Many people want create a successful online store – Starting an online store for your business is fast becoming a viable option for many companies. The benefits of having a 24/7 shop open and accessible to millions of potential shoppers are significant. As the internet grows, and more people have access to it, online shopping spend will continue to grow.
Many people want the benefit of an ever-open shop selling to millions of shoppers, but are not aware of the financial and operational requirements or the methods used to achieve a successful venture.
This article outlines a few considerations when planning an eCommerce platform and general tips to create a successful online store.
1) Plan to succeed.
We really cannot stress this enough – an online store needs a business plan which outlines the how, what, when and where of the entire project. Without a solid and well thought out plan, we believe the shop will not meet expectations, and not deliver the potential income it could do, and has a much higher chance of failure.
Yes, a plan takes time and resources, as well as other opinions that feel like criticism. It is tough to flesh out a proper business plan. It is tough to risk your idea with other people who are possibly more skilled and can exploit the idea and you. It is hard to project finances and income based on nothing.
But what the process does do is help you think out many of the hurdles and challenges that might arise. You think long and hard about the product, your possible customers, the cost to get to a place that the shop is self sustaining. But it is arguably the biggest differentiator between online shops that succeed and those that don’t.
2) Pick the right products for your online store.
It is very important to be very particular about the product(s) that you are going to sell. There is a ton of competition on the internet, and there is no point in competing head on with the likes of Amazon. Their buying power will always exceed a startup purely on volume.
If you manufacture your products, it might be better to start with a subset of products – the fast movers and easy shippers – and grow from there. It is not wise to put all 16000 products on at once with all their options, and try to market it all from ground zero. Far better to gain a bit of experience in how it all works on products that you know are market tested and easy to manage (storage and logistics) and that you can do some focus marketing on.
If you are not the manufacturer of the product, you need to make 200% sure that the supplier(s) are able to supply product on an ongoing manner, preferably without selling the same product to 100 other online shops. After all, you are putting money and time into selling their product, so this is critical to your success. A legal agreement with penalties is generally useful, but might require some form of sales volume guarantee from you.
The answer is simple: planning is the key to starting a successful online store with long-term success.
3) Understand your market.
Research all the demographics of your potential customer base and keep a check on their buying habits is one of the most important tips to create a successful online store.
Browse the websites of your competitors and note feedback from their customers on social media platforms. This feedback can help you to understand the market scenario and better define your product and niche.
4) Domain name and site location.
Once you have you products and plan in place, you need to find a domain and hosting provider. Domain name choice is again fairly critical. What other domains have similar or the same name? Do you use .io or .net or .biz? If you do not have experience in selecting the domain name and hosting options, it is suggested that you get the advice of an expert.
5) eCommerce Technology choice.
All developers have their preference which is generally crafted by their career path and opportunities that have presented themselves. However, their opinion is not always in a business’ best interest. We primarily recommend WordPress due to its huge support base and extensive support and content base. It powers nearly 30% of all eCommerce websites; by far the most used of all options. This mitigates risk of “lock in” to a particular developer and in general is far cheaper than most of the paid solutions out there.
Other choices from a technical perspective are integration of payment gateways, logistics partners and supplemental marketing service like Google Merchant with other Free Google Tools. Each of these has to be carefully selected to ensure maximum effectiveness at the best price point. And they all have to work together.
Maintenance and support on any of these platforms is critical, so it is best to ensure you have a reliable partner to keep the shop operational from a technical perspective.
6) Marketing to grow sales.
Once your site is built, connected to all services it requires, and the products are loaded, it is time to get customers to buy from the new shop. Unfortunately there are many millions of websites offering all sorts of products and services, so your site needs to stand out. The only way to do this is marketing effort and budget.
Social media is the most cost-effective method to expand your reach, and can in fact be done on a small scale without spending anything other than time. This is extremely useful for the smaller startup or a company starting to venture into online from a traditional brick and mortar shop. It also allows low risk gauging of your product or shops success in the market – are you getting visitors? Are people buying? If not, despite being seen by thousands of people, then there is possibly something wrong at product/shop level.
Once the shop has gained some traction using free but manual social media promotion, paid advertising automation is the next step, along with embedding the products into other shops like Amazon, Google Merchant, etc. Again, it is better to use experts in this field to ensure best return on investment.
7) eMail marketing.
Email marketing is possibly the most effective method available, especially where you have a users name and interests. It is about 40% more effective than social media marketing, and research shows that the conversion of a potential shopper to a paying customer is three times faster using email marketing.
There are a number of email campaign tools on the internet, most start at no cost for smaller lists and increment costs as your business grows, and these are simply the best methods of keeping customers engaged. On your shop, it is important to have a mechanism for users to sign up for email newsletters and specials, and it is common to give a discount coupon for anyone signing up as an incentive.
8) Measurement, Measurement, Measurement
Once you start your online store, it becomes a bit of an addiction – checking sales, visitors, where the visitors are coming from. After a while, this excitement wanes as different aspects of the shop demand attention. It is important to review advertising effectiveness frequently. More than once a month for smaller shops, weekly for bigger shops, and daily for large volume shops. It is critical that this is watched and managed carefully otherwise spend can quickly exceed benefit. All advertising channels have analytics which show the effectiveness of the advertising spend.
Sometimes it is better to partner with specialists in this area because it is always changing and is a challenge to the lay man no matter how good he or she is with Excel. A good partner will report to you often and provide suggestions on how to improve performance of advertising spend and social effort.
9) Be Responsive.
One simple way to gain customers is by being very responsive. When they ask a question, they don’t want an answer tomorrow afternoon. So it is important to ensure you are always able to quickly respond to all channels your site offers. Luckily most channels have mobile phone apps, so this can be done while on the move.
We also recommend keeping these channels to a manageable minimum – while it is nice to have Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, email, phone, and YouTube communication and advertising channels, it is not so easy to answer all the requests, from all of these, all of the time. It is therefore best to select 2 or 3 channels at most when starting out (phone and email being 2), and ensure you are able to respond within a brief period of time (an hour) to any incoming requests.
10) Maintenance / Continual Improvement.
In order to sustain any growth success, it is always a good idea to embrace continual improvement in all processes in the business. This keeps the company fresh and active, and best of all, small improvements on many levels eventually lead to significant success.
From maintaining ecommerce website itself to internal processes, partners, suppliers, personnel – all of these need to be looked at constantly. There is no place of comfort, a place where “we are done and can now let the money roll in”. The game is constantly changing, new shops pop up, new products are released, Google changes the way it works, etc. and it is best to have solid partners on all levels to ensure success.
Overall, the prospects of success are good provided the groundwork is laid.
Just like in any business venture.
Quick Tips To Create A Successful Online Store.
- Don’t assume consumers know anything about you or your product. They may not even know such a product exists.
- The best offense is a planned defense – and knowing what you are getting yourself into before you even begin.
- Learn how to design for user experience and remove unnecessary elements.
- Every six to 12 months, conduct additional primary research and refine your customer profile accordingly. This will help you refine your product strategy and brand voice.