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There are so many things that have changed about the world of making and selling products to consumers. Once upon a time, you would have taken your goods in a wagon to a town, and sold them directly to the people who were passing by. The more exciting your pitch, the more likely you were to sell your items.
In some ways, selling online is not that different, but your tactics have to be adjusted for the modern era.
Selling Online is About Careful Branding and Outreach
Modern consumers are not interested in being badgered into buying something. Gone are the days of the door-to-door salesman or the person selling products in the middle of town. No one wants to be forced to buy anything these days and consumers are savvy enough to judge the worth of the products they are buying without being told about them.
You will often find that having a physical store is not a huge motivator for sales, and being pushy with your ads will make you visible but unpopular. There are many ways that selling in the 21st century is a bigger challenge than in the past. However, there are some things about the world of ecommerce sales that are far easier than the old models.
The Statistics Don’t Lie
There has been steep growth in ecommerce sales in the last three months. Ecommerce sales have enjoyed 10 years’ growth in those three months and show no signs of slowing down. The same study shows that 75% of consumers have changed their brand preferences since the pandemic. A further 60% of these consumers will continue to explore new brands and new means of buying products now that the world has experienced major changes post-pandemic.
Almost 90% of sales have moved to videoconferencing/phone/web sales models. Skepticism is quickly being swept away as the growth of the ecommerce sales market continues to expand exponentially. There is increasing evidence that many consumers will not return to the old methods of shopping when the pandemic is over. Online sales are here to stay.
This might at first, seem like a daunting set of statistics. How will you stand out in an increasingly crowded ecommerce world? How will you find a niche for your products if there are more and more businesses clamoring for the attention of consumers?
The upside of this change of pace is that not everyone is doing a great job of leveraging technology to make the switch from brick-and-mortar stores to ecommerce models. This is particularly true of any entity that has never sold its products online. Even if a large company is working hard on generating an online sales presence, even small stores that are well-established in the ecommerce space will have a major leg up on this newcomer.
Think about all of the websites that you have visited that are not optimized and which do not offer a user-friendly experience. How likely are you to engage with these websites ever again? This is where you can stand out from the crowd right away in the mad dash of the ecommerce world at this time.
Making sure that your sales experience is seamless, easy to navigate, and secure can make all the difference between being a huge success or getting lost in the crowd. Optimization and testing of website functionality should be a major part of your ecommerce store design and you should always continue to verify that functionality is working properly so that you can get ahead of malfunctions that crop up along the way.
The Steps to Creating an Effective Online Store
You might have chosen a nice basic template for your ecommerce store, but what do you do when you want to add products or sell new kinds of items? What if your business is growing fast and you feel overwhelmed as you try to take your business to the next level while also balancing the things that you need to do to keep your customer experience on point?
Here are the steps that you need to follow to make sure that you do not lose track of the important stuff while you are creating or optimizing your online store:
Pick Your Niche and Develope Your Business Plan
The ecommerce market is a busy place with many unique niche markets inside of it. You will want to make sure that you research the nice that you have in mind thoroughly before you commit to it. Small ecommerce niches are not necessarily easier to market to than larger spaces.
You will need to make sure that you are aware of the branding and message that is required to reach small niche markets. You might also want to be certain that you will not be working in such a small niche area that it is hard or impossible to market to other market segments.
1. Do a SWOT Analysis
SWOT stands for a simple set of considerations that you will need to look at closely when determining the nature of your niche you are going to sell in.
This abbreviation stands for Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threats.
These are the important factors that you will need to consider anytime you are working on a market analysis that will influence your branding and your business plan.
- Strengths: Maybe you have a high-demand product or a great wholesaler that you can buy from for a low cost. Maybe you have lots of personal knowledge about this product or maybe you have great connections for marketing your brand within your niche.
- Weaknesses: Things like gray areas to do with regulation or shipping prohibitions, cross-border expansion challenges, and problems with supply chain or product purchase cost fit into this bracket.
- Opportunities: This is where you should consider superior marketing skills on your behalf, or a great branding message. Maybe you can make a better website than your competition or maybe you are able to make a much nicer website than your competitors. Maybe you have a new idea for a product that no one else has thought up before or a way to greatly improve upon an existing product.
