Do you need an online store? |

9 mins

Do you need an online store?

Online stores are for life, not just for lockdown. Ellen Cummings speaks to salon owners who are making an ongoing success of online retail

In today’s digital age, salon and beauty business owners have the opportunity to expand their revenue streams and attract a broader clientele by establishing an online shop. By investing some time and effort at the outset – along with a bit of ongoing maintenance – business owners setting up an online shop can create a passive income stream while also creating a powerful marketing tool to attract new customers.

Establishing an online shop can significantly impact your business’s bottom line – something which was brought to the fore during lockdown, when salons weren’t able to physically open. By offering products online, you can generate revenue even outside of traditional operating hours and expand your customer base beyond your local area. We spoke to successful beauty business owners who have already harnessed the potential of online shops to get their insight.

Why set up an online shop?

When lockdown forced beauty businesses to shut their doors, many resourceful salon owners turned to online shops as a lifeline for generating income. Gemma Holt, owner of Lily’s Beauty Salon in Whitchurch, Shropshire, explains, “We were shut so we had the time to do it – setting up an online shop was something we’d always wanted to do.

“We already had it attached to the website, but we hadn’t activated it because we knew it was going to be a big process.

“It was the clients who started it off for me when we went into lockdown because they wanted to be supportive since they knew we weren’t getting any income. The business wouldn’t have survived if we hadn’t set up the online shop. During lockdown I was selling nearly £600 a day through it, so I was able to pay our bills.”

This shift wasn’t just temporary; many businesses have continued their online shops post-pandemic to benefit from around-the-clock revenue.

Katie Gledhill, owner of Skin by Katie in Halifax, notes, “The majority of our online purchases are made between 11pm and 3am, when kids have gone to bed and people have downtime, so they are browsing on their phones. Those sales are made when we are closed, so now it’s like we’re open 24/7. If you don’t have that facility available, then clients will just go elsewhere.”

Operating an online store also allows you to expand your customer base beyond your local area. Holt regularly ships products to clients across the UK, from northern Scotland to central London, demonstrating the reach an online shop provides.

Additionally, an online shop can act as an educational hub, as Emily Scullion, owner of The Brick House Beauty in Stafford and a speaker on the Business and Digital Skills stage at the PB North show, explains, “The way that the world is now with Instagram and TikTok, people see something, they want it, they buy it.

“They haven’t got a clue if it’s suitable for their skin, but they feel very influenced.

“I wanted to have the online shop as a portal for clients where they could read all the information about products. I’ve never pushed products onto clients; they can go away and then they’ve got the option to find the information for themselves in the online shop.”

By providing information in an online store, you can empower clients to make informed choices and relieve the pressure on clients to purchase immediately after an in-salon treatment, allowing a softer sales approach. Scullion comments, “If there was a product that I’d mentioned in the salon, they could then go away and have a good read at home in their own time, and there would be no pressure for them to make a choice while in the salon.” It can also be an opportunity to showcase and sell your own branded products, such as Scullion’s exclusive line of oils, face masks and wax melts.

How to set it up

Setting up an online shop for your beauty business may seem like a daunting task, but the potential benefits make it worth the effort. Scullion explains her process: “At the beginning of lockdown, I was just selling through Instagram, so clients and external customers would drop me a message about a gua sha I’d used in a video, for example, and I’d sell it to them – but that was just through me, and there was a lot of trust involved for them to just send me money through bank transfer.

“So I thought, no, this actually isn’t quite professional enough, and that’s when I looked at doing the online shop. I wanted clients to have the security.

“I added a buy button with Shopify. My brother actually taught himself to be a Shopify developer because he wanted to get into e-commerce, and he’d set up my website. My website as a whole is now hosted by Shopify, which my brother helped me change over. He set the template up then I individually added all of the products. Time-wise, once you put some music on and get into it, it’s quite easy to do. You have your images then you can copy and paste in the description and the price.”

While adding the product descriptions in direct from the brand is a great time saver when you’re getting the online shop up and running, Holt advises adding your own unique touch to improve your online standing and search engine optimisation (SEO).

She explains, “We had somebody come in to help us improve our SEO and Google rankings, and what was holding us back was us taking the product description off the brand’s website and using that in our description, as it’s very generic and not SEO-friendly. We could move higher up Google search rankings if we wrote our own product descriptions.”

