Over the years, I have heard the anecdote, several times, that the working title for the hit television show, Friends, was in fact Insomnia Cafe — before a flash of inspiration hit everyone involved and it was renamed. There is something so brilliantly ’90s about that original name though, and in retrospect, extremely intriguing with a twinge of nostalgia for those who remember life in that period of history — because the early ’90s and before was a time where there wasn’t really any good, wholesome fun to be had in the post-dusk hours; a time when 24-hour stores barely existed, the internet as we know it was newly born and overnight TV programming was usually informercials at best.
Because internet access was not in a majority of households at the time, insomniacs really did have to find their own way in a world not built for night owls back then, and yet such a large chunk of the population would have labelled themselves as such. Being an insomniac was kind of cool, even edgy for that reason.
Insomniacs had to find those few daylight hours while awake to, if applicable, work, run errands and shop for household goods. Maybe, just maybe, if they weren’t at a bar with a wee-hours last call, they would find themselves getting caffeinated in a late night, New York City coffee shop like Central Perk as nightfall blanketed the land.
For me, the concept of an “insomnia cafe” has pretty much been my state of being since I hit my teenage years (coincidentally, around the same time the show was in development). I’ve never been a morning person (literally, ever) and it would be my luck that I hitched my wagon to a guy who is full-on a morning person. Seriously, if I let him, he would be asleep by 9 PM every night.
Where does that leave me then, as a middle-aged adult on the nights where I’m lying in bed, wide-awake, with my better half peacefully snoozing beside me? Well, thankfully, it’s the 2020s and the 24-hour playground known as the internet now exists.
So more likely than not, after I’ve sufficiently learned something useless on Wikipedia, you’ll find me browsing the internet’s digital marketplaces.
eCommerce: We gotchu, girl
I never realised until quite recently, that at least well over half of the online shopping I do is between 10PM — 1 AM. The best time to make an online sale to me is in those witching hours when my guard is down and the right purchase will lull me right into a peaceful slumber.
Hey, they call it “Retail Therapy” for a reason.
And forget when I’ve travelled outside of my time zone, because then I become the poster child for a practice I affectionately refer to as “Jet Lag and Prime.”
In the earlier days of this practice, I simply memorised my credit card number. Now I don’t even need to do that — my phone remembers my credit card details and many vendors accept Apple or Google Pay. Is the website I’m looking to blow my savings in Paypal only? No problemo. My login details are saved on my mobile browser to ensure that any impulsive/bored moods I have can be financially crippling.
The city internet that never sleeps
It comes as no surprise then, given that there’s a solid population of night owls like myself, as well as shoppers in different time zones, that many business owners want the option to turn their enterprise into a 24-hour, digital shebang. And where does that leave the business owner? eCommerce.
Dare I also forget to mention, that every male member of my family would rather binge watch The Kardashians than physically set foot in a department store. My partner always says to me, “I don’t need to go into a shop when I can buy it online and have it delivered to our door.”
He is not alone in that mindset.
In 2022, 27.6% of the world’s population shopped online, and the percentage increases as you move from the older generations to the younger generations, as one might expect. (Oberlo).
COVID-19 has had an impact as well — when stores, especially non-essential ones, were closed during lockdowns, people were forced to turn to the internet for their needs — and many never looked back.
Shopping in your bathrobe beats shopping in a crowd
This was one of dozens of answers I received when I asked people on social media why they might choose to shop online over shopping in a brick-and-mortar store. Some of the other answers also reflected convenience (laziness, avoidance of other people, lack of patience, forgetfulness if waiting to go to a shop, early closing hours) while some said shopping online allowed for an easier way to comparison shop. This group liked being able to access all the product’s details, see reviews and make comparisons between prices and brands, as well as use coupon codes without shame.
There was the crowd who preferred to shop from home due to circumstance — injury, illness, disability, low immunity and avoidance of illness. I had people who cited availability online, especially of collector’s items, that could not be found in stores. Finally, there was the group who fell into a transport/climate category — saying they would choose to shop online because of weather, petrol prices, parking prices, and lack of an automobile with too much to carry.
One response pointed out that Britain, in particular, has a law that states an item purchased online may be returned within 14 days — a nice feature, if you’re not sure that impulse ottoman you ordered for your living room will actually look right in it. (Money Saving Expert)
In the United States, you have some legal protection too, though further protections vary by state. Overall, under federal law, you are protected for goods you order by mail, telephone, Internet, and fax (Fax?! I just had an 80’s flashback). Under consumer law, goods purchased one of these ways must be shipped within the time the seller has advertised. If a time period has not been provided, then purchases must be dispatched within 30 days of the sale.
If this timeline is not met, you must receive communication from the seller explaining the delay and an expected delivery date. The seller must offer you the option to cancel your order and provide a refund within one week if the delay is causing you to not want the item any longer. (American Bar Association)
The allure of the mall
There were some who said they preferred to shop in-store (admittedly, a much smaller number) but even they had found themselves in situations where online was their best option at a given time. I imagine many, like myself, do it hybrid-style because I actually do enjoy a trip to the mall (I’m from Long Island, New York — it’s unarguably in my DNA). Shopping in-store allows you to utilise your senses with the product you want to buy. That dress you saw online may not fit, and even if it does, the fabric may look cheaper and flimsier in person. Perhaps the colour of a piece of furniture looks different in person than it did on a website. It happens.
While the growth of online shopping as an option has provided some negative effects on brick-and-mortar shops, the ability for these same businesses to capitalise on a 24 hour digital storefront can prove a lifesaver and an added income stream, especially when it’s closing time.
Making those Dolla Dollas
Given the trend towards online shopping and selling, we have unsurprisingly had an increasing amount of clients come to us wanting to build websites that allow for some financial transaction. This can be through sale of a product or service; the latter also able to be provided through a booking system.
Selling online has an amazing amount of pros, some of which I mentioned before. In my mind, there is nothing that could really convince me that if you have products or services to sell, there exists a better way than bringing your store to your website.
But before you envision your Scrooge McDuck skiing on a pile of money-moment, we better tell you what going the eCommerce route entails because believe it or not, if you don’t have the resources, there can be some big cons.
Having to commit
Having an online storefront is a proper commitment, one that has to last longer than the fitness resolution goals we all blow off by January 15th (ahem, so I hear). When you decide you’re going this route, you need to be prepared to be logged on to your website every day. Yep, I’m not kidding. Either you’re doing it, or you’re hiring someone to do it.
But I don’t have the money to hire someone for this!
We’ve heard that before -and if you think of big companies, it’s obviously not Tim Cook fulfilling that impulse buy you had at Apple; he literally has teams of people who are taking care of that.
But that is not to say you need to have Tim Cook’s resources to sell online. You don’t.
So let’s talk about what you do need to do.
1) Set aside time every day to check the backend of your business website.
Regardless of whether you got an email notification on a sale or not, this means logging in to the backend of your website, and seeing what has come through since the last time you checked. If you have an online transaction, you have a responsibility to fulfill that order in a timely fashion. You knew from the start that your fairy godmother wasn’t going to swoop in and take care of that — it’s down to you, kiddo and you have to stay on top of it to build your business’s credibility.
If you are utilising a booking system, checking your configurations and settings is something you need to monitor in the backend daily as well. Some booking systems will automatically schedule appointments (and therefore, charge for them) without the owner’s approval. If you forgot to set a day off, for example, it’s too late — you have already charged the individual and therefore will have to issue them a refund, which will cost your business money.
2) Learn your eCommerce and/or booking system inside and out
One thing we’ve learned as we grown as a business is that we often find ourselves managing expectations for our clients (and in some cases, a little bit after the build). While we can install the plugins required for these systems and set them up with some training available to the client, we don’t learn how to make the most of them inside and out — because for us, it’s not required. That job falls to the person who will utilise the system on a daily basis.