- Threats: Regulatory issues or problems with competition purchasing from the same wholesaler are examples of threats. Another huge issue can be a very small niche that is already saturated. Maybe you have a competitor coming up quickly with cheaper versions of the same project.
2. Industry Gaps
You might be feeling like all the good or useful ecommerce niches are filled or taken. Thankfully, this is not correct.
Targeted research will show you where there are gaps in customer fulfillment. You might also find that there are needs that are not met by existing products that you have a solution to. There are not many products that cannot be made better and you might have the right answer to this need.
To find industry gaps:
- Check out social media for people complaining in forums or reviewing items they have purchased. Influencers can be a big help here too as they review products they have tried and talk about what they like and don’t like.
- Use Google Trends to help you compare search volumes for different product types and keywords over time.
- Look at major sellers like Amazon to read reviews on their best-selling products. You will find hints of market gaps even in these huge seller’s reviews and customer ratings.
Industry gaps are where you can carve out a place for yourself, even in crowded markets or small niche markets with lots of sellers already enjoying success.
3. Analyze Customer Personas
This is a part of your branding process as well as creating your target audience, so you will have this information on tap by this point. This is the step of the process of defining your ecommerce business plan which involves setting your ideal buyer personas.
These personas are comprised of demographic data (age, location, occupation, income) and psychographic data (interests, values, beliefs, struggles, and aspirations). This information will help you to explain what your product is effectively and immediately when you are reaching out to your customers through advertising and on social media.
4. Choosing a Business Model
This can be a tricky part of the process but you can identify the places where your business will fit best if you learn a little more about the kinds of models that are out there to choose from. You might have thought that there was only one model for selling online, but that is not the case at all.
- B2B ecommerce: This is a model where you will sell to wholesalers, retailers, or business buyers
- B2C ecommerce: In this model, you will market products direct to your customers
- Online Marketplaces: This would be selling through Amazon, Etsy, or a host of other online sellers who have access to built-in audiences
- DTC: This is the direct-to-consumer business model that many people think of first when they think of online sales and it cuts out a retailer or wholesaler
- Dropshipping: This is the model that leaves fulfillment tasks and inventory management to a third party. You will not hold your own inventory in this model
Whichever model you choose, consider all of the moving parts and pieces that will make up sales in the model that you have chosen. It can be easy to think that your product will be suited for any of these sales models, but once you start considering the logistics of each one, you may find that your product will not be marketable in certain business models.
Select a Domain Name
Your business name and your domain name both need to be connected to your brand. You might not be able to get a business name that mirrors your actual brand name. You still do not want to stray too far from the name that you are marketing your product under when you create your domain name.
There are some tips that will make this an easier process if you are feeling stumped about how to accomplish the process of picking a domain name.
1. Be Unique
You don’t want to get mixed up with other brands and you want to try and make sure that people will remember your domain name when they hear it. It might be tempting to try to use a keyword that ranks well as part of your domain name but this is often ineffective because it will be too generic and sound too much like other businesses in your niche.
You can choose your unique name in many ways, but make sure that your brand name is referenced somewhere in the domain name if possible. Failing that, make sure that you make the domain name related to your product type. As an example, if you are not selling food, naming your domain Tacos and Salsa would not be very effective marketing.
2. Be Careful About Spelling and Using Unfamiliar Words
There is a delicate balance that you need to maintain between being unique and trying too hard to be creative. You should always avoid difficult or odd spellings of words in your domain name just to secure the domain name for yourself. You will also want to avoid words that are not familiar to many people.
Compound words should always be avoided and hyphens and numbers can be problematic as well. Intention misspellings will also often backfire because people will naturally want to spell them right and then will never be able to find your site.
A final word of caution is that sometimes something that you think is funny and clever can actually offend others. Be careful with puns of joking names that might cause people to be offended.
3. Make Sure it is Short and Sweet
You want to make sure that your domain name is not so long that people will struggle to remember it and to type it out. A good goal is to keep your domain name under 12 characters. This will make your life easier when you work with your social media handles as well.
Consistency is key with these kinds of names, so you will want to try and make this short and to-the-point name work for a variety of different online spaces that you are going to exist within. This is why so many longer domain names end up being shortened to an abbreviation. People naturally want to shorten long names, so starting out with a short name just makes sense.