If the technical aspects of setting up an online shop seem overwhelming, there are resources available to assist you.

“It was really helpful for me to have some guidance with setting up a whole e-commerce aspect,” shares Scullion. “My brother has had a few people contact him off the back of doing my website, where he’ll do a half-hour Zoom call and share his screen so he can show them exactly what to do – you don’t need to have someone fully do it for you, it just reduces the amount of time and frustration where you might have made errors doing it yourself.”

Holt adds, “We used WooCommerce, which is what our website was set up with already. Our website designer had the infrastructure in place then she taught me how to upload everything. It took me two and a half weeks to put every product on one by one, so it was time consuming – but now that it’s set up, it’s easy to maintain.”

To offer flexible payment options, Holt incorporated Klarna into her online shop. She explains, “We’ve put Klarna on because some clients can’t afford a £90 day cream in one go but are prepared to split it into three payments.

“We applied to Klarna to become a distributor and you have to go through credit checks and send them certain financial information to show that you’re a viable business.

“Once you’re approved, you can attach something to your website. If a client purchases something through Klarna, you don’t get it as a split payment – you get a whole payment for the product within 10 days and Klarna takes 4%.”

Choosing products

When it comes to stocking products in your online store, the key is to offer a comprehensive range. “We sell all of our retail products on the online shop,” says Holt. “Everything is on there now, so we have over 260 products on the website, as well as gift vouchers.”

However, you don’t need to limit yourself to just the brands you work with in the salon.

“Make sure you stock a full range of products – don’t think that you have to limit it to just the brands you’re working with in the salon,” says Scullion. “Think outside the box because that’s where some of my greatest sales have been. I had wax melts made, which I use in the salon, and then I purchased wax burners and they sell really well.”

By diversifying your product range and being open to new options, you can attract a wider audience and tap into lucrative sales opportunities. Consider offering a mix of popular brands, unique items related to your services, and carefully selected products that cater to different client preferences.

This approach will not only boost your online shop’s appeal but also increase your chances of improving client loyalty.

How to run your store

Once your online shop is up and running, the next step is maintaining it, including removing discontinued items and updating stock availability. Of course, shipping products to clients forms the bulk of the work once the online shop is set up – although some brands and suppliers will allow you to drop ship.

“It can be hard when I’m busy in the salon because we live in a world of next-day delivery, so people want things tomorrow,” comments Scullion. “I need to package products and get them to the post office, but that’s not going to happen if I’m back-to-back with clients.

“Some delivery companies do collections. I tend to use Royal Mail – if you go on the website the night before, you can schedule a collection for the next day.”

Despite the potential time commitment, running an online shop can yield significant rewards. Scullion says, “It’s been worth it to get my products out there and running it as a kind of catalogue for my clients. If you put the effort in, you definitely get the rewards back.”

Holt adds, “You can make as much or as little as you want out of it, if you’re prepared to put in the time and effort. Sometimes, we’ll sell £200 to £300 in a weekend and it’ll happen when I’m just sitting at home – it can really increase your revenue, and we’re doing very little apart from going to the post office.”

To drive sales and attract customers, leverage the power of social media. Holt explains, “Social media really helps you. You can make Instagram reels and link through to the website, which helps to drive sales.”

With efficient management and strategic use of social media, running an online shop can be a seamless and profitable endeavour for you and your business.

Tips for online stores

“My advice for anyone setting up an online shop is not to have too many items at the start and to build your shop as you go. You get to see what is most popular it’s not good to be left with products that won’t sell.”

“It’s quite a bit of work getting it set up at the start and keeping the stock levels up to date, so it’s worth setting some time aside and having one person responsible for the online sales.”

“Go for it, firstly! Then take time out of your business to focus on your online business. Link your Instagram to your website, creating videos using products, beauty tools and creating links to your website. Give your clients a unique experience and give them your knowledge something they cannot gain from another online shop.”

“It’s all about mindset, don’t ever let anyone dampen your hopes, keep those dreams at the forefront and don’t take setbacks personally. You don’t have to have a huge amount of savings or debt to set up in business. Anything is possible with enough determination!”

This article appears in September 2023

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September 2023
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