The government lockdown measures in response to the coronavirus pandemic have dealt a new blow to the already fledging UK high street – one putting extra strain on small businesses including retailers, restaurants and service providers.

Footfall in 'non-essential' physical retail stores has dropped to zero over recent days due to social distancing measures. The Centre for Retail Research commented that the retail industry will be counting the cost of around 20,000 store closures and 235,000 job losses before the year is out. So, companies across sectors have been quick to adopt new approaches to selling remotely as consumers turn to eCommerce.

The COVID-19 crisis is showing few signs of letting up, and lockdown measures, we are warned, could be in place until the summer. Now it’s more important than ever for small and local businesses to bridge the gap between bricks-and-mortar stores and set up an online store. For many, an online store can act as a lifeline to help businesses keep trading, whilst protecting their staff and operations during this challenging period.

The steps required for small businesses on setting up an online store

For established small businesses, setting up an online store can seem a challenging, costly and time-consuming exercise. However, merchants can have their online stores up and trading in a matter of hours.

1) Choose a SaaS platform: To get a site up quickly, I recommend using a SaaS eCommerce platform. Such a platform enables businesses of all sizes to build and ramp up operations with speed and efficiency. Not to mention, many come with pre-designed themes that can be used as the visual foundation of a site. Uploading and managing products on the backend is also intuitive, allowing merchants to save time in operational tasks and day.

2) Shipping suppliers and fulfilment: Businesses that already have a bricks-and-mortar store, often already have established supplier relationships. However, with an online store, merchants now have the added need of a third-party shipping service to get products into the hands of customers. Alternatively, shipping and packaging can be carried out internally. For instance, there may be a lot of fulfilment centres temporarily out of operation, so merchants with an existing physical presence should look to their storefront as a temporary fulfilment centre, allowing them to take advantage of the inventory already at hand.

3) Choose a domain name: The domain name is the part of a store’s URL, the web locator that identifies your company. Think of it as the online equivalent of the physical store’s signage. It should give customers an idea of what the business sells.

4) Hand-picked product selection: In the interest of time, businesses should select the products that are the best sellers or that have the potential to do better in an online environment. Ensuring product descriptions are detailed will make it easier for customers to find them when searching online as well as give them an accurate depiction of a product they cannot touch before buying. It is also critical to have clear product photography that offers visuals of each product from a variety of angles.

5) Choose and set up payment gateways: In order to fulfill customers’ orders, businesses must also set up payment portals. In a time where flexibility and convenience are king, it is important to offer various payment methods including credit card, debit card and Apple Pay. Most eCommerce website builders make it easy to sync with several payment gateways such as PayPal, each of which can securely handle credit card payments.

6) Test, test, test: It’s crucial to preview and test all essential functions to ensure everything works as it should. This includes checking the site works across multiple web browsers and devices – computers and mobile phones, ideally by people who aren’t familiar with the system.

In these trying times, small businesses need to be flexible and adaptable to negotiate this crisis. Now more than ever presents small businesses an excellent opportunity to establish their online stores, not only to protect operations, revenue and jobs immediately, but also in the longer run as consumer habits are likely to change forever.