How to start selling food & drink online

Whether you already have a physical store or you’re starting out with a new product, food ecommerce can be a lucrative market. But if you’re new to ecommerce there’s a lot to consider, from website design right through to payment platforms.

Food and drink ecommerce is an ever-growing market. In the UK, ecommerce now accounts for 7.2% of all food sales.
According to Mintel’s Regina Haydon, speaking to Food Navigator, “Online grocery in Europe is growing fast as young consumers opt for the stress-free and time-saving convenience of online shopping. More and more retailers and speciality players are pushing into the channel to stay connected with the younger generation.”
In other words, if you’re a food or beverage company – or you’ve got a new foodie business idea – setting yourself up to sell online could be your sensible move.

So we’ll assume you’ve come up with your brand, you’ve got your products sorted and now you want to open your own online shop. Let’s get you started…

Make sure you know the law

If you sell food online in the UK, the food you sell is subject to UK food law so you need to make sure you’re compliant. You can find the information you need for this on the Food Standards Agency website here.

Selling drink online also comes with the above regulations. But in addition you may need to take into account the laws around alcohol sales. To legally sell alcohol online, you’ll need a personal license and a premises license. You can find out about all the ins and outs of doing this here.

Choose your ecommerce website platform

When it comes to building your website, there are a lot of different options open to you. Here’s a brief rundown:

    • A DIY website builder. This includes platforms like Wix, Shopify and Woocommerce. If you’re not tech-savvy and on a limited budget, this is the way to go. The different providers all have pros and cons and it’s worth reading comparisons to see which will best suit what you need. You should look out for things like ease of use, ecommerce functionality, payment providers available, platform costs and also whether they charge transaction fees.
    • A WordPress website. WordPress is a very flexible platform offering lots of scope for future development. It has a myriad of themes and plug-ins available for you to customise your website yourself, and is also a great platform for a more bespoke development. A word of warning though: while it’s a lot easier than developing a website from scratch, WordPress isn’t as easy to set up as a DIY website builder. So whether or not you choose it may depend on your current technical ability, your plans for the future or whether you have budget for a developer.
    • Bespoke development. This is only really an option if you have the resources available – either money to pay a developer or use your own web development expertise. The advantage of this approach is that you can create exactly what you want, the disadvantage is, of course, that it’s harder or more expensive to do.

Choose a payment provider

Hopefully you’ll be taking plenty of payments through your new website, so you need to think about which payment provider(s) you’ll use. Having a smooth, easy checkout process will be vital to securing those all important sales, so this is a key choice for you.

As with website platforms, there are plenty of options available, so narrowing them down is the tough bit.

To help, here’s a bit more info on some of the main players:

  • Stripe. Used by the likes of OpenTable, Lyft, and Under Armour, among others, Stripe is also the integrated payment platform offered by Shopify and Wix. It’s flexible, powerful and there’s a reason so many people use it.
  • Square. This could be the right choice for you if you’re likely to sell products face-to-face, as well as online. Square offers a physical card reader as well as ecommerce functionality, meaning you can have all your business payments going through one provider.
  • PayPal. The big advantages of PayPal are its large user base and the fact it can be used on its own or in tandem with other payment providers.
  • The rest. Other options you could offer customers include Amazon Payments, Visa Checkout, Apple Pay, Android Pay, the list goes on. The key to choosing is to make it as convenient as possible for customers, without overwhelming them.

The likes of Apple Pay and Android Pay are on the up – more people are paying with their phones; however, the UK is still way behind the US, China and Germany in terms of mobile payments. Initiatives like Fingopay (https://fingopay.com/) where you pay – in-store – with your fingerprint will also start to proliferate and so make sure you’re also assessing your payment provider on how connected to payment trends they might be.

As with the website platforms, it’s worth looking at the pros and cons of each of these systems, as well as what they’re going to charge you. Most have monthly or yearly subscription fees and/or transaction fees.

Spend time planning your content

If you want to sell plenty of products then your content needs to be spot on. There’s lots to think about here: homepage, product information, product photography, checkout, customer reviews, and so on.

Each and every element needs to be carefully thought out and planned – right down to the words you use on your checkout buttons. Notice the difference between ‘continue’ and ‘checkout securely’?

My biggest tip, without going into reams of detail, is try to put yourself in your customer’s shoes here. Have your ideal customer in mind when producing all of your content and think about what information they might need to encourage them to buy.

For example, if you’re selling gin and there are different sized bottles, you could think about putting the sizes in context (e.g. a 50cl bottle is approx. 20 shots). It may seem like a small detail, but things like this are incredibly helpful for customers when they’re deciding what to buy. Especially when they can’t hold your product in their hands.

When it comes to the checkout content, our article on increasing checkout conversions should be your first stop. And for photography and product descriptions, don’t rule out bringing in the professionals. Photographers and copywriters don’t have to cost the earth, and investing a little now could mean a big return in the future.

 

Don’t forget fulfilment

Once you’ve made a sale, you’re going to need to get the product to the customer. Never forget that the delivery experience will leave a lasting impression and could have a big impact on whether they decide to buy from you again.

With that in mind, it’s worth thinking carefully about what delivery options you’ll offer and whether you want to choose one provider, do the fulfilment yourself on an ad hoc basis (only really workable for small numbers) or use a service that finds the cheapest rates for you.

My hot tips? Take a look at sorted.com for a one-stop shop delivery management service. And My Parcel Delivery is a delivery price comparison site which offers a range of business tools.

So you’ve got your site, you’re ready to go and now you need to get your customers to come visit. And that’s where we cross into the realms of marketing and I need to draw this article to a close. For now…

 


 

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