Selling food online can be a big jump from the traditional methods, and a hard-fought challenge.
Where do you start and, if you invest in “building” a website, how are you going to increase your online sales, thereafter?
Which are the best digital channels for promoting your products?
Where do you invest your time, money and effort for the biggest ROI?
How do you get your FOOD passion across in your content marketing?
The questions are never ending.
In this article we’re going to tackle some of the challenges you will face when selling your food or drink products online.
We’re giving you 11 tips to follow when embarking on your own online growth venture.
Throughout the article, we’ll share the constraints of selling food via the web and give you some useful links for further reading.
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Read more on how you can use online channels to target Foodservice decision makers, retailers and consumers using Social Media or Search Engine Marketing.
A bit about our experience of selling online
…and how we got into food and drink.
In 2015 Online Growth Guru Ltd acquired its very first client.
A speciality food & drinks business selling mainly artisan products. We set up their website and quickly started growing their food and drink leads and sales via the internet.
They have seen fantastic growth over the years and continue to grow their brand online.
But, the biggest benefit in food and drink?
It’s a consumable, meaning customers will keep coming back for more. I will explain later how to make sure your customers come back and buy from you.
Retention is by far one of the ultimate benefits of selling a consumable online – repeat purchases means increase lifetime value.
That’s enough about me, here’s some insight into common questions about selling food online.
2 common questions about selling food online
Can you even sell food online?
The short answer is “yes”. In fact, the online food and beverage industry has grown significantly over the last few years. The forecast for food ecommerce is also growth in the UK (by £5bn to £17bn), as well as growth in the US, and even across the world.
If you are new to the food industry, there will be various licenses you need to apply for. The exact licenses are outside the scope of this article but you can find out much more by reading here https://www.gov.uk/food-business-registration
There are also regulations you will need to adhere to. If you’re selling from home, you need to prove your environment is safe and meets the legal requirements.
Does any type of food sell better online?
There are undoubtedly some foods that sell better online.
It’s also been clear for many years that convenience is (usually) king for consumers.
However, trends are also showing that consumers are becoming more interested in the quality and sustainability of their food and drink origin. Rather than just cost and convenience.
Your website is the perfect place to tell your customers all about your journey, passion and product’s background. To share the background of where your ingredients come from. And to use innovative ways of influence your potential customers and their own buying decision.
Now we agree there is a huge opportunity for selling food online, let’s look at the top tips we have for you.
1. Work Agile
What do I mean? Basically, start small and grow your website over a sustained time period.
Agile project management and continuous improvement are phrases often associated with software development or project management.
However, in digital marketing, starting small and growing over time is essential. we’ve spoken with small businesses who say they spent £20k on a website – only to see zero sales growth month-on-month.
It’s easy to have a website developed for selling products without going crazy on features and cost.
Once your website starts getting traffic and increased sales, you can then add more features.
Deliver marketing value every few days or at a maximum of 2 weeks (work time). That is the key to continuous improvement and working Agile.
2. Choose a simple platform – Keep it Simple
Keep this as simple as possible to start with.
In our view, there’s only a couple of options, when choosing your platform for an SME eCommerce website.
- WordPress (our favourite)
Shopify will pull you in by telling you how easy an online business is. Honestly, not true.
Here’s why they are talking BS!
Yes, Shopify is very easy for a business owner to setup and to use the standard template. But that’s where it ends.
What’s more, if you do grow your business. Shopify will then charge a monthly fee as management costs – directly hitting your margins – costs that are out of your control.
Next is WordPress – as of this writing. It will take slightly longer and more expertise than Shopify to setup. However, as your sales grow, you won’t be charged any of your monthly revenue.
WordPress is easy to extend if you choose the right partner to work with when developing your website.
Third out of the blocks…
Magento is the most costly out of the 3 options. Both from a setup and ongoing development perspective.
So, unless you have thousands of products and a large cash development budget, Magento probably isn’t the best option. Or even an internal digital marketing team
Now you have the eCommerce platform, what next? The hard work begins.
3. Create food content that targets your audience
This is how you turn content about your food products into actual sales.
To show you what that means, it’s best to explain using the market segments you might be targeting.
If you are targeting consumers, think about what questions they ask before buying your product.
Long tail queries (that are more than 2 words long) in Google dominate over 70% of the search terms made by consumers.
It’s vital that you first answer their questions, then guide them to your products that provide the solution to their problem.
Here’s a few examples of content that are likely to have a good conversion rate when selling coffee online:
- Which coffee is best for a cafetière?
- What to choose in a meal prep?
- Which chocolate has most cocoa?
- Why stock mints in your restaurant?
If you can go into detail and share your products in answer to the questions about your products, you will be sure to make more sales.
If you want to attract decision makers from people in foodservice i.e. in coffee shops, you need to create content that helps them find your business.
