The global ecommerce sales exceeded $4 trillion in 2020 and are expected to grow to $6.3 trillion by the end of 2024. Most of it consists of retail ecommerce, but a growing number of rental businesses have also seen growth opportunities in ecommerce. In a time when customers have so many alternatives to choose from, the companies that can provide the best multi-channel customer experience will win.
In the consumer rental industry, having an online presence today is essential because of the way modern consumers search for information. According to Statista, 67% of consumers prefer making bookings online because of its convenience and saved time. Furthermore, 54% feel that they can find better deals online in terms of selection and price.
In this article, we go through the process of building a rental ecommerce business. We cover everything from building your website from zero to turning your website into an online booking engine powering your growth. Lastly, we’ll look at how rental software can help you when you have customers coming in from multiple channels.
Summary of the article
If you are just starting your rental business and don’t have a website yet, start reading from the beginning.
If you have a website but are planning to do a redesign, start reading here.
If you are happy with your current website but are looking for a rental booking system, jump straight here.
Lastly, if you have an online booking system in place but are looking for a better way to manage your rentals, you might be interested in learning how rental software can help you to manage your business both online and offline
Register a domain name and choose a hosting service provider
The first step to start renting out equipment online is to have a website. The easiest way to get started is with the most popular website builders and eCommerce solutions such as:
Rentle offers, for example, a WordPress rental plugin and other easy embedding options for any of the most common website builders. Before getting into the details of building a beautiful ecommerce website, let’s take a look at what you need to figure out to launch your online presence.
Domain names are used on the Internet to identify particular web pages. A domain name is basically a human-readable format of your website’s unique IP address. As a domain name’s purpose is to distinguish your website from other websites on the Internet, your domain name must be unique, recognizable, and relatable to your brand.
To claim a domain name for your business, you have to register it to the Domain Name System (DNS). Usually, this can be done through the website builder that you choose to use. Alternatively, you can register your domain through a separate website hosting provider.
Once you have claimed and registered your website domain name, you need a place to host your website. All the content, files, images, and code used on your website take up space and need digital storage. That’s when a website hosting steps in: a hosting provider makes sure that your website content is stored on a web server.
The easiest way is to use the hosting services offered by the website builder you are using. If you have more advanced needs and technical skills, you can also choose to buy your hosting services from a separate hosting provider.
Once you have laid the groundwork by acquiring the domain name and setting up your website hosting, you can start designing and building your website. Building a website is a crucial moment for businesses in the 2020s. Therefore, you should not be stingy with the investment into your online presence.
Build a website for your business
If you have the skills to build a website on your own, go for it. If you feel that your time is more valuable by spending it elsewhere, it’s probably better to look for an outsourced website developer.
Even though the trends of web design are in constant change, some things are timeless. The purpose of a website is to provide information through the content. Successful ecommerce websites deliver information to visitors in an attractive, fun, and efficient way while ensuring that the purchase decisions and actions are easy to perform.
A good image with a simple headline and clear call-to-action are enough to grab the attention of your website visitors and communicate what your company is about.
Building your website starts with choosing the right website layout. The layout’s role is to deliver the website content in an intuitive, clear, and efficient way. Luckily, website builders offer various customizable templates allowing you to focus on editing the content and telling your brand’s story instead of coding.
We have all visited websites and turned back in the first few seconds because something on the landing page just made you lose your interest. It might have been because of a poorly designed website without a point of focus.
Clean and fresh websites have clear sections for the content and let the content “breathe” by having enough whitespace. Whitespace is the empty area on your website that surrounds your content. To be just empty space, whitespace has a significant role in highlighting essential elements such as call-to-actions, separate independent sections and create an overall crisp and pleasing appearance for your website.
Once the landing page has caught your visitor's the attention, you can gradually start presenting more content and tell more about your offering when the visitor scrolls down or clicks links on your website.
A key takeaway is not to tell everything at once. A website with a content overload can be overwhelming and exhausting for the visitor.
Make it easy for your customers to find everything they need on your website. Straightforward navigation, well-thought site structure and user journeys that end up to the conversion ensure continuity and smooth browsing flow for your customers. Try to avoid dead ends where your customers are forced to turn around and go back.
To highlight your most important products and services, you want to showcase them first. Strategic positioning of your most important content makes it easier for your customers to understand what your company is about.
“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” -Blaise Pascal
Good copywriting is a form of art. While you want to avoid overwhelming your customers with excessive amounts of text, you have to provide sufficient information about your products and services.
One of the cornerstones of digital marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), adds a twist to the principles of writing good copy on the web. Supposedly you want your website to be visible and rank above your competition in Google. In that case, you have to know how your customers are searching for information about similar services you offer. Performing keyword research and answer to the most potential search queries into the content can considerably boost your search engine visibility.
Anyhow, a good rule of thumb is to keep your copywriting simple and write your website content human, not a search engine, in mind.
Even though the people who prefer shopping online are not expecting customer service as personal as in brick and mortar, the role of customer support is huge in eCommerce. Besides offering assistance to your customers when they need it, online customer support builds trustworthiness towards your website and brand.
A minimum requirement is to include up-to-date contact details of your company. A customer support email address and phone number create a sense of certainty. To add clarity, you can communicate an estimated reply time or service hours.
Live support via online chat has become more popular in recent years. The speed and ease of communication via chat lower the threshold for asking for help. If you decide to implement an online chat on your website, you must commit to providing fast replies during working hours. Otherwise, the chat loses the whole point of the fast and easy way of communication.
