In this world filled with ecommerce giants like Amazon, how are smaller businesses supposed to keep up? For many, the answer is joining the big leagues. Ecommerce is an exciting opportunity for businesses large and small. All it takes to get started is a bit of effort and the right information. It can be a confusing journey, but we are here to help.
So, what is ecommerce? One broad definition is any transaction of goods that takes place online. Ecommerce can include downloading music or purchasing your favorite candle. It may be one of the most exciting uses of the Internet to date. With ecommerce, there is no concept of time, space, or distance. If you want something, and it is available on the internet, you can purchase it. Many large retailers like Amazon, Walmart, and Apple have reached new heights in the ecommerce marketplace, but you don’t have to be a large company to be successful online.
Small businesses from all over the world are choosing to sell online because it is easy, convenient, and when it all comes down to it, increases profit. The largest roadblock for traditional stores is getting customers in the door. Brick and mortar stores are not always convenient for people who want things instantly. Limited product selection and the physical travel required can be insurmountable when you can order exactly what you want online in a few clicks. Why do you think Amazon Prime, and its free 2-day shipping, is so popular? People have forgotten the art of patience because, in an online world, you don’t need it. And the Internet is always open, 24/7, 365 days a year.
Enter the online option. You want to launch a new online store to sell your goods; open all the time with no clerks, cashiers, utility bills, or rent to pay. As you can imagine, overhead costs can be much lower to open an online store than a new physical store. You’ll get to know your customers through hard data and analytics collected about their buying habits. That means you can tailor your products and the shopping experience to their needs without having to guess. Successful online stores take all this information to create a personalized shopping experience for their expanded customer base. You might even find new customers on the international marketplace. What’s not to love?
But how do you go about opening your very own online store?
First things first, what are you going to sell? Choosing a product to sell is easier said than done. You need something that is unique enough that people will look for it online because they cannot find it in stores. A talent for predicting trends, or just following them as an early adopter can come in handy, but a trendy product should also be agile and able to mold with changes as trends come and go.
Above all else, choose a product that harnesses both your passion and expertise. Have you worked in a particular field for a long amount of time? Have you studied certain trends, people, or products? Being an expert in what you are selling will dramatically help your sales and reliability. Your expertise gives you something that your competitors do not have. That will make it more difficult for people to surpass you.
If you’re still unsure about what product to release into the online world, focus on solving a “pain point.” People have problems that need solutions. When your product solves a problem it can gain a following – and that following will tell their friends. Capitalizing on a pain point is a wonderful way to boost sales, and earn money. If you have a great fix, customers will show their appreciation with their purchasing power.
It may be tempting when you have a great idea to just release your product to the wind and let it fly, but don’t skimp on research or you could face unexpected roadblocks. Common barriers that could cause sales to decline include your site crashing or customers’ poor internet connections. The internet is a wonderful thing, but when it stops working you can’t utilize it. Another problem for all online stores is that customers can not try out a product they have never used before they purchase. If you don’t have the appropriate infrastructure in place to offer a try-before-you-buy program (and few online companies do), a good return policy will put many customers at ease. Offering a complete satisfaction guarantee or free return shipping can also help in converting browsers to customers.
Not being able to try before you buy means that including detailed product descriptions is incredibly important, especially when you are selling fragrances, clothing, or any other type of subjective product. Having a size chart that is accurate, including past reviews about how something fits or smells, or showing how something looks on a variety of skin tones and body shapes can help prevent returns and increase customer satisfaction.
As wonderful as selling products online can be, it is very competitive. It is so simple to post something for sale that you really need to be fully invested in your business to succeed. As mentioned above, being an expert in your field will set you apart, but do not let that blind you. In today’s world there are many skilled individuals, you have to find a way to stand out. That could mean investing in an employee who understands search engine optimization (SEO), analytics, and using keywords to bring ignorant searchers to your product page. Traffic your products to the right people, using the right data and a great paid ad can go a long way.
Even if you do everything right, customers can be difficult. Think about the last time you bought something online. Did it come quick enough? Was it in great shape? Did it work the way that you thought it would? People are so picky, because they can afford to be. If a customer is unhappy with a product, it is your job to get in front of the situation, and fast. This may mean offering a discount, giving out credit, or, if you can’t afford that, at least your sincerest apology. If you are having issues responding to all the emails, comments, and inquiries individually (that much engagement is a good thing!), plan to hire a part-time social media manager or customer service representative to give your customers personalized attention.
But before you really dig in, you will need to figure out how to fit in. Look at your competition to see what they are selling, how they are selling it, who is buying, and why they are buying it. Then use that information to decide how you can do it better. Say you run a sock business; there are thousands of people online who sell socks. How are yours different? Maybe you donate some of the proceeds to charity or do what TOMS shoes does and give a pair away with every purchase? Your idea doesn’t have to be new, the way you choose to market it is all that matters.
Think about your business plan. Write it down and ask advice from experienced business owners. Plan ahead so that you are ready for any roadblocks before you need to be. Have a plan A, B, C, D, all the way to Z if you have to. It is better to be over prepared than up at 4 am wondering what you could have done differently. Having a map to follow will keep you on track, and reduce inevitable stress.
Now that you have decided what you’re going to sell and how you’re going to sell it, you’ll need to set up your store. Surprise! There’s still some planning involved, but this is the fun stuff. Every good site has a great domain name. Try to find a name that is easy for people to remember, write down, talk about, pronounce and type into the search bar. A domain name that is too complicated can drive people away. Once you’ve found the perfect name, pair it with a stellar logo. Your logo is likely to be the first thing people remember about your site and your brand. Think about the biggest companies you know – Target, Nike, McDonald’s – all of these companies have very relevant, memorable logos.
After you have a name and a logo, it’s time to figure out your brand. A brand is a company’s identity. Maybe your company is utilitarian – forgoing exciting design or flowery language for straight-and-to-the-point practicality – or maybe it’s beachy – choosing a sea blue and sandy yellow color palette to compliment a more relaxed vibe. Add some personality with a tagline, or a great website layout. No matter what you choose – what you say and how you say it contributes to your brand’s reputation. The better your reputation, the more customers you will attract. People trust companies that sell great products and look good doing it. Would you rather buy something from a site that looked like it was created with Microsoft Paint, or one that is well-designed and thought out?
At this point, you might be worried about your personal tech-savviness, but don’t. You do not have to do this all on your own. There are tons of sites out there whose only purpose is to help you build yours. Try WordPress, Wix, Shopify, or Squarespace to name a few. For a basic site, just use a template, or dig in (or hire someone else to) and create a more customized page by editing the design’s code. Each website editor has different ways to create your site. Technically, there is not a wrong answer, you just need to figure out which tool is best for you and your product.
So, you’ve completed all of the planning steps, sourced and designed your product, and launched your site. Now you need to start drawing attention to your page. This is where social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest comes in. But buyer (or seller) beware, not all social media platforms are created equal. Pinterest, for example, has a very specific demographic. It is overflowing with DIY’s, recipes, and inspirational posts. If you are running a bakery, it might be an amazing platform, but if you’re selling something that isn’t visually interesting, it’s unlikely you will see a lot of success.
The best platform – if your products are photo worthy – is Instagram. Think about Instagram as an extension of your store. Share customer reviews and ideas for real-life use of your product. You can even utilize their newest feature, an in-app store. Instagram’s demographic is huge, from tweens to mommy bloggers, there is an audience for almost everything, you just have to target it correctly. Do not be afraid to reach out to influencers who may share your products with their following, use image cataloging hashtags, or tag popular, relevant users in your photos.
While genuine endorsement through word of mouth is one of the best ways to win new customers on social media, don’t ignore platforms that allow paid placement like Facebook. Depending on how much money you put behind a post, you could reach a large portion of your desired audience. Target your posts to those customers that matter most to get the best bang for your buck. Understanding your audience and your customers is a huge benefit during this process. It may take some trial and error, but the more targeted your social media approach, the better results you will have.
Bringing your products to the online marketplace can be quite a journey. It can be relatively low-risk if you want it to be, but the risk, and possible reward, increases the more money you spend. Luckily, the most important factor of success online is not necessarily the amount of money you put into it, but what your product is and how you brand it. Roadblocks along the way are a necessary evil, but you would be hard-pressed to find an online business that has never had an issue. Trust your product, and customers will follow.
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