There are obvious benefits to selling online. There’s a global market, for starters. Great if you don’t want to rely on the customers who come into your shop. There’s the low cost of sale, of course. Not to mention the obvious benefits of being able to have a relationship with your customer without ever having to deal with them face-to-face.
But a measured approach is what you need to make a success of selling your product online. Just ask Natalie Walker, who runs Greenfields, Shropshire’s leading farm shop. Her shop’s gone from selling 10 veggie boxes (a delivery service that brings the best fresh local produce to your door) to around 100 a week in just over two years. Here she shares her thoughts on how to make a success of selling your product on the internet.
1. Do your research – do your customers have a need for your product online vs. coming to your shop?
NW: “What we realised was there was a certain section of our customer base who didn’t want to come to the shop – they wanted the convenience of getting really great produce delivered to their door. They also wanted to be able to jump online and choose what they want. So we developed a way to give it to them – and that was over the web.”
2. Why are you doing it – it’s no good selling online because you think you should, consider why you should. What challenges might you face?
NW: “We ran into a number of challenges when we first started the veggie boxes. Customers didn’t want a box with what we told them they should have. They wanted a box with the things they wanted to have. We’ve listened and adapted to each individuals’ needs. They expect that personal level of service from us and that’s what we give them.
3. Collect data – build a mailing list
NW: “We have just launched our new loyalty card that gives customers money off fruit and veg. We already have more than 1500 people signed up, allowing us to monitor their buying habits, understand their likes and market to them more effectively. The more information we have about our customers the better placed we are to serve them.”
4. Marketing – do your customers know you have an online offer?
NW: “Launching the veggie boxes was relatively straight forward. We had a regular stream of customers coming through the shop, so making them aware of the online offer was easy. We also gave them flyers and advertised the offer around the store. Then there’s word of mouth – we were getting a lot of orders by referral.”
5. Be clear about the offer – make it compelling, easy to understand and act upon
NW: “We knew we needed to make the veggie box offer really simple. ‘Get the very best local veg delivered to your door’ – that’s really easy for people to get. We didn’t want to over complicate things. To that end we make this all very clear on our website.”
6. Get the infrastructure – do you have the right ecommerce solution to support your offer?
NW: “This has been another big learning curve for us. It’s very simple to promise a service online. But you’re in trouble if you can’t deliver against it. For a while the veggie boxes were so popular our guys were working all hours trying to get them delivered. So we adapted and we now have deliveries on different days in different postcode areas.”
7. Get integrated – how are you controlling your orders and invoicing?
NW: “It was essential our internet system integrated with our database for invoicing purposes. We’d have got ourselves in a real muddle if we hadn’t got this right. We still operated a more ‘hands on’ approach to our internet sales and we still call customers personally about their orders. That’s what they expect from Greenfields. We’ve also launched a Facebook page which allows us to engage with our customers, share seasonal offers and news with our hardcore fans.”
8. Understand not everyone wants to shop online – do you really understand what the customer wants?
NW: “Finally we always listen to our customers’ feedback and do whatever it takes to make them happy. We also understand that we have a huge amount of customers who will never want to buy from us online. They want to come to the shop, smell, see and taste their food. That’s one of the reasons we’re unique. But we also know that there’s a portion of our customers who want to enjoy the Greenfields product and experience without ever coming to the farm shop.”
Are you a traditional offline business selling online? Share your stories with us!