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How to increase sales with a full online inventory

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Whether they decide to buy online or in a store, 87% of shoppers start the process online.

Why online inventory is key for small businesses

It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that only the big retailers need a robust online inventory for success. After all, your small business customers are coming in for your expertise, the shopping experience, the convenience of getting what they want when they want it, and the loyalty they have to your store.

Here are three reasons why ecommerce is so important.

1. It keeps you nimble enough to ride out a downturn in in-person shopping. More than 90% of Americans1 shop at independently-owned business at least once a week. While restaurants top the list, local clothing stores, bookstores, and gift shops also score high for traffic. Local appliance stores are also a draw, since customers appreciate their expertise, trustworthiness, and excellent customer service2 when it comes to making a major purchase.

Whenever consumers need or want to shift their shopping from brick-and-mortar stores to online, small shops that don't have a comprehensive inventory online will lose sales to larger retailers that do.

2. It acknowledges the reality of modern shopping habits. Two other habits of shoppers also make online inventory crucial: showrooming and webrooming. Showrooming is when a shopper visits a store to check out a product in person and then purchases it online. Webrooming is when a customer browses online then comes into the store for a final evaluation and potential purchase. Either way, if your customer can't find the product on your website, they'll likely end up purchasing it elsewhere.

3. It helps with Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which is a key part of marketing. Another reason online inventory is important is for search engine optimization. Whether they decide to buy online or in a store, 87% of shoppers start the process with online research.3 If they search for a product that you sell but it's not listed on your website, you won't show up in their search results. The more comprehensive your online inventory is, the better your SEO can become.

Managing the Process

Getting all your inventory online and then keeping your website updated definitely takes a fair bit of time. And as a small business owner, you probably already have a lot on your plate. Here are five ways to streamline your approach and make the most of your time.

1. Optimize your uploading process. You can upload items one by one, but that takes a lot of time. To get your entire inventory uploaded more quickly, see if your ecommerce platform offers a bulk uploading process. You simply fill out a spreadsheet with product details and descriptions, attach a photo, and upload multiple items at once.

2. Set smaller, reasonable, attainable goals. To help you feel less overwhelmed, break down your inventory into categories and approach it one bite at a time. Aim for adding five to 10 a day whatever works for you. Before you know it, you'll be caught up and can go into maintenance mode, adding products as they're delivered to your location.

3. Enlist your team for help. When it comes to moving your inventory online, you don't need to go it alone. Instead, assign the task to one of your employees. The extra time will be worth it when it translates into sales.

4. List your best sellers first. It's understandable that you can't get everything online at once. So start by prioritizing your best sellers. Check your online and store sales, and make sure your top sellers are on your website. Once you've added all of those, focus on the products that have been requested by customers. Chances are if one person is looking for an item, someone else is, too. If you sell consumable products, you'll want to have those on your ecommerce platform as they may spur repeat sales.

5. Manage your inventory. Once you have all your inventory online, you can shift your focus to monitoring your online sales to identify trends. To encourage larger sales, you might want to add new product lines to complement your top-selling categories. For example, if you sell furniture you can add home decor items, or if you sell children's clothing you could add a selection of coordinating accessories.

As you track your inventory trends, you may realize you need to increase your stock level to keep up with demand. Alternatively, if you have items that haven't sold in the last six to 12 months, it's probably time to clear them out with a special discount or promotion. Then remove them from your inventory when they're gone, so you don't waste time, space, or resources.

Inventory management isn't a task to do on a quarterly or annual basis as part of your tax reporting. Tracking and maintaining your online inventory weekly can help you boost your e-commerce sales while you meet the demands of your customers. The last thing you want is to lose a customer because they couldn't find what they want on your website or the product they wanted is out of stock.

Getting the quality photos you need

Another obstacle to building a robust online inventory may be getting good pictures of your products. Photos are important. The web hosting service Weebly has found that more than 20% of returns4 are because the items ordered look different in person than in the pictures.

If you don't feel comfortable with your photography skills, this can feel overwhelming. A good place to start is with your manufacturer and vendors. Many will offer standard product photography to retailers for free. If not, consider hiring a photographer. Alternatively, if you have an employee who is a shutterbug, you can assign the task to them.

If you do decide to do the photography in-house, it doesn't have to be too complicated. In fact, you can get started with a simple white background, natural light, and your smartphone camera. Best practices encourage the use of two types of photos: clean-cut product shots and lifestyle photos that show your items being used by your target market. A good mix of both will help engage the shopper. This ecommerce photography guide5 can help you get started.

This content is general in nature and does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment advice. You are encouraged to consult with competent legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment professionals based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information, do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here, and take no liability for your use of this information.

  1. Bridget Weston, "Are Small Businesses Still Popular with Americans?" SCORE, published November 7, 2019, accessed June 16, 2020. Back
  2. Michelle Ma, "Where Should You Buy Appliances?" Wirecutter, published August 7, 2018, accessed June 17, 2020. Back
  3. Dan Alaimo, "87% of shoppers now begin product searches online," Retail Dive, published August 15, 2018, accessed June 11, 2020 Back
  4. Weebly, "How Important Is Product Photography," accessed June 16, 2020. Back
  5. Rachel Jacobs, "How to Master Product Photography on a Tight Budget (We Did it With Less Than $50)," Big Commerce, accessed June 16, 2020. Back