Why You Should Treat Your Online Store More Like a Retail Shop

Why You Should Treat Your Online Store More Like a Retail Shop

Having a successful online business isn't all that different from having a successful offline or retail business. Buyers are buyers, whether they're in your store or on your website.

Want to listen? There's an audio version below

Today, let's look at some of the basic principles that work both online and offline, and how you can implement them into your business.

Why You Should Treat Your Online Store More Like a Retail Shop

If you've followed me for a while, you've heard me say that when I got started online – with blogging, podcasting, e-commerce, etc. – I knew very little about any of those things. However, by the time I'd started my company, I'd had over 17 years of sales experience and had managed millions of dollars in revenue for several major businesses.

Though it took me a while to learn, I've come to realize online business isn't all that different from offline business. And, if you and I want to increase the sales from our online stores and grow our online businesses, we have to treat them more like retail shops and physical stores.

I mean, let's be honest; whether we're walking into a Dillard's or price-matching on Amazon.com, as buyers, we're still looking for the same things.

come in we're open for business

Foot Traffic

No business can survive without foot traffic. While for retail shops this means literal foot traffic, for your online store this mean eyeball traffic.

The #1 problem small businesses face is being unknown. Whether you're on or offline, your customers have to A) know you exist, and B) show up. And they have to know you exist before they can show up – don't forget that.

Stores spend a lot of money enticing people to walk through their door. They advertise on TV, radio and with printed flyers. Lucky for us, we can do better, and target people via email and put ads right in the Facebook news feed of our target audience.

Businesses live and die by traffic.

Ability to Browse, Sample & Test Products

Sometimes I go into Best Buy just to browse. I like to see what's on the shelves, what new TVs are hanging on the walls, and which video game I'll likely buy next.

Do you ever do the same thing? Do you ever browse before you buy?

My guess is that you do. My guess is that most people like to browse before they buy. We walk through car lots, check out clothes folded on shelves, and thumb through CDs alphabetized by artist.

And, sometimes we go for a test drive, try on the shirts, and listen to clips to see if we like the way it handles, the way it fits, or if we can move to the beat. We browse.

More practically, we like to know what we're buying before we buy it. Your online store should allow people to do browse.

You can browse my store by clicking here.

Just like your ‘foot' traffic wants to browse, they should be able to read samples, listen to audio clips, and know exactly what they're going to get when they complete their purchase.

When buying electronics, a trend you'll often find is a listing of what you'll find in the box. You'll see the item, the power cord, the manual, and anything else included in the box. Offline stores have learned that any time a consumer has a question to which they cannot find an answer, they don't buy.

Every unanswered question about you, your business, or your product is another reason someone won't buy from you. Providing samples of your work or of your products will help answer those questions.

Don't try to be mysterious. Don't be so concerned that your “competitors” will steal your ideas that you keep everything behind a checkout page and end up pushing away potential customers. Also, don't make your potential buyers guess at what you have for sale.

You can sample my products by reading my blog, listening to this podcast, or reading my book.

A Touch of Humanity

Have you ever walked into a store and couldn't find a salesperson?

When we walk into a store, we like seeing people. Even when shopping online, we sometimes like talking to a real person. Just the other day, when she had a question about her flight, my mom called American Airlines instead of going online to look for the answer.

While salespeople can be intrusive and obnoxious, when we have a question and can't find someone to ask, we don't buy and we leave.

People, even introverts, sometimes like interacting with other people. Make it easy for the shoppers of your online store to call and ask you questions.

A few weeks ago, I placed an order through the Amazon Prime Now app on my phone. After placing the order, I need to make a change. Through the app, and within 3 taps, I was able to request a call from customer service. 90 seconds after that I got a call from a real person who was helpful and able to answer all of my questions.

Whether it's adding a phone number to your store's page or a chat box in the corner of your website, offer up a touch of humanity.

Customer Service

In most stores, you'll find a desk for customer service. If there's not a dedicated area, you can usually find someone willing to answer your questions, process returns and exchanges, or provide general assistance.

Just like people want to have a person answer their questions (sometimes), they'll often want to have a person available for returns. In the online world, this could be a clearly stated “contact us” page or an area of your e-commerce store where people can begin the return process.

A lot of times it comes down to communication – make it easy for your customers to communicate with you and they'll be more likely to buy.

Terms & Conditions

Have you ever decided to not make a purchase because you didn't know if you could return the product if you didn't like it or if it wasn't the right fit?

I have.

There have been times I've been browsing for software online and decided to look at a different piece of software because the one I was initially interested in did not have a clearly defined return policy.

Most of my products have a 30-day money back guarantee. Some offer no guarantee with no refunds.

If you allow people to try before they buy, say so. If you offer a money back guarantee, say so. If you charge restocking fees or if products come “as is” with no warranty, say so. You don't want someone leaving your store only because they couldn't find the answer to their question.

You can see my terms and conditions and refund policy by clicking here.

About Us & Company History

Whenever I sit down at a restaurant that has their back story printed on the menu, I always read it. I like knowing about the owner, how they got started, and the special twist they put on common ingredients that makes that place unique.

Sharing your back story, even if it's just a brief synopsis, will help you make more sales and close more deals. I can't tell you how many clients have signed up to work with me just because they read my story and knew that I saw the world like they do. Or, that I'd been through what they're going through, and therefore understood them.

Which company was started in a garage in California? Was it Microsoft? Apple?

If you answered “both,” you're correct. Both of those companies were started as side hobbies, and both companies have made billions of dollars from people who appreciated where those companies came from.

When you read Exit Strategy, you'll find the first third of my book is my story. I included an extensive biography in my book for a few reasons. First, I wanted people to understand who I was, why I got started as a coach, and how I made the transition from employee to business owner. Second, I wanted people to be able to relate to me and see that anything I've done, they can do too.

You can read more about me on my About Page, and you pick up Exit Strategy on Amazon here.

Make it Easy to Buy

You'd be surprised how many online entrepreneurs hire me to help them build their businesses, and the first thing I notice is that they don't make it easy to buy. I load up their websites and I see nothing for sale, no “buy now” buttons, and no tab on their menu bar directing me to their online store.

One thing retail stores have done right is they've usually got clearly defined areas to pay. The #1 problem most businesses face is being unknown, so don't compound the problem by making it hard to buy.

If you have digital-only products, don't ask for a shipping address. If you don't need a customer's name, don't ask for it. If you're not selling a membership, don't require people to log in. Companies like Gumroad, Stripe, and PayPal have made it extremely easy to process transactions by not requiring too much information from the consumer. Don't ask for information you don't need.


I'm introverted and I'm a big fan of systems and automation. However, I also learned that people want to work with people, and it IS possible to over-utilize systems and automation. Although the amount of money spent on e-commerce grows every year, there are still things we can all learn from the “offline” world and the “offline” way of doing things.

If there's one thing you take away from this post, I hope it's that uncertainty leads to fewer sales. Every unanswered question is one more reason a consumer would go somewhere else.

Over to you: What e-commerce company has an amazing buying experience? How could I improve what I'm doing here on ellorywells.com?


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