Pick the Right Ecommerce Platform
Ecommerce platforms come in many sizes and shapes and offer their own extensions that you can take advantage of. Not all of them will work in the same way or offer the same benefits, so you will need to think carefully about the kind of functionality that you will need for your most optimal experience with these platforms.
1. Cheap is Not Necessarily Better
While cost might be a limiting factor for you at the beginning, you will need to think about the ways in which you plan to grow your business. These are the things that you want to do to optimize your customer experience. You should always think long-term when you pick your platform because changing to a new one is a lot of work. It can also cause major issues on the customer experience side of things.
- Can this platform grow along with my ecommerce business?
- Will I have to contend with a drop in performance if my business moves past a certain level of sales?
If you can answer these questions, you will know where you stand with the platform that you are considering. Scalability is not the only factor that you need to look at either. You will also need to consider native features.
Native features can be the core commerce experience elements of the platform or you might have extensions that you want to add that are not going to work with the platform you have selected. Always make sure to rank your future potential plugins or extensions by their value to your business before you choose a platform that does not allow them and then regret it.
You will also need to think about security. Data breaches and ransomware are affecting more business than ever these days and you will want your customer data to be safe and secure. You will need SSL security at checkout and you will want to be sure that you prevent a data breach at all costs.
You should also make sure that you can SEO optimize your site so that you will show up at the top of the page rankings in search results. Web traffic and searchability have a huge impact on sales.
The last thing that you will need to consider is if the platform that you have picked is optimized for mobile. More people than ever use their phones to shop these days, so it can be a real deterrent to sales if your site does not work on a mobile phone.
2. Website Builders
These handy tools simplify store setup and management for you. Your business goals and the scaling plans that you have might make some of these the wrong choice for your needs, but there are so many options out there that you will find the right one with some research.
Some of these builders allow for handy drag and drop functionality while others are built to support open-source plug-ins and coding work on your part. Make sure to consider if you can include all the SKUs you want with the builder that you choose and check out the payment gateways that the builder partners with or allows you to use.
Some of these builders are made for beginners while others are designed with large-scale ecommerce business experts in mind. You can find out a lot about each one by doing some research into their features and their customization options, so don’t just assume that you will like a builder because someone you know uses it too.
3. Create Your Store
This is the step where you will pick a theme or have one custom-made for you that pairs with your branding and your overall business look. You will customize your font and your text sizes and you can usually add fun standard color schemes that will show up each time you create a landing page or a product page.
Make sure to:
- Add quality images and visuals
- Have great user experience
- Ability to create a faster checkout process
- Embed your social media information as well as any other online sites that you have a presence on
This is where you create the first impression that customers will have when they access your store.
Add Your Products to Your Store
1. Product Descriptions
This is a place to get expert help if you are not a natural at writing sales descriptions. You will need to add effective descriptions that explain what each item is and what it can do for your customers. You can also provide suggestions about when to use this product or how it might be used.
This is a chance to sell people about how your product can solve a problem for them in their daily lives. Language matters here, so hiring a writer for these descriptions can be a big help.
2. Product Images
If you yourself are not an expert at taking product images, make absolutely sure that you hire someone to take quality pictures of your products. This is how people will have to interface with and see your items and you want them to feel like they are standing right next to them and holding them in their hands.
360-degree images are always more effective and you will want to consider your branding style and your branding message when you do action-style images for things like clothing.
3. Product Categories
This can have a big effect on how people discover and purchase items from your store. You might think that your categories are only affecting your ability to keep track of inventory and sales figures and analytics, but they are actually a big part of how people navigate your website.
Make sure that similar items are grouped in the right categories and make it easy to figure out where things are located. Don’t have belts for men in accessories for women for example and make sure that sizing and color choices are consistent throughout your navigation experience within these categories.
This is the information that makes finding things to buy easy for your customers so you will want to facilitate an enjoyable shopping experience for them to encourage them to stay in your store for longer. The longer that someone shops through your products, the more likely they are to buy.
Set Up a Shipping Policy
New products need to get to your customers easily and without issues. This can be tough to guarantee unless you decide to leverage a shipping solution. Customers are always turned off in a big way by poor shipping experiences, so you want to avoid these issues if at all possible.
