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What is a Virtual Store and how does it work?
Categories : E-commerce Essentials
The E -commerce is not something temporary or just a trend. It is here to stay and has radically transformed the way in which many companies are managed.
A Virtual Store intends to convert the commercial operations of a traditional company to the Internet. In other words, take the business for sale over the Internet.
But, what are the essential characteristics of a Virtual Store?
Although it may be very obvious, it is important to differentiate the "virtual store" from the business that exists behind it. A common mistake, especially in new ventures, is to mix the implementation of the virtual store with the business.
The ones in charge of the virtual shop have correctly designed their "business plan" and they are clear that the virtual store is the way to spread the business on the Internet and not the business itself.
The analog of the physical location is the website that the visitor can see and is hosted on our web server. It is important that the location of our store is suitable and in excellent condition, so it is very important to select a good web server.
The selection of the best platform to implement our virtual store and its adaptability to our demands and market changes are essential to successfully complete our e-commerce project.
We can open our new virtual store in a private location, that is, own your own domain and URL, such as http://www.myshop.com/, or stay in a store within a shopping center sharing space with other stores.
There is a great variety of options regarding this topic, including platforms that allow you to create a virtual store in a matter of minutes from any computer. Other factors, such as the disclosure of our new store and the attraction of potential customers will be decisive for the success of our project.
Focusing on the elements of the virtual store, renting or buying our hosting servers has its pros and cons. If we are a company with a proven potential, it would be logical to register a domain and have our own servers for our virtual store. On the contrary, if we only want to offer another additional service to our business, that of having our products available online, then a shared hosting platform will suffice.
The most sensible thing to do is to start with a platform like "mall" and then move to your own server when the conditions are propitious and the revenues of our business allow us to face the costs of this movement.
Our store must have several web pages that will be the showcase or shelf of our products. These should be designed according to the image that our business holds. It is not equal the emphasis that it is necessary to do in the specifications of the products in an electronics store for example, to the highlight of the visual aesthetics required in a clothing or shoe store where fashion generally imposes the purchasing tendencies.
The correct use of design techniques can prompt our clients to repeat the experience in a future visit or recommend it to their acquaintances. On the other hand, the accessibility to all the basic functions of our store is another vital element in our store, since it facilitates and speeds up the navigation of the visitors and that they can find quickly what they are looking for. The perfect balance between graphic design and accessibility is the key to making our showcases as eye-catching and effective as they need to be.
The main element of our store are the products or services we offer. To see them, analyze them, compare them and "touch them" is what visitors come to our virtual store.
There are 2 fundamental ways to show our products to visitors.
The first, where there is only one interest because the visitor can see and know more about the product, a kind of online catalog without a real online sales approach. This variant can be implemented using static web pages and is suitable for businesses with a small and established product catalog, with few variations of features and prices.
The second variant implies a high interactivity with the visitor, offering him all the possible facilities to turn his visit into a successful purchase/sale. To achieve this, a large part of this task is usually entrusted to a system or software specialized in electronic commerce.
Several are the specialized systems available today that facilitate the complete management of catalogs of products of any size and characteristics. The initial disbursement for the start-up of one of these will be greater than the first variant, but in the long term we will have a professional virtual store that will most likely amortize the initial expenses by far. On the other hand, it will allow us to adapt our store and product catalog to the changing market conditions almost immediately.
Finally, a personalized internal development could be done in our company, but the implementation and maintenance costs of this variant are so high that only its choice is justified under very particular conditions of our business.
The shopping cart
In the shopping process in virtual stores a fundamental concept is the "shopping cart". Basically it is a functionality that allows the visitor of our store to add products to a basket or cart, similar to a supermarket cart, and automatically calculate the accumulated amount of their potential purchase. The visitor may also return products that no longer interest him before completing the payment.
As you can infer, this is the main element of the conversion process of the purchase of our virtual store. A bad experience with the shopping cart ends up ruining the purchase and the customer abandons his cart without completing the payment. The greater the ease of use and reliability of the functions of the cart, the greater the customer satisfaction and therefore the benefit obtained.
Another important aspect are the "abandoned carts". In a traditional store, if a customer decides not to buy a product, they should probably return the product to the shelf. In a virtual store, customers can leave all products added to the shopping cart with a single click. It is worth analyzing in depth the options available to counteract this type of situation.
