There’s no doubt business owners have been tested to their limits over the past few months. Retailers operating traditional bricks and mortar stores were hit particularly hard, with many moving operations online to revive revenue.

Xero research from May this year found 11% of Australian businesses started selling online since the outbreak of COVID-19 and another 11% plan to start soon. In a post-COVID world, having an online presence will remain an important strategy for retailers. Many customers who hadn’t shopped online before lockdown got comfortable with the concept and it’s created a whole new market of online shoppers.

But ecommerce brings with it fresh challenges. Fortunately, the latest technology can help tackle these head on. Here’s how it can help, as retailers consider making the move online, or reviewing their current strategies.

1. Make the most of online platforms

Choosing the right digital sales platform is an important consideration at the outset. International marketplaces, like Amazon can suit those wanting to get up and running with online sales, without investing in their own store. Marketplaces attract customers looking for specific products, so tend to work well for niche items, for example, eBay for electrical goods.

For those wanting to sell directly to customers, ecommerce apps give retailers a simple way to create an online store themselves. Many offer a range of design templates, which make it easy to create a professional looking website that’s also on-brand. We’re seeing increased interest in these tools, with searches for ecommerce apps on Xero’s app marketplace twice as high in May compared to February this year.

A popular example is Shopify, which helps with the entire process, from choosing a domain name, to managing orders and analysing website traffic. Their payment functionality also sets retailers up to accept all major payment methods.

2. Have an up-to-the minute view of inventory

To successfully sell online, having a real-time view of inventory is crucial, especially for those operating a physical store too. If an in-store customer buys the last item of one good, it’s crucial it shows as being out of stock online. This can be solved by retailers integrating their inventory solution, with ecommerce and point of sale systems. Cloud-based inventory management systems, like DEAR Inventory or Unleashed provide a real-time view of inventory and integrate with Xero, Shopify and Amazon.

3. Smooth out shipping

Shipping is a whole new process to manage and it’s important orders arrive safely in a reasonable timeframe. Those selling via Amazon can consider outsourcing the process and using Fulfillment by Amazon, where Amazon will store stock, and handle the packing and shipping. For direct sellers, some ecommerce platforms, like Shopify include shipping features, to print shipping labels and send tracking to your customers

4. Get smart with marketing

Once your products are online, technology can help get the word out to new and potential customers. Social media is a great place to start, through organic posts or ads. It’s important to choose the platform that’s right for the store’s demographic and product. Specialist marketing tools like MailChimp can also help with everything from promoting special offers via social media, to scheduling posts, and building profiles of users engaging with content.

5. Simplify accounting with specialist technology
Ecommerce accounting brings added complexities. For example, different payment gateways, like Apple Pay and Afterpay, can have different fee structures and large marketplaces often pay in one bulk payment, making it hard to understand exactly what different payments represent. Specialist technology like A2X can post sales made through Shopify or Amazon, automatically to cloud accounting software like Xero, so everything is accounted for correctly, without the admin headache.

As Australian retailers are in recovery mode, there’s an opportunity to make the most of the latest specialist technology, as they kick off or grow their digital sales strategy, to give them the best chance of success.

Kaye Harding is general manager – ecosystem partner experience at Xero