“How to” articles, FAQ sections, or even a blog are great ways to tell something more and create a context for your products and services. “How to dress for a bike ride” or “Where to go and what to see” type of content helps the customer to get the most out of the rental equipment and create unforgettable memories. Remember, the happier the customers are consuming your services, the more likely they will tell their friends about you and share their experience on social media.
Just like in your shop outlet, consumers use their senses when they are shopping online. Where traditional brick-and-mortar stores are more multisensory experiences, online stores rely more on visual sensing.
Visual appeal helps your customers to tune in with your site and your brand. Even though there is no universal answer on what is beautiful and not as people have different preferences on what they find attractive, the visual elements should support a smooth browsing experience and highlight your services’ best aspects.
It means that, for example, the typography, colors, and images on your website have a significant role in shaping the overall experience.
→ Read more about the factors of a good ecommerce website
Connect your website with a rental booking system
At this point, you have your website published.
However, the work does not end here. We have seen many examples where a rental business has taken booking inquiries through email, phone, or a website form. After adding the option to book and pay rental bookings on the website, the online sales of these rental businesses have skyrocketed. These are features that a good rental booking system can offer.
The reason for such an outcome is simple:
67% of consumers prefer making bookings online because it is convenient and saves time.
When you ask your customers to leave an inquiry for the booking, you ask them to wait for you to read their message, check the availability of equipment, and finally send a reply. The delay can easily get to multiple hours, and that is not good for the customer experience.
→ Customer story: Rentle helped Äkäslompolo Sportshop in doubling their revenue
To turn your website into a right online rental store, you need ecommerce rental software. Specific rental software is required because a traditional ecommerce software meant for selling stuff is quite tricky to convert into managing rentals. Adding rental software to your website is usually quite easy and doesn't require too many technical skills. You can add Rentle to your website by using an iframe or our free rental plugin for WordPress.
When you have your online rental store connected to the software you use to manage your bookings and inventory, you ensure that the information moves automatically without a delay or a chance for human error. Rental software gives you the tools to create and automate workflows that are optimized for managing rentals. These workflows allow customers to browse your product catalog and choose the specific equipment based on what is available - while the order details move automatically to your rental booking system and payments to your bank account.
Prepaid bookings or payment upon pick-up?
Online bookings can be accepted successfully with or without payments. However, because of Covid-19, there’s an increasing need for being able to rent out your equipment without contact between your staff and customers. Online payments are the only way to do it.
Payment technology is in the midst of a revolution. An important aspect to take into account when choosing a payment provider is the capability to add new payment methods quickly and flexibly.
What else can you achieve with Rentle Payments and prepaid bookings?
Prepaid bookings free up your staff’s time, enabling them to prepare orders, provide better in-person service, and be more productive in general.
Although no-shows rarely become a real issue for rental businesses, with prepaid bookings, you avoid having “ghost customers” who book equipment only for never showing up.
You get access to rental-specific payment features such as security deposits and an option for your customers to extend rentals on the go.
Because Rentle is a PCI-DSS certified payment provider, starting to accept online payments in a frictionless and secure way is a breeze.
Manage online bookings as part of your day-to-day
Once your website and rental booking system are connected, you have a fully functional eCommerce store for your rental business. Now it is time to think about the processes you need to manage bookings as part of your day-to-day operation, online and in-store.
Automate information flows between your website and shop
When a transaction happens on your website, you want it to update automatically to your rental software's backend. Moreover, when you have a busy day with walk-in customers and have only limited stock available for the online store, you want to be sure that double bookings will not occur. This is achieved with automatic information flows between your website, your shop, and your inventory.
By having your product catalog connected with your inventory, customers can only book equipment that you have available. Furthermore, the order details and necessary customer information are automatically moved to your rental software enabling you to prepare the equipment in advance. Hassle-free, easy, and efficient.
Prepare equipment in advance
As we know at this point, consumers are motivated to book online because it saves time. So, they expect that they can skip the queue and simply pick up the prepared equipment.
It is not only the customers who can enjoy the more efficient usage of time. Collecting the foreknowledge and preparing the equipment in advance enables more efficient usage of time for your staff as well. The preparation work done in advance before opening hours or during the quiet moments pays itself back during the busiest hours. At best, you’re able to serve customers faster and ease the pressure during peak hours.
The best practices for preparing equipment in advance:
Ask the required information during the online booking flow
Prepare the equipment before the shop opens or during the quiet hours
Dedicate a separate rack or station for the online pick-ups. Mark the equipment clearly with the name of the customer.
Provide sufficient guidance that instructs the customers with online bookings to the dedicated pick-up flow
Unify online and in-store rentals
Consumers no longer see the difference between online and offline. To answer the requirements of this new way of shopping, rental businesses must aim to unify and adjust the methods of managing rentals from multiple channels.
The familiar operating model from the retail world: "order online - collect in store" is likely the model most rental shops can relate to. In order to successfully manage the customer flows coming in from multiple channels, a rental company must think about the following topics:
Check-in services for walk-in customers
Pick-up services for online customers
Shop layout and customer flows
Equipment maintenance and buffer time between rentals
Instructing the customers for the use of the equipment
Terms of service and waiver policy
Liabilities and security deposits
As the competitive environment has become more complex and includes more channels than before, the tools that companies use to manage their business must be able to automate and simplify jobs. Bridging the management of online bookings, walk-in customers, inventory, contracts, and payments with one rental software helps you to do a better job and stay on top of things even during demand peaks and when things get busy.