We work with a lot of businesses that sell services rather than products. But we don’t think service companies should overlook e-commerce opportunities.
Online selling makes retail easy and affordable. You no longer need a physical store space to display and sell your goods. Nor do you need staff, such as sales associates and cashiers. You can scale e-commerce much easier than you can scale brick-and-mortar. The process is largely automated through your website; actually pulling the order and dropping it in the mail is something you can do in less than a minute.
You don’t even need to sell physical products to cash in on the upsides of e-commerce. You can “package” your services so that your customers can “shop” for what they need on your website.
Thinking about this option is an important exercise that every business needs to at least try. Even if you decide against packaging your services for e-commerce, you may find ways to provide value to your customers that you never thought of.
Ideally, businesses would do both --- sell some retail, and find ways to package their services. Some of the e-commerce opportunities listed below are things that all service businesses should be doing. We’ll explain why as we go through the list.
Eight reasons for service companies to get into E-commerce
1. Add flexible, scalable, low-maintenance forms of revenue
2. Diversify your revenue streams
3. Cost-effective marketing/branding opportunities
4. Opportunities to upsell
5. Provide greater value to your customers
6. Ongoing sales are the cheapest way to sustainable growth
7. Expand your reach by retailing to people outside your normal service area8. Build website authority by increasing traffic to your site
What you can do, and why we recommend it
Branded apparel on your website
Branded apparel is one of the strongest forms of marketing for local businesses. Like running a blog, it’s a form of marketing that provides value to the customer. Clothing is one of the most basic needs that humans have. Additionally, the customer pays to market for you. To their friends, family, and coworkers, this is as good as an endorsement/referral.
This is all about what I like to call “leveraging your expertise”. We recommend running a blog for marketing purposes, partly because your expertise is the most valuable commodity you have for setting yourself apart from your competitors. You’ll notice that some websites have free content as well as premium content that a user has to pay for access to. “For a monthly fee of $2, you get unlimited access to all premium articles about trading strategies” or “sign up for our exclusive weekly newsletter for only $3 per month.”
If you’re confident that you have a wealth of insight that’s hard to find/access, you could even publish e-books and sell them on your site. This is more affordable and manageable than the traditional publishing route.
If you feel you don’t have the skill to write a book, you can outsource the writing and just provide the info. But keep in mind that you don’t have to write at the same level or volume that you would have to in order to get published the traditional way. For example, a 30-page guide on how to rebuild your(insert machine of your choice) could sell for 5 bucks.
You could also run exclusive Q&A’s or podcasts that feature industry experts (whom you happen to know). These opportunities are more abundant if you’re a B2B service company, but don’t let that stop you if you’re in B2C. You’re limited only by your ability to recognize a need and capitalize on it.
Products and tools related to your field
Every service business knows about small needs their customers have – and the best solutions. If your customers are constantly asking about products related to your field, you might as well start selling those products. Even if you have to mark it up a bit over traditional retailers, you save the customer the trouble of sourcing the product. You’ll probably find your loyal customers are happy to buy from you, anyway.
You can get a little marketing/branding out of the deal by rebranding the afore-mentioned products as your own (legally, of course. You’ll have to arrange with the manufacturer).
This includes things like consultation, routine inspections, or yearly updates. If, for instance, you firmly believe that things like routine inspections or cleanings save your customers money in the long run, you can sell these “items” on your website to make it convenient for the customer.
Even better, you can put them on a service schedule. Picture an e-commerce page where the user chooses a service, and then can set preferences: what they need, best time of day/week to show up, how frequently to call. You can even make it scalable, so that if they were to downsize or upsize their home/business, they can update their preferences with a few easy clicks on your website.
Whether you’re selling products or services, subscription based selling is a way to sell that can work better for both the business and the customer. When it comes to recurring sales (such as consumables or routine inspections), there’s a time-cost to customers when they have to place an order every time they need something. And that’s nothing compared to the cost/inconvenience of not having a product when you really need it.
People are likely to forget that they need to have AA batteries on hand, just like they might forget their furnace needs a yearly checkup.
On your end, subscription based selling lets you lock a customer into a service agreement. This helps you plan your schedule further in advance (without even having to communicate directly, necessarily).It also helps you with your ordering: you know that X number of customers need X number of products for the next year. So you can order less frequently, without mishaps such as overstocking or understocking.
Understanding what you have to offer
It will take a little brainstorming to come up with ideas that really move the needle for your specific business. Don’t expect to sit down for a 15 minute brainstorming session and have everything worked out. Some of the suggestions above mark a transition/expansion from selling services to selling services+ products.
If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, keep in mind that e-commerce (or selling, in general) is all about finding ways to provide your customers with value. As an expert in your field, there are(theoretically) infinite ways you can do this. Here are just a few of the things you have to work with:
Knowledge, insight, expertise
•Connections with other experts, suppliers and helpful people
•Ability to source and price products
•Ability to recognize a need, and direct the customer to a solution
A big bonus to running e-commerce
E-commerce gives people one more reason to go to your site. In the world of modern marketing, traffic is currency. That’s why we see so much clickbait online.
For businesses, what you need to understand is that anything that increases traffic to your site will increase what is known as authority to SEO nerds. Basically, a popular site will move up in the search engine rankings.
We’ve already seen a large chunk of business migrate to the internet in the last 20 years. While it seems logical that there will always be a need for in-person communication and physical store/office spaces, the internet gives businesses new, efficient ways to provide their customers with valuable products and services. Just because you run a service business doesn’t mean you’re excluded from these opportunities.