During the Cultivate’20 Virtual session, “Selling Plants Online & Marketing Strategies Series,” Katie Elzer-Peters, founder and CEO of The Garden of Words, and Stephanie Monty, digital marketer for the Garden of Words, shared how IGCs can adapt their practices to fit into the current and post-pandemic business mold. As the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on the retail landscape, IGCs should start to transition from a brick and mortar business and pivot into the realm of e-commerce. E-commerce is a different business model than brick and mortar, so there are three things to be aware of:
1. Open source vs. proprietary software – What should I choose?
An open-source platform is highly customizable, and the source code can be accessed by anyone. It requires a developer, has a lower starting cost and shopping carts can be added later (example: WordPress). Proprietary software is a closed system that is managed by one set of users. The shopping cart and developer and tech support are included, but there is less choice, less flexibility and a higher starting cost (example: Shopify)
“In the end, we are software agnostic, meaning we try to choose the best solution for the needs of the customer,” Monty said.
Understanding POS integration with shopping carts is essential. Ensuring integration is your best choice, according to Elzer-Peters. Here are some common issues business owners might have during the integration process:
- What to track manually or “automagically”
- Shipping and order status
- Product information and variations
- Level and ability of POS
- Wireless vs. wired systems and security
2. Personnel needs – What resources are required?
You shouldn’t stress over this step, even if you have a “I must do it myself” mentality. In fact, it’s often easier to hire someone than taking on the burden alone, Monty said.
“Are you willing, or do you have the time to learn new technology? If you can’t, do you have someone who can?” Monty asked.
Monty suggested hiring through UpWork. Look for credentials like five-star feedback, 200 hours of service and positive reviews for the designated specialty. But at minimum, you will need the following types of personnel workers:
- Data entry/in-house web manager
- IT person/company
Think about which funds you’re willing to allocate toward e-commerce development, Monty said. You must take money, equipment and software all into account, especially items like personnel time and platform posting costs, she said. These will vary depending on which type of platform your business chooses. There are additional resources to think about, such as:
- Increased administration
Equipment – Do you have an adequate camera for product photos? Do you know how to upload photos onto your software? Is your computer updated? Is your website hosted on a reliable source that performs nightly backup installations?
- Online FAQ
- Software – Do you know how to use items like Google Drive, Google Sheets, Dropbox or Excel? Do you know how to size photos for the web?
You must first line up your resources in order to get these things done, otherwise there could be frustration, potential security breaches and overall failure, Monty said.
3. Process flow and management
When it comes to this step, keep in mind that you will have increased administration costs, Elzer-Peters said. Owners must prepare for inventory control and communication challenges when transitioning from brick and mortar into an e-commerce business.
“I cannot overstate how important it is to have people that understand what their job is, are excited to do it and are proficient in doing it to help with your success,” Elzer-Peters said.
First, focus on an online-only set of FAQs. Customers will have questions completely unrelated to your brick and mortar store. Address how customers can report bugs on the website, refund policies or where they can seek assistance with online orders. Be proactive and think about what problems customers will encounter. Create a terms of service agreement on your website — this is important because written policies will protect both you and the customer.
“If you’re doing e-commerce, you really need a terms of service agreement,” said Elzer-Peters.
Inventory control can be tricky. Instead of showing 100 items of a product at one time, show 20. And once those sell out, add the remaining items. Doling out products will make tracking and selling them easier, especially if a customer chooses all of the products in a cart but doesn’t buy them.
For fulfillment methods, most IGCs operate via curbside pickup or delivery. Picking, pulling and staging the products for curbside or delivery must be a cohesive effort. Have dedicated days to pull items off the floor and use a dedicated spot where FedEx shipping can easily pick your products up. Make sure your products are placed under cover, which keep products dry on rainy days.
When you finally make the transition, consider these big picture ideas for e-commerce success:
- Embrace CHANGE
- Research the HOW
- Find the WHO
- Choose the WHEN