Bringing the outside, online.

What is your boutique known for? What makes it popular? How would your customers describe it? – hint, if you don’t know the answer to that then run a quick survey!

Chances are, if you are a popular local boutique you are loved for your personal service, knowing your regulars by name, friendly assistants, an atmospheric, welcoming store that perhaps offered ‘refreshments while you shop’, in-store events and more.

Now you have found yourself managing an online store and you can’t default to those things that made you great before. Or can you?

Let’s take a look at that friendly customer service you had in-store.

Your staff would always smile when someone entered the store – replace this with a smiley happy image on the homepage banner of your website. The first thing somebody sees when they land on the site, sets the mood so make it a good one for feel good vibes! Hint – it doesn’t have to be a product image. Ideally it should be lifestyle based, with a product theme of course.

Your team always greeted customers when they walked in and offered to help – there are a few ways you now need to connect with your customer in the digital world.

  • Chatbox – when these are set up correctly, they are a help not a nuisance. My tips would be to keep it as a small unobtrusive box in the corner, a welcoming message and an easy visible way for them to click it away or minimize it. Don’t sound robotic. Have your ‘open hours’ for it published and people will know clearly when they are actually chatting with someone live. Check your web platform app store for options and compare a few before choosing. (Hint – look for ones with good ratings) It would be a good idea to introduce this service to your customers through an email and social post. e.g. ‘Chat with our team live every day between 10am & 2pm for questions about our current collection or advice on what size to order’.
  • Account log in – If you can get your regular customers to set up an account on your website, you can create a more customised online experience for them. For example, it can say – welcome back Jennifer – as a greeting when they log in and you can then offer advice based on their shopping history. Work through your online account creation set up and check it is all working and personalised. The first step is tempting someone to create the account so make it worth their while! Perhaps look into creating one for all your regulars as a starting point.
  • Visible contact info – My biggest frustration is having to dig around to find a way of contacting an online store. Don’t be afraid to be available. This is currently your only way of speaking with customers. Have an easily visible email address or online contact form and be sure to check for emails and reply in a timely manner. Get a dedicated mobile number if necessary, set your opening hours for it and then switch it off when you close. And finally, if you are on social then remember to check your Facebook messages as customers can use it a lot. You can make your settings to alert you when you get a message and you can also have an automated reply to each message that states how often you check it etc.

Think about all the advice your team would give customers in store. The regular questions that were asked and answered and the suggestions your team would give. Now work out a way to have those questions answered on your website. For example, ‘do you have anything new in-store?’ is a frequently asked question so make sure you have a ‘Latest Collection’ or ‘New-In’ category in your menu. Make recommendations of what products work well together, there are many ways to do this in e-commerce.

Re-creating that store atmosphere online, sounds almost impossible but let’s break it down.

Perhaps you had some lovely background music playing in-store. How about sharing that playlist with your customers through an online link or on your social media. You could have a song of the day on your social and on the website have a banner link to a list of your favourite shopping songs. Have fun with it.

Lighting. It’s a big part of in-store atmosphere and good lighting really helps sell your products. Convert this theory to the images on your website and the background colours you choose for your theme. Set up your products to succeed with bright, colourful and clear photos and some nice brand colours throughout your site.

Smell is a tough one to create online! I always love it when boutiques have a nice scent in store either through candles, an atomiser or perhaps scent sticks. Online you need to get creative with your atmosphere using plenty of words when describing products, videos where possible and lots of clear, descriptive banners. Tempt people through to different sections with words and images.

Were you known for your popular in-store events? Don’t give up hope on these, just as we are all adjusting to virtual social lives, you too can continue to create a sense of community virtually. Things I have seen working well are:-

  • In-store video walk-throughs
  • Facebook groups (as opposed to pages)
  • Instagram and Facebook live events for Q&A’s
  • A virtual coffee morning with your customers through social platforms
  • An online ‘sale’ event

The key to these is continual communication with your customers, attracting people to ‘sign up’ and giving back through donations, giveaways and special discounts. Make your customers feel included and you will gain a lot of loyalty even through this difficult time.

In summary, the online e-commerce world is very different from brick and mortar and the technology can be very daunting but when you break it down, you can find areas to focus on that work for you and your store brand. Tackle one thing at a time, get technical support from either your platform host, your developer or find a new tech support on places like or There’s a lot of information out there and just like you learnt things for your brick & mortar store, you are going to have a steep learning curve for your e-commerce online store but you can do it. Start with what you are comfortable with and most of all, be creative!

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