An online store is, in essence, not much different than a physical one. eCommerce merely occurs in a different medium. Building an online store requires all the same attitudes and prep-work. Hence, we’ll draw parallels to a real-world retail store.
In a typical business, you need to:
- Write a business plan
- Finance your business
- Register the business
- Obtain the necessary licenses and permits
- Prepare a marketing strategy
The same applies to any online business you plan to conduct online, whether a new one or an extension of your existing business.
For existing businesses, there are two good reasons for taking your business online. For one, you can better serve your current customers by offering them an additional way to conduct business with you: online. Typically by credit card transactions through a payment gateway, such as Paypal or Google Checkout.
Another compelling reason to have an eCommerce store is for those businesses that are seeking to grow market share ie. those who are looking for more customers than the ones who are already actively engaged in the business. Having an online store will allow you to expand your business boundaries, and reach a larger percentage of the total market.
Mentality: Treat your online store with the same practical sobriety you would any other business.
As a business owner, you will already be familiar with the discipline and effort required to launch, sustain and grow a business. You are less likely to entertain notions about simplicity or a mythical gateway to mountains of increased sales-yours for the taking.
However, first time business people choosing eCommerce as your launch point might not be as clued in to the nitty gritty of running a business, and the effort it takes to make sales, and then repeat that consistently (or incrementally, or exponentially). It’s not difficult to get emotionally invested in the business without the right mindset that will see the project through to completion.
Ever since DIY platforms began to rise in mainstream popularity, it’s become so very easy to get invested in the idea of eCommerce success.
Up to a point, the barrier to entry for eCommerce can indeed be very low. Much lower than that required for a physical storefront. Since there is no need to spend on a physical space, or purchase equipment and furniture, or practical business tools like a cash register, security system, or POS system.
The costs begin to rise once you reach the point where your business needs to attract customers and start making sales, which is about 5 seconds after your online store goes live. Many might not realise what sort of an investment of time and money that requires.
When a business opens its doors in a shopping mall, or a business park, the money and time that went into constructing an ideal physical outlet gets offset by the very nature of ‘location, location, location’ as there is immediate access to foot traffic. Other marketing activities like loss leader products, fliers and advertising can increase the amount of visitors of course.
The same is true for online stores, except that online, a new web domain doesn’t enjoy the benefits of location. New domains are almost completely isolated from the rest of the internet. It needs a lot of effort to build links that connect it to other entities on the web, such as social media word of mouth, paid links, search engines, or referrals from other websites in the form of PR or reviews.
I feel this is an important consideration, because almost every one of my peers I have encountered who have ventured into eCommerce as their first business have struggled to get their new business off the ground. Many don’t get far beyond choosing a platform, getting hosted, picking a eCommerce template and creating a few social media profiles. Never-mind achieving significant milestones of successful enterprise.
The ones to experience the latter have unequivocally governed their eCommerce sites as though it was a typical brick & mortar business, giving it the same attention any business needs in order to thrive.
Meaning, if they needed private investment, or financial support from a bank they were prepared with the proper documents like a business plan or marketing strategy. They typically also conducted market research, giving them a clearer picture of their base demographic target, and how their product might meet the needs of different markets.
This preparedness in turn afforded these merchants a degree of certainty about the probability of success not available to those who view eCommerce through the rosy filters of quick wins with disproportionate returns.
Practicality: Build what you can yourself, understand what you cannot.
As with our real life counterparts, some business people have both the time and expertise to shape their retail space as they desire, either with bricks and stones, or with code and pixels. Where this is not possible, skilled craftsmen are contracted for the job.
For eCommerce, we have also the cheap and simple option of using a premade template to build online stores with. Being able to save both time and money on design/development costs is an almost irresistible reason to launch eCommerce stores with a premade template. Such templates offer aesthetic customization to match your preferences from options like colour and font, to placement of widgets like home page sliders and product page details.
Nevertheless a template is always going to have the same basic form and function, and choosing a popular one means that browsing different online stores will be a familiar experience for visitors, at least in terms of look and feel. That said, it doesn’t appear to be a huge detriment to rule out using a template, at least at the beginning of your eCommerce journey.
As your business grows, you might find that further growth demands more functionality, and you might also like to invest in deeper form at the same time. This might be the point you decide to hire the abovementioned craftspeople to get the job done for you.
Naturally we like to recommend our own internal teams of designers and developers (geeks! the whole lot) for such tasks you might encounter.
That covers the basic process of planning and setting up your online store. Next:
Publicity: The sparks that draw attention and traffic to your store.
The varying purpose of your online store – – based on whether yours is a new business, or a supplemental part of your overall business – – will determine what kind of activities you should begin to promote your newfound online commercial ability.
The primary mode for getting the word out is through direct marketing, which currently also plays the biggest role in driving eCommerce sales. You can choose between sponsored posts on social media networks, or display banners on participating publisher sites, and even have your promotions appear on search engine result pages. There are many platforms to do this on, the biggest and most popular being Google Adwords and Facebook Advertising.
Investing in paid activities requires that you devise a clear strategy for what you want to accomplish. It will help you determine how much you will spend to attract visitors to your site and make a sale, whether or not it will be worth it to lose money on a sale. Yes, there are such situations.
For example, if a product is a one-off purchase, than you know customers are not going to return soon for, or that you cannot upsell or cross-sell, you will almost always want to make a profit on the very first sale. This means being more judicious about your spending per 1000 Impressions (CPM) of your advertisement, or your Cost per Click (CPC) and Cost per Acquisition (CPA).
However a product that has repeat purchase potential – – toiletry or perishable goods, or something like a bicycle which you can then cross-sell accessories and equipment, for example – – could benefit from spending extra/making a loss on the first sale, because you’ll be able to get repeat sales to offset the initial loss.
If you already have a business up and running, and have access to a database of clients and prospects that you can email with promotions and additional sales collateral, then this is something you will want to do.
If you don’t have access to an email database you can direct your promotions to, then you’ll need to build one. eCommerce sites customarily do this by offering an incentive – