Whether you’re just trying to share your branded merch or getting creative with revenue streams during these crazy times, e-commerce is a crucial tool for expanding your restaurant business. With the pandemic, internet use has increased up to 70%, meaning your guests are online more than ever. With strong e-commerce capabilities, you can capture website visitors and turn them into customers, even when they aren’t dining in. But you’re going to need an e-commerce platform in order to do that.
Simply put, and e-commerce platform is any type of software or technology that helps you sell products online. Sometimes these platforms are built into your website; other times they link out to another website. They give your restaurant the ability to take orders and payments online and alert you to transactions as they happen.
There are over 350 e-commerce platforms on the market today, and not all are created equal. Here are some things to look for when choosing one that is right for you, which ones you should consider for your restaurant, and how to get them up and running once you settle on one.
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What to look for in an e-commerce platform
Here’s what to consider when you go shopping for a platform.
The price. Platforms range in price, going into the hundreds of dollars per month. They can also have additional fees for added services. Make sure the costs fits your bottom line.
How visible is it to Google? Since your e-commerce platform will live exclusively online, it has to be easy for people to find on Google. A good platform will be built with enhanced SEO (search engine optimization). It will also allow you to structure URLs with keywords, such as your product names, to help customers discover your products when they search online for similar items.
Will it scale? Businesses grow, and your e-commerce platform should be able to grow with you. You may only sell a few items to start, but the last thing you want is to suddenly have to switch platforms if your online store expands.
Is it mobile-friendly? A mere 81% of people in the United States use smartphones, which means they are most likely looking up your restaurant on their iPhone. Whichever e-commerce platform you choose, it must be mobile-friendly. This means the website or online store adapts to the smaller screen and doesn’t clog up weak data connection with unnecessary frills. Google also prioritizes sites that are mobile-friendly so it increases your restaurant’s chances of coming up in a search.
Is it easy? You want something intuitive and straightforward. If you can’t connect with it, your staff won’t, either.
How are its analytics? You want to be able to track your online sales over time. E-commerce platforms that provide robust data reporting will help you think strategically.
Popular restaurant e-commerce platform options
Now that you have a good idea of what to look for, here are some options that might fit your restaurant’s needs.
Popular for inventory management - Weebly: Weebly is one of a few website builders that offer e-commerce capabilities. While the website platform serves more than just restaurants, it provides restaurant-specific features like online ordering. But what really sets Weebly apart is its partnership with Square’s POS. With this integration, any sale, delivery or pickup order syncs with your POS and automatically updates inventory. It also sends notifications to the POS making it easy for staff to see the order. Popular for growth - Shopify: If you’ve got big dreams for your restaurant’s e-commerce, Shopify is built for long-term growth and for helping small businesses have a larger reach. If you are thinking of selling on a national scale, or know you will want to have a bigger operation in the future, consider trying Shopify via its 14-day free trial. Popular for design - BentoBox: Another website platform, BentoBox only makes sites only for restaurants, customizing each site to the brand and atmosphere of your restaurant. Those details integrate into their robust e-commerce capabilities, too, with options for online gift cards, catering sales, tickets and more. Popular for mobile - Squarespace: Squarespace is known for web services for small businesses and artists, offering handsome out-of-the-box website templates, rather than specific designs. As a result, those templates are rock-solid for e-commerce on mobile, offering one of the most responsive viewing experience for digital shoppers. Popular for developers - WooCommerce: More than 455 million websites are built on WordPress, a free software without licensing fees. WooCommerce, an e-commerce solution built on WordPress, is a natural fit for these types of restaurant websites. The platform offers 300+ e-commerce extensions to help with marketing and payments, and is easy to customize.
How to set up your e-commerce platform
Once you’ve picked the restaurant e-commerce platforms that works for your business, you’ll need to set it up. Not all solutions are the same, but generally speaking, this is how things go.
Onboard: Think of onboarding as orientation. Likely an account manager will learn about your business and walk you through the steps of how to use the platform. Ask a bunch of questions as you go.
Populate: Whether it’s merch in your digital store or the brunch items you offer for online ordering, add them and your prices into the platform, with photos. Images boost the possibility of sales, especially when 75% of consumers rely on them to make purchasing decisions.
Promote: Once your restaurant’s e-commerce platform is set up, tell the world! Post about it on social media and email. Alert your loyal diners with in-store signage. Have your staff mention it when talking to customers. Be (a little) annoying! Once the word is out, you’ll be set to drive more online sales.
[Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels]