cart builders perfect for those with no Web design or programming experience. “Make sure you are aware of hidden costs with required ‘add-ons,’ like monthly statement fees, gateway fees and such,” advises Sharon Federico, owner of JollyPixels Interactive Studios, a full-service media design firm in Chapin, SC.
  • Design considerations: Web design is like store design. Choose colors and fonts that reflect your established brand. Federico offers these simple rules:
    • Grey/green/brown have a financial feel
    • Browns are rich and convey durability
    • Blues are dependent, constant and quiet
    • Reds are dynamic, powerful and provocative
    • Use reversed type (white lettering on a dark background) sparingly
    • Use a sans serif font for the headlines and a serif font for body text for added emphasis and readability
    • Fancy fonts are fine for headlines or logos, but they must be easily readable at varying sizes
  • Layout considerations: Since your site is like the display fixtures in your store, choose one that allows for lots of photos and encourages browsing. Even if you’re not offering online sales, beautiful images send the message that your merchandise is worth the trip. “Manufacturers are more than happy to supply professional pictures of their products for your site,” says Stottlemyer. “Always ask your company contact if they have images they can share—high-quality images can close the sale online.” Include some non-stock photos to make your site extra personal. Take your own photos of your store, displays and staff, or hire a professional. “Many local professionals are not as expensive as you might think, and proper lighting and staging really pays off,” says Federico.

Step 3: Leverage It

“The biggest mistake retailers make is assuming that if they build it, customers will come,” says Federico. “Not true! You have to support the site with social media awareness campaigns and traditional media campaigns. Reach out to your existing customers in your store and let them know you’re online.”

Though it may seem like a lot of work, the investment in a well-designed, well-functioning Web site pays off. Tony Doles, owner of T. Hee Greetings & Gifts in Dallas, TX, uses his site to increase sales volume. “We use [an online e-mail service] to build engaging e-mails that link back to our Web site,” he says. “We send announcements for new products, sales, coupons—anything that will engage our customer and encourage a sale.”

Carolyn Evans has a long-running passion for innovative products, great design and interior decorating and is a believer in retail therapy. After a session of reading insightful cocktail napkins, she decided to leverage her experience with start-up companies and financial institutions to build a career as a retail consultant for independent stores and young gift and apparel manufacturers across the Southeast. A graduate of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, she resides in Chapin, SC. Find Carolyn on Google+.

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