At the end of the day, we won’t be running your online store — you or the person you designate will be — and it’s crucial you know how best to manage it for success.
3) Read all the documentation that comes with your plugin(s).
This connects to our second point — knowing your eCommerce or booking plugin inside and out is crucial, but reading all the documentation will give you the best idea of the various ways and settings for managing your online shop. It’s one thing to know how to use it, it’s another to use it to its best possible advantage.
4) Choose a solid payment gateway
While there may be a lot of temptation to use lesser-known payment gateways in the interest of saving a few bucks/quid, there is a lot to be said for using a company that has a solid track record (e.g. Stripe, Square, WorldPay, etc). As a small business, you don’t want to be f*cking around when someone’s money is involved and your reputation is on the line. And believe me, people will go — guns blazing — right over to your reviews section on Google or TrustPilot, without the slightest breath of hesitation before they go nuclear — if they think you screwed them.
When choosing your payment gateway, you also want to consider the best plan where their cut is concerned — if you are making loads of little sales everyday (e.g. selling crafts to a worldwide audience) you want to know how much is taken out when the transaction is made inside and outside the country of the business. In cases like this, you may want to sign up to a payment gateway that serves these kind of businesses well and maybe even charges a monthly rate, rather than a larger “per item” rate.
If you’re the kind of business that might not be making multiple sales per day, you might opt to do a pay-as-you-go commission style. It’s worth looking at different companies and also asking fellow business owners what works well for them.
Realise that many payment systems don’t pay out right away — some take a few days; some take a week or more. This is something else you must consider when transforming your website into an eCommerce platform.
One last thing to bear in mind with payment systems is the importance of choosing one that will integrate well into the booking system or eCommerce platform you choose. Websites built on WordPress often trust WooCommerce for the eCommerce end of their website, which seamlessly integrates many different kind of payment gateways.
5) Update update update! Keep your business and your customers safe!
You MUST keep your website updated, whether it’s your plugin(s), third-party applications, or your content management system (e.g. WordPress) up-to-date. This requires logging in regularly and not ignoring warnings when they appear on your dashboard!
Updates are usually there to not only improve plugin functionality, but also because they often include very crucial security updates. This should be #1 on your radar, as you are now liable for your customers’ personal data. Therefore, make sure you have a good security system and that all applications associated with your eCommerce website are up-to-date to prevent attacks. This will ensure that you, as a business, are doing everything possible to protect sensitive data and prevent hacking.
So, there you have it. eCommerce. It’s what the kids are doing. And yes, it’s what your parents and grandparents are doing too. The first time my mother, a proud member of the Baby Boomer generation, purchased something on the “E-Line” (as she used to refer to the internet — no, I am not joking) I knew this was going to be the way of the future, whether we liked it or not.
And in 2023, you can buy just about anything online.
While there are many things that are nice to see in person before you buy, in this day and age you’ll very likely view them online first.
I, myself, was a person who always swore that big-ticket items would always be purchased in-person. As I mentioned earlier, aside from the shitshow of Christmas shopping, I actually enjoy going into stores. But guess who found herself buying a car online, because her partner didn’t want to schlep to multiple auto lots and have us be aggressively sold-to?
We made the purchase online — which actually was the only way in this case, because our future car was hanging out in the South of England whilst we live in the North. Buying online gave us more options to find the perfect fit for us and allowed us to have the car shipped up to our neck of the woods — and we still had 7 days with the car to decide if it was right for us (it was, thankfully).
I’m sure when households were getting internet access back in the ’90s and ’00s, no one really envisioned it would also serve as our way of obtaining the goods we desired. In 30+ years, a lot sure has changed — and the way we shop will continue to dramatically change. As business owners who sell products, it’s crucial to make sure you know what your competition is doing and that you’re keeping up with the options they are giving potential customers.
Afterall, you don’t want your business languishing in the Insomnia Cafe era.