Going from brick and mortar to pixels and code

by Michael P. Hill

Going from brick and mortar to pixels and code

If you’re already running a brick and mortar store with a physical location, adding or transitioning to ecommerce is a natural next step — but what factors do you need to consider when deciding how much to invest in an online shopping venture?

Is ecommerce right for you?

The first thing to consider is whether or not ecommerce is right for you and your business.

While adding ecommerce opens you up, quite literally, to a nationwide or worldwide market, it also comes with its own set of challenges:

  • Increased chance of fraud, particularly around payment methods: Since you’re no longer face to face with customers, it’s easier for stolen credit cards or credit card numbers to be used.
  • Higher return rates, especially for certain types of products: If you sell clothing or products that require close color matching, for example, you may need to adjust your policies and margins to account for returns.
  • Careful consideration into packaging, fulfillment and shipping processes: Most online orders just can’t be thrown in a box and shipped — at least not efficiently.
  • Handling customer service outside of “normal” business hours: Since you’ll likely be operating on a national or global scale, you should be prepared to expect phone calls, emails or messages at any time of the day or night.

It’s also worth noting that some products may sell great in stores — but inherently aren’t the best to sell online:

  • Very heavy items: Often the cost and logistics of shipping items, sometimes via common carrier freight, can be overwhelming to both you and customers.
  • Fragile items: If you sell items that can break even when wrapped in layers of bubble wrap, accounting for replacing damaged items could end up costing more than you make in profit.
  • Perishable items: Anything that requires refrigeration, insulation or other special shipping considerations can also add an added layer of complications.
  • Items where size or color is important: Although clothing typically has fairly high margins that can account for returns and exchanges, it’s still worth analyzing if your pricing can handle these from a financial standpoint.
  • Low priced or low margin items: Items with very low margins or selling prices can be challenging to sell online. Often these items cost more to ship than they sell for — and can also be more likely to attract fraud. In addition, low margins don’t allow much wiggle room for fraud, returns and lost orders.

While these challenges are all things to keep in mind, they aren’t necessarily show-stopping reasons to not venture into ecommerce — and there are plenty of merchants selling items like these successfully online.

From brick and mortar to ecommerce

Let’s take a look at how the various elements from traditional retail business translate to the online world:

  • Rent: Most retail stores or spaces require rent payments, which can be a big expense. Online, there’s no “rent” per se, but you do need to account for the cost of a server for your store to “live” on.
  • Utilities: Most retail locations also require you to cover electricity, water and heating costs. In the digital world, this could be equated to the costs of running a server and the software needed to make an online store work.
  • Store fixtures, furnishings and displays: Usually, retail stores require investing in furniture and displays for your products. In the online world, this can be equated to a Shopify theme.

While online stores do sometimes require renting out warehouse or other commercial space for storing and fulfilling products, it’s often cheaper to do this since these spaces are typically not located in desirable storefront or retail areas.

Plus, if you’re already renting physical retail space with storage space, you may be able to leverage that for your ecommerce side of things — at least to start.

Another “rent” and “utility” expense to consider is the price of hosting your online store — even most “free” solutions have some kind of ultimate cost.

If you’re using Shopify to host your store, you have a key advantage since it includes pretty much everything you’ll need from a technical standpoint.

Shopify themes

Just like when running a brick and mortar store, there are a variety of directions you can go for your digital “displays” in the form of a Shopify theme.

  • Lower cost options such as buying second hand or repurposing fixtures and furniture: In the world of Shopify themes, this could be compared to the free or lower priced options out there.
  • Investing in pre-made fixtures for your industry: Businesses can also invest in pre-designed commercial grade fixtures, display racks and furniture that’s not only designed for the wear and tear of a retail store but also to display specific products. Just like this, a premium Shopify theme is more of an investment, but often has better ROI.
  • Custom fixtures and furnishings: High end or chain retail stores often have custom furniture and fixtures as well as store decor developed specifically for them. It’s the most expensive option, but it also goes a long way in creating a unique “feel” and brand.

When considering what Shopify theme to use, there’s nothing wrong with using a free or low cost theme, especially if you’re just getting started.

However, similarly to lower priced or repurposed fixtures, there are some limits to free and premium Shopify themes.

Just like low cost fixtures that are not rated for commercial use are more likely to break and not last as long, it’s also likely that a lower cost or free Shopify theme might not be a long term solution.

On the other hand, while creating a completely custom Shopify theme designed and coded just for your store — the equivalent to having custom fixtures and furnishings — does have the advantage of a unique look for your store and brand, it’s also out price range for many businesses.

All that said, a good middle ground solution is to go with a premium Shopify theme.

These themes typically cost between $180 and $500. While that price may seem high to some business owners, consider that you won’t need to invest in the full expense of rent, utilities or event fixtures and furnishings.

In other words, instead of metal, wood and glass display furnishings, you’re buying HTML, JavaScript and CSS all with Liquid code mixed in already.

However, premium Shopify themes come with a myriad of customization settings you can easily control from your store admin dashboard — and typically with just a few clicks of a mouse.

So, instead of debating whether silver or gold racks would be best for your store before spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, a premium Shopify theme lets you spend a few hundred bucks and then change the look and feel of the digital “fixtures” almost instantly.

When breaking down the costs of doing business online, it’s easy to see how investing in an ecommerce platform such as Shopify and a premium Shopify theme equates to “real world” investments in a business.

Michael P. Hill
Michael P. Hill

Michael P. Hill is a Shopify, Shopify theme, content marketing, digital marketing and product management expert based in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelphill or connect on LinkedIn. While comments and feedback are always appreciated, Michael regrets that, due to the volume of inquires received, personal responses are not possible. For specific assistance or support with Out of the Sandbox themes, visit the help center.