1. Set a Shipping Policy
This is the expectation that your customers will want to experience when they buy from your store. Let customers understand the cost of shipping, the time frames, and the terms and limitations on returns.
This might all be affected by whether you are shipping at a flat rate without a fee or if you have a variable rate structure set up. You might want to have free shipping, but maybe some items are not eligible for this option.
Whatever your shipping policies and conditions, make sure that your customers understand them upfront so there are no bad surprises along the way. You may have to work out a better shipping policy for your store’s needs by leveraging a fulfillment service or other solution if you think you cannot guarantee shipping times and experience through your current model.
2. Ecommerce Shipping Solutions
Some companies or platforms will allow you to automate many of your shipping processes and will offer shipping solutions that you can leverage. This is only useful if you are planning to work on the shipping needs of your store yourself. But it can help you make things run smoothly before you scale to a fulfillment model.
Marketing Your Online Store
You need visitors to your store to make sales. No matter how long your store has been around or what great products it sells, you can’t sell to anyone if they can’t find your store easily. This is where marketing comes into play.
- Ecommerce marketing channels matter
- Pre-launch strategies can build hype
These are the two most important ideas that you need to keep in mind when you are working on marketing for your online business.
You will need to make sure that you are leveraging more than one social media outlet for your ads.
Through multiple platforms, you can also create added value offerings like:
- Blog content or how-to videos
- Product reviews or teasers
- Fun interactive social media reels or stories
- Giveaway competitions or user generated contents
There are many ways to post that will keep your brand in people’s feeds and also in their minds.
This is very important for niche markets but you will need to leverage marketing channels for any online store. You will also need to make sure that you use these channels to create hype before you launch your store. This is where an advertising agency can deliver big results.
Working with an ad agency means that your ad campaigns will be managed and adjusted daily. This can be a big task and it is one that you probably do not have time for with your other business requirements keeping you busy.
Paid advertising can easily go over budget as well, so having an ad management team working on your needs is a huge help. You will want to make sure that your ad agency is utilizing all of your marketing channels and that they are using SEO optimization in their ads to help your store get visits and then as a result, sales.
This is where it all comes to life! Your launch day should have had advertising build up to drive traffic to your store and people should be starting to be aware of your brand and what it stands for. Now you just need to make sure that everything is set to run the way that it should.
- Review your call-to-actions and titles on pages
- Test checkout experience one more time
- Make sure payment gateways are working as they should
- Check that images and texts on your product pages look as they should
- Correct typos or other small issues that you find
- Make sure navigation functions lead to the right places and pages
- Check that your taxes are set correctly
- Make sure links are active and go to the right places
- Verify that promo or coupon codes work
1. How much will it cost to set up my online store?
This depends on your platform and store size, but small stores are usually around $30 a month at first.
2. Can you create a store for free?
There are a few options for free software or plugins that you can leverage but no platform will be truly free. This is a good thing because you don’t want a cheap or shoddy experience for your customers that might be offered by a free platform.
3. How much can you make?
This is a question that varies based on your product margins and how much you have spent on shipping and marketing. This can be a very profitable space to sell products in, especially if you have planned your business model well.
4. How do I start my online store?
You will need to make a business plan, choose your products, and make sure your logistics related to shipping and other supply chain questions are sorted out. Pick your platform and get started selling!
5. Do I need to work with a developer to design my store?
You do not always have to do this but you might offer a nicer shopping experience to your customers if you do.
6. How can I make my store successful?
This will depend on product relevance and quality, your website’s performance and optimization, your pricing strategy, and your marketing. Sourcing and product placement as well as branding can make a big difference in your profits over time.
7. How long will it take to make my store?
The size of your store will affect this greatly. If you have a small store to set up, you might only need a month or so to get all the details right. For larger stores, three months is a good rule of thumb for setup time.
8. Will I need integrations?
This depends on your business needs, but you will at least need a payment gateway and you might need to consider other solutions to offer a better buying process.
9. Can I start an online store without having inventory?
You can if you choose to dropship. The other models will require that you have at least some inventory to hand so you can fulfill orders.
What to do Next
Now that you have considered all of these important factors related to creating and launching your online store, you are ready to move on to Chapter 9: How to drive traffic to your online store organically 2021. This is where you figure out how to make your store a success over the long term, not just on launch day!
© Dan Ben Nun 2021