By Shingo Murakami, MD at Rakuten’s Play.com

Traditionally the e-commerce market has been dominated by a few big retail brands. While this is still largely the case, small businesses are slowly beginning to launch into the online market and tap into online sales to attract new customers and boost profits. One of the reasons why adoption has been slow is the fact that opening a store online does not come without its challenges. As a result, many independent retailers are cautious at the concept of venturing online or maximising engagement across new channels such as mobile. Currently, 82% of SMEs have a traditional website, 49% are promoting their business online via social media and just 21% have a custom mobile website.

A good alternative for small businesses looking to sell online is to join an online marketplace, where they have support without having to take on additional marketing costs or website maintenance. It’s now equally as important for businesses to get the shopping experience right online just as it is offline and support from a marketplace can help to make that first step online easier.

Here are some top tips on how to get the most out of an online marketplace:

Focus On What You Do Best
Just like brick and mortar retailers rely on footfall to generate sales, small businesses looking to sell online are faced with the challenge of driving traffic to their website. Investing in search engine optimisation, advertising and social media promotion can help to increase the volume of traffic, but this is often expensive and time intensive in order to generate strong results. Instead, online marketplaces offer small businesses the opportunity to reach high numbers of shoppers so that they can concentrate on selling the product and delivering great customer service, rather than having to worry about driving traffic to their site.

Remember: Consumer Trust is Key
One of the main hurdles businesses face when selling online is that some shoppers still prefer tangible products, and are hesitant to buy items without being able to feel or see them. This is particularly true for lesser known brands and trust can often be limited for those small businesses selling products directly from their own website. By selling through a familiar and trusted online marketplace, shoppers are reassured that their product will arrive and that their financial details are secure. While the tangible experience allows your high street store to remain unique, the support of a well-known name means you can more easily bring this local trust online.

Get the Right Systems in Place
From choosing a payment system to updating stock levels, maintaining an online store can be very challenging at times. There are a variety of considerations that must be overcome before businesses can even get shoppers to the checkout. Being able to rely on a solid system is essential and this is where a marketplace can be invaluable. The secure payment systems, simple checkout processes and even mobile optimisation offered by online marketplaces mean that small businesses can instantly start shifting stock, giving business owners the chance to focus their energies on creating a great customer experience.

Cultivate Customer Loyalty
Many small businesses rely on loyal groups of shoppers to encourage repeat purchases. On the web this can be particularly difficult to maintain, especially during times such as the January sales when there is so much choice and shoppers are on the hunt for a bargain. This is where loyalty schemes can be effective, incentivising shoppers to revisit a store again and again. By tapping into existing loyalty schemes to reward shoppers, small businesses are able to make more time to focus on building a loyal customer base by providing an unrivalled shopping experience.

Despite the fact that many small businesses understand that online can open up a whole new world of opportunities, many are still concerned that they’ll either lose their personality or be overshadowed by the bigger players in the industry. However, many of these concerns are unwarranted. With fully branded shop fronts, simple and secure payment systems and strong volumes of traffic, marketplaces offer small businesses the support necessary to make that first step online a success.