Adding e-commerce to a website can be a daunting task. We spoke to two retailers in the infancy of their e-commerce experience to see what lessons they’ve learned since starting up.
Filament Home in Brookfield, WI, added e-commerce to their website as part of a complete rebrand three years ago.
“We had a new name, new logo and new website, and that is the time that we thought it made sense to add an e-commerce piece,” says Donna Johnson, General Manager of Filament. “We felt like it qualifies you as a player in the market.”
Crest Lighting, a division of Paramont EO, in Woodridge, IL, felt that evolving its website’s existing wish list feature to full e-commerce was the next natural step. Crest has offered online shopping for more than a year.
“Customers are sitting there looking online and they’re building the wish list anyway,” says Erica Gallagher, Chief Technology Officer and Chief Marketing Officer for Paramont EO. “Why not enable them to actually just check out?”
Below are four lessons these retailers have learned from their e-commerce journeys so far.
Pick a platform
Adding an e-commerce feature to a website doesn’t have to mean building it yourself. Platforms such as XOLogic and LightsAmerica partner with lighting manufacturers to help retailers build easy-to-use online databases. However, these offer fewer customization options and less control over content than a DIY approach.
Crest Lighting uses a third-party service. There was an initial setup process in which Gallagher was able to customize the user experience to her liking, but the platform host does most of the work.
“We’re at their mercy,” Gallagher said. “The nice part about working with a third party is that all the work is on them. The bad part is we’re limited by what they can offer us.”
At Filament, student interns helped design a new logo and website to keep costs manageable. The staff edits their own photos and has full control over their website’s content. This is labor intensive, but Johnson believes this customization sets Filament apart from local competitors and big box stores.
Expect more foot traffic
An unexpected benefit of adding e-commerce to Filament’s website was an increase in visits to the brick-and-mortar store. Johnson suggests that this could be due to a combination of the unique site design and the extra keywords on the site from the added products.
“I would say our traffic through the door has doubled since we’ve added an e-commerce site, so it’s surprising,” she says. “There’s something visually about the look of our site and then we also have built so many SEO terms into the back of our pages that it just pulls us up.”
Though the SEO impacts may not be the same for Crest Lighting, whose products already lived on their site via the wish list, Fimbianti says some customers do come in to see the items in person.
“We have had people who have said, ‘In doing the research now we realize that they’re actually local to us. We can go in there and potentially see the product, something similar from the manufacturer, even if it’s not the exact piece,’” she says.
Don’t expect a replicated showroom experience
E-commerce offers convenience but doesn’t provide the human element that can be important when shopping for home furnishings. Having experienced consultants at the ready is an asset for brick-and-mortar stores to help guide customers toward preferred manufacturers, higher-quality products or better warranties.
“A lot of the fixtures come with lightbulbs, but there’s a good majority that don’t. That’s something that is an oversight if you don’t have a conversation with your client,” Fimbianti says. “You can talk to them about other things in their homes that might interact with [the fixture] that you miss out a little bit on when it comes to them just placing the order and moving on.”
For Gallagher, the perfect platform would offer the convenience of online shopping with the experience and expertise customers get in a showroom.
“I would like to see a world in which we kind of have this more hybridized approach to e-commerce where it’s almost a virtual showroom, and as you’re going through the shopping process, you can engage with a human and an expert and get your advice and that becomes more of a personalized experience,” Gallagher says. “I don’t know that anybody’s doing that.”
Just do it (but have a plan)
As with any new business venture, having a detailed plan is key. Gallagher proposed questions for retailers to consider.
“What are their priorities? What’s their budget?” she says. “What’s their bandwidth to support a solution if they’re going to host it themselves? What are they looking to gain, and how are they going to promote it and support it?”
Johnson takes a “What’s the worst that could happen?” approach when trying new things on Filament’s website. She says so often small businesses stick to what they’re familiar with and are afraid to try new things, but the internet makes experimenting easy.
“As long as I don’t have to sign a long-term contract, I’m comfortable enough now to experiment,” she says. “And if I hate it and our customers are complaining, you can pretty instantly hide a product, hide an entire category or you can create things without publishing them.”
Fimbianti said to keep up with the market, retailers should be selling online.
“Online buying is definitely here to stay and I believe that it’s only getting stronger. If you don’t do it, you will miss out,” Fimbianti says. “You have to have the exposure on every level.“