Social distancing has, largely, put a temporary end to in-person business, and in order to stay afloat until it can resume again, small retail stores across the country have had to make the transition to ecommerce.
One such local business, here in Fort Collins, is The Life Of The Party, a beloved costume, wig, and makeup store that happens to be owned by our very own Senior Brand Director, Brandon Lilly, and his wife, Marcia Lilly.
Brandon has been in marketing for 12 years, so it’s safe to say that The Life Of The Party had a leg up on many other local retailers who have little to no experience operating online. Local retailers across the country are all in the same boat right now. But, a little knowledge can go a long way, which is why I wanted to sit down (virtually) with Brandon to find out what his journey has been like and what advice he has for others.
The Life Of The Party’s Transition to Ecommerce
What steps have you taken to transition your business online?
“What steps HAVEN’T I taken?! There’s the standard ‘build a website, put products up, write some content, accept payments’ routine, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Educating staff on how to pack and ship products, educating customers that, if it’s more convenient for them, they can make their purchase online.”
What should the average business owner know before they start the transition?
“It will take a lot more time and a lot more effort than you think. Think about what it took to open your store in the first place — the late nights, extra hours, budget concerns, delays, etc. — and remember that opening your store online can be just as complex. Just because the location isn’t physical, doesn’t mean it’s a simple process.
But, remember how much fun it was — the excitement, the energy, the thrill of opening your doors for the first time? Your website effectively becomes your second (or third, or fourth or fifth) location. Congratulations! You’re a mogul now.”
What has been the most challenging part of transitioning to online?
“There are a lot of challenges to overcome at different stages, and oftentimes, you hit one challenge before you can move on to your next one. My biggest challenge from the beginning has always been getting good product images and product descriptions. I have over 100 individual vendors representing hundreds of brands, so you can imagine the kind of cat herding I needed to do to get product images. Depending on how many products you have, that’s absolutely a process that you should start right now.
We started this process nearly a year ago, learning as we went, gathering feedback, making changes, making critical errors, the list goes on and on! However, it put us in a much better position to pivot the business quickly when we needed to temporarily close our doors. We’re excited to get back in our store and serve our awesome Colorado customers, but we’ll never go back to being a typical brick and mortar retailer. Our website now allows us to reach people all across the United States, and the investment is paying off.”
What’s your advice for someone who’s never operated online before?
“It’s very different from what you’re used to. Ecommerce doesn’t operate during ‘standard business hours;’ it’s 24 hours a day! And, customers like to have their questions answered quickly. They also have a lot of options. It’s inconvenient to drive across town to your nearest competitor but quite easy to just go to another website to have their needs met.
Also, while it’s easy for customers to ask questions face-to-face or to self educate with store signage or labels, it can be more difficult for them to do that online. I highly recommend a live chat feature, like Drift or Facebook Messenger, to help manage this. It’s also extremely important to have your contact information easily accessible, like a phone number or email address, so if customers do need assistance, they can easily reach out.”
What would you say is the most important aspect of transitioning your business online?
“A good website is critical. If your website is difficult to navigate or hard to use, your customers will go elsewhere. But even more important is a good marketing campaign across multiple channels. The greatest website in the world won’t generate sales if no one knows you exist.”
What have you done to make your store visible online?
“We’re pretty active on social media and have recently started producing live streams on Facebook, which is a great way to generate interest in specific products or techniques. However, most of our sales come from very specific product searches that we capture by running Google Shopping Ads. This also gives us great insight into what people are looking for. If we see a lot of traffic to specific products but no sales, we know where to dedicate our efforts. Have we priced the product too high? Is shipping a concern? Does the product description or image need to be changed?
Our next steps are to begin producing more written content in the form of blogs and tutorials. From there, we can re-engage with past customers through email by using this content to introduce them to new products or techniques!”
How have you kept your customers informed about the transition?
“We have signs in our storefront directing local customers to check us out online. Ninety-nine percent of our customer base is local, so ensuring that all of our communication channels are directing people to our website is critical. In our 38-year history, we’ve never really dedicated much effort to expanding beyond our physical borders, so while this is a new experience for them, we’ve already earned their trust. For new ‘e-customers,’ we’re just starting on that journey with them, so communication is key.”
Streamline your own transition to ecommerce with Marketing 360®.
As you can see, making the transition to operating online for a retailer is more than just building an ecommerce store, and even for someone with more than a decade of experience, it’s still a process that takes time and energy.
If you’d like help making the transition to an online store, you’ve come to the right place. Whether you’re looking for an all-in-one platform that has everything you need or a team or professionals to help you get it right, Marketing 360 has a plan for you. Learn more about how we can help you get it right.
And, thank you, Brandon, for your time and expertise. Visit The Life Of The Party online today!