A good piece here might look like this:
How to choose your business model when opening a coffee business.
Over time, your page will rank. Then, when the business owner types ‘business models for coffee shops’ into Google to get ideas, your website will show up. Then you can influence them to get in touch.
You’re now in a position to collect their data follow them around the web or get them to enquire about your products.
Understanding your target market and what they are searching for, as well as how you can influence their buying decision, is vital to creating content that converts into sales.
4. Use your content on multiple channels
If you’re in business development, you probably want to engage both your current and prospective customers.
One option is to turn a blog post you have created into a printable document (or vice versa) and send it to prospective clients or your current customers?
Recreate content as a pdf and make it available for download. When you offer it for download, request an email address. That way, you can start building your email list – the one thing that ALL digital marketers say, is their number one goal.
That brings us on nicely to email marketing.
5. Use email marketing to keep bringing your customers back for more.
Food & Drink is one of the best sectors for creating raving fans. The more effort you put in to bringing customers back to you, the lower your marketing investment will be over time.
Or the more exponential growth you will see if you continue investing in your digital marketing.
One reason our services work so well in this industry is because we have many automated customer retention strategies that deliver true business growth from your food and drink marketing.
So, find a way of capturing email addresses on all your top landing pages. Of course, without being too intrusive.
6. Share your passion with your visitors
Nearly everyone we know in food has a huge amount of passion for their products and back story.
When a customer comes to see you, either at your factory or at an event, your passion will shine through.
However, when potential customers come across your website, they don’t get to talk to you. So, they don’t know about your passion, which means you need to get it across in a different way – namely excellent content marketing.
High quality photos can help here. Q&A videos that re-enact a customer coming into your shop, factory or offices, will add huge value to your website.
What’s more, it doesn’t need to cost the world to create a video. As long as you can find an actor.
7. Effectively Manage Delivery Costs
Assuming you already have the setup and licenses for making food, the challenges with mail order selling are usually in the delivery costs.
If you have a special product such as frozen foods or glass bottles, your delivery charges could shoot through the roof.
As of this writing, glass bottles can’t be insured for delivery, which makes it difficult to ship and higher costs in ensuring their packaging safety.
Effective delivery pricing can also improve your average sale. So, have a play around with delivery prices to see what works best for your business.
Here’s a link, which gives some guidance on – selling food by mail order
8. Use a multi-channel strategy
This is an absolute must for reducing risk.
Imagine if you put all your effort into SEO, so you can rank for one high volume keyword in Google.
Then Google changes their goal posts. Your business could disappear overnight.
The same could happen if you focus solely on Social Media updates – remember when Facebook’s organic reach, plummeted because they wanted people to spend more on ads?
By driving traffic to your site from various sources, e.g. Google Organic, Social Media, PPC, Referral, Email etc you will massively reduce the risk of losing sales if anything changes, that’s outside of your control.
Remember, doing a PEST Analysis can work wonders when planning for technological changes, such as GDPR and Google updates.
You don’t want to lose all your investment because of one technological change that isn’t under your control.
9. Promote high profitable products first
In a store, selling the most profitable products has significant impact on the speed of your ROI.
And it’s the same online.
Some food businesses only have a few products. But others have a few hundred.
Unless you have millions of pounds to spend, you probably can’t do marketing for all your products.
By promoting the highest margin products first, you will be able to use that revenue to reinvest for your lower margin products.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t put all your products on the website and optimise them for search engine rankings. You should.
But, to begin with, your content and advertising should be laser focused on one set of products, so you can achieve maximum returns.
10. Promote Your Awards – Everywhere
It’s the same online.
However, web visitors can land on your website on any page, so it’s best to display them on all your pages. If you can, display them near the top too.
Your award badges could also be shown on the specific product image or at the bottom of every page.
Either way, if it helps your customers make the final buying decision, then it’s definitely worth doing.
Of course, you need traffic too. If no one new is finding your website, all the awards and technical features in the world won’t increase your sales.
11. Invest for the future
Digital Marketing can be a challenge for small businesses. that’s because it can take up to 5 years to achieve solid profits.
It can therefore seem like a bottomless money pit, especially if the wrong decisions are made.
Such questions to ask before you embark on a digital marketing project are:
- Where do you want your website to be in 5 years?
- Am I seeing regular increase in new visits and new sales each quarter?
Don’t let the challenge demotivate you though.
Digital growth is hugely rewarding and will add significant value to your organisation.
Especially when you sell your business.
A final thought
We hope this article has given you some food-for-thought on how to approach your digital growth.
In summary, remember to start simple and build on what works, use multiple channels to generate traffic and stay committed to the chosen channels in order to reduce your cost per acquisition (CPA) for generating new customers.
Online Growth Guru is a leading digital marketing agency for food and drink. Please get in touch if you are looking for support with your digital strategies and growth. Particularly in the following areas: