There’s a lot to think about when you’re on the road to build your own successful ecommerce business. It’s fast becoming one of the most popular routes for start-ups to take, so I’ve come up with a rough guide for new founders, featuring five key areas to focus on.
First things first, you need to pick your product carefully. Many independent online retailers start off as Amazon sellers (or similar). If this is the route you’re taking, you need to ensure you find a manufacturer that’s a good match for your identity, your price point and your customers. Order a small amount to test quality and reliability before committing to larger orders or outsourcing to a third party warehouse.
If you’re choosing the product in person, you’ll need to consider things like delivery costs and the likelihood of damage in transit. You should also think about whether it’s a product that people might prefer to buy on the high street; for example, consumers will often want to see high-cost goods in person, and many customers would rather speak to an expert when purchasing tech goods. It’s also worth factoring in returns. If something has an unusual fit or is difficult to properly convey over the web, you’ll have to bear the burden of more returns and in turn, more costs and manpower.
Once you’ve chosen your item, think about the necessary patents and copyrights. When an idea launches online it’s open to the world, and if it’s low-cost and easily replicable, you might well find yourself undercut. Of course, one important way to tackle this is to ensure you’re offering the best deal and/or service to your customers, but you should also think about your legal rights.
It’s worth remembering that e-commerce doesn’t exclusively refer to business-to-customer product transactions. You could also be selling a service, either to other businesses or to customers. Don’t feel like you have to limit your options simply because you’ve gone online-only.
When you’re an e-commerce business, your website is your storefront. You’re dressing your shop window when you pick out your design, so it’s important to take many of the same things into consideration. What products or offers do you want to display front and centre? What kind of mood do you want to invoke in your customers, or what kind of tone do you want to set for your store? How are you going to entice your customers to explore more of your offerings?
Once they’re past your home page, customers will be looking for accurate and appealing information about your products. This is where your product copy comes into play. It’s important to make sure that your product descriptions not only aptly describe the items at hand, but also capture the tone of your business. If items arrive not as described you’ll soon see a high number of returns, so it’s important that you don’t twist the truth even while you’re trying to market your products. Find a way to highlight the best features, but don’t try and disguise something they’ll find out after they order. It’s also important to remember that if your customer has to look elsewhere for information, they’re more likely to buy elsewhere too. You want to avoid taking your customer off your page – so any extra information should be summarised rather than linked to.
Of course, alongside top-quality copy, you need high-resolution images. The quality of your images will give your customers an idea of your professionalism. Low-res shots that are clearly taken in a family home won’t encourage the same trust as a high-res, clean shot on a classic white background. Make sure to include any necessary angles in order to give your customer a fuller idea of the product, and think about including a video if it fits your product. As well as making your website more engaging, this can really help bring your items to life.
The most important factor to take into consideration when building your website is the user experience. Make sure your navigation is simple and your links are obvious; the easier it is for customers to get around your site, the more likely they are to stay a while.
This is true whichever platform your consumers are viewing your website on. Nowadays, more people shop with their mobile phone than their desktop computer, so it’s important that your website looks as good on a mobile as it does on a desktop, a laptop and a tablet.
If your business is online, it naturally follows that your potential customers will be too. For marketers, this is great news. Not only is online advertising far cheaper than traditional methods such as print and television, it opens up a number of exciting new possibilities.
There are a few go-to websites that are utilised by almost all businesses when it comes to online marketing. Google banner ads are one of the most popular paid-for options, as are promoted Facebook posts. Then there are a myriad of options for more company-specific advertising. For example, a company like GoPro is the perfect fit for video advertising on YouTube because of the nature of the product. A make-up retailer would likely see the best results from pairing up with popular beauty bloggers like Zoella. Explore the options available to you and find the best fit for your brand. And don’t be afraid to think outside the box – that is, after all, what the Internet is all about.
As well as paying for advertising, you should make the most of the free marketing available to you online. One of the most obvious channels is social media. As well as posting on your own pages – and you should try and cover as many platforms as possible – you can encourage customers and family and friends to post on their accounts too. Competitions are a great way to encourage interaction, as are questions posted on your pages. Make sure the product pages on your website have shareable icons so your visitors can easily post them to their social channels.
Another important element of online advertising is Search Engine Optimisation. As well as paying to appear on Google, you can try and boost your pages up the search results by using relevant keywords and creating strong inbound and outbound links.
Your Delivery (and Returns)
Everything’s up and running, you’ve put the word out and now you’ve got your first orders. What next? Deliveries.
It’s vital that you are able to deliver products reliably, on-time and in good condition, because otherwise you risk not only losing your earliest customers but also your reputation. If you fail to deliver as expected, you’ll soon find that bad word-of-mouth weighs down your business before you’ve even got it off the ground.
You need to consider a number of factors when arranging your delivery process. First of all, there are different expectations in different countries. If you have an international customer base (as is one of the great advantages of the internet) you’ll have to consider that customers in European countries expect much faster delivery times than those in Australia. It’s worth scoping out what other companies are offering. If there’s a high number of same-day delivery services on offer, you might find that customers will soon become impatient with week-long delivery times.
You should also think about choosing a courier service you want to work with. Be sure to check out feedback and reviews to see what experience other companies have had with them in the past. As well as asking for testimonials, it’s worth having a look online at customer reviews to see if they’ve received their products on time and in good condition.
As well as sending your products out, you have to be prepared to receive them back. It is to be expected that e-commerce businesses see a higher rate of return than storefronts, since customers can’t see the product in person prior to purchasing. It’s important to make sure you have a smooth-running returns procedure in place, and to make sure information about this is clearly available to your customers. In fact, a company’s return policy can be an influencing factor in a consumer’s decision to purchase. ASOS is a good example of a company whose generous returns policy – they are known for offering free returns – has gained them a loyal following.
When launching your business, it’s important to take into consideration both your circumstances now and your circumstances as they could be in a few weeks, months, and even years. This, of course, means making contingency plans, but it also means planning for success.
Work out what level of growth your company is able to sustain. Figure out what your budget is for bringing on new staff, and work out which new avenues you want to explore if the current ones work well. It’s also worth thinking about which direction you hope to grow in. Are you looking to offer more products or services in your current area, or do you want to expand your customer base – perhaps even internationally?
If you hope to take your business across seas, it’s important to look into the different business laws and taxes that apply in different countries. It’s also important to think about the different markets you’ll be appealing to. This could be anything from changing the language your products are marketed in to developing an alternative tone of voice that will better suit your new customers. It could even mean offering slightly different services in different places.
What are your top tips for starting an e-commerce business? And where do you see e-commerce going in the future? Let me know in the comments.