Gary Ray: When You Suddenly Need an Online Store. . .

Gary Ray: When You Suddenly Need an Online Store. . .

April 15, 2020 | 1 min to read

Gary is the owner of Black Diamond Games in Concord, California, a WPN Premium location. He's the author of Friendly Local Game Store and the game industry blog Quest for Fun.

The best time to have set up an online store was a year ago. Second best is now. With your store closed for an indeterminate period, you need to set something up quickly.

The value of your online store, like the value of many online endeavors in small business, will depend on the effort you’ve put into building your community. If you’re strong with social media and use it regularly to inform and persuade your customers, you’ll have equal success in an online store.

You can attempt to import your POS database into an online store, or you can take a more incremental, curated approach with more polish.

The problem is that this is a complex process to do properly. An ideal online store syncs with your point of sale machine. If you can quickly get your POS synced up with a new online store while the world is in crisis, it’s a big win, otherwise you need a down and dirty alternative.

The best alternative is a Square online store. You need a Square account, like many store owners use as a credit card processing backup, but you don’t need to use the Square POS system.

The problem with such a store is once you open your doors, you’ll be out of sync with your point of sale machine and you’ll probably need to scrap all your efforts. Don’t worry about that! Find ways to generate income quickly with a temporary store and worry about the online store project you should have done when this is over.

The big question is how to get goods to your customer. Shipping games is a low margin add-on revenue stream that’s perfectly fine in normal times, but it won’t provide you the help you need right now. Some stores are able to do curbside delivery, while others are able to deliver to homes. I’m doing home delivery, limiting my range to ten miles around the store.

Everyone is going to have an opinion on delivery. The general attitude I see is those who do more than me are reckless, and those who do less than me are lazy. I don’t debate these things, as it’s a highly personal decision.

Once you’ve figured out your method of getting goods to customers, consider what they actually want to buy. Gift certificates are our biggest seller. Next are preorders, especially upcoming Ikoria items. Roughly 60% of what I sell in my online store is future sales, a vote of confidence by customers.

As for deliveries, the most popular items are Magic boxes, board games, D&D books, and miniatures. The miniatures crowd will buy paints and painting supplies. The other crowds are not interested in accessories, like dice or sleeves, so those should be low priority.

One unexpected area of success was jigsaw puzzles. The first quarter isn't a big time for puzzles, but with people stuck at home, there was a clear shout out for puzzles.

We delivered 100 puzzles before we ran out. We carry puzzles wide, not deep, so I threw up "mystery puzzles" of various sizes, basically my choice of puzzle because I didn't have time to enter them individually. Puzzle people don't mind a little random.

Underpromise and overdeliver. Delivery is new for you and it will be a mess. We deliver every other day, but we promise to deliver within five days.

This is partly because about 20% of any planned delivery runs into a snag of some sort. The item is not there or picked wrong, the address is an apartment complex with a gate code, or the process is otherwise messed up. This is fine, get it delivered next time. Every other day means next time is still within my five-day promise.

My strategy is to constantly market my online store to customers, to deliver on my delivery days, and to apply for loans and financing on my off days. When I can’t think of what to do next, I add more items to my online store. This is common for store owners I’ve talked to. Adding items is a stress reducer.

Finally, I’m continuing to get distributor orders shipped to my house, so the sales process is fresh and the store isn’t being raided for a quick sale. Only order items you’re willing to put in the online store. If you have useless preorders in this new environment, take fewer of them or agree to take them later.

Keep the games coming, continue to entice customers with new offers and releases, like Buy-a-Box promos and Arena codes. Keep hustling and perpetuate the cycle. Eventually this will blow over and you’ll be in a stronger position for your efforts.

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