When the client has selected all the products that he will buy, he must pay them in cash before taking them home. Here is where the online payment method comes into play.
There are various means of Internet payment with different levels of reliability and security. Both elements, as well as the privacy of the data provided and transactions made guarantee the trust of the clients in each payment method that you have available and therefore in your virtual store.
The payment by credit card is one of the main forms of payment used in virtual stores. However, various payment options through virtual money have been booming in recent times, so it is important to consider them.
To select the means of payment of your virtual store you should also take into account the average amount of transactions. If your store is dedicated to the sale of cars for example, it is unlikely that you can complete the purchases using the payment methods mentioned above. Instead, you should perhaps evaluate payment methods such as bank transfers or checks.
In general, it is important to offer payment options that meet all the needs or preferences of the majority of our customers.
No matter how much effort we put in the implementation of our virtual store, it is likely that any customer has some doubt or proposal to solve at any time. In a traditional store, the client could evacuate their concern through one of the sellers in our store. But in a virtual store there are no sellers available within sight. Therefore, the more boom our store has, the more necessary it will be to be able to lend customers quickly the help they require during their purchase process.
Online chat, phone assistance, by email and even by video are some of the variants that we can implement in our store to solve this problem.
Keep in mind that not all visitors to our virtual store come to buy. Some are just exploring, looking for information, comparing prices or after sales services. Regardless of their purpose, they are all important for the promotion of our products and services, as well as to encourage the trust of the customers in our brand or company.
Understanding the different needs of our customers is fundamental to the success of the Virtual Store. It is even possible in our days, to know every step that a visitor has taken in our store, who has seen, during what time he has clicked or even what information he has read. The analysis of this information is a powerful tool for decision making when it comes to improving and adapting our store to what our customers really look for or need.
Logistics: shipments and delivery of products
In a traditional store the client moves to our store and before leaving they take with them all the products they have bought. However, if our store sells non-digital products, or tangible products, then we must take into account items such as the delivery address of the products purchased, the way to send them to their destination and until the time they take to reach the hands of your recipient
For example, the shipping cost for the delivery of products of a relatively low cost may cause transportation to be more expensive than the total amount of the merchandise itself and cause the customer to desist from completing the purchase. It is important to analyze this aspect carefully.
Remember also that in most cases the transportation is charged to third-party companies whose behavior directly affects the prestige of our business. Excessive delayed shipments, lost products, packages whose integrity has been violated or extra customs costs in the case of international shipments can ruin our excellent sales management and make the reputation of our store fall on the floor. Hence the importance of properly selecting our logistics partners.
As in any store, in our virtual store it will be necessary to easily and correctly manage our product catalog.
Commonly, the software of the Virtual Store will offer the necessary functions for the management of goods, warehouses, order processing, billing, etc. It is also important the flexibility of it to integrate with other information systems of our company if necessary. The passage of data to accounting, warehouse control, billing and accounts receivable should be automated as much as possible. It would also be advantageous to be connected to the logistics services of our partners to provide immediate and reliable information to our customers about their purchases.
Build a Virtual Store
As you may have noticed, building a virtual store is not a simple project. First you will have to analyze hundreds of essential elements and details to guarantee your success. As soon as your store is ready to be shown to the public, you will be immersed in a continuum of improvement, maintenance and development that will allow you to maintain the high competitive standard of your store.
Developing a virtual store internally will have high investment costs. Luckily for all there are specialized companies in the electronic commerce sector, such as Rolige, in which we can delegate the titanic task of building a store according to our requirements. Rolige is a team of expert professionals in the ecommerce software PrestaShop. We offer all the necessary services for the success of an eCommerce: development, integrations, hosting, training and more. You can find the accessible costs of our professional stores in the Online Stores menu.
Regardless of how it is built, the management of the virtual store will require trained personnel to complete all the tasks associated with such management and attention to our customers.
With just a glance at the main elements mentioned here, we can realize that implementing a Virtual Store is not a simple project. However, the potential benefits of a virtual store are practically endless. Everything will depend on our ability to manage and organize, build trust and attract new customers and the skill we have to adapt to the new changes in the market. Well let's not waste more time, in the end as the proverb says: " he who strikes first strikes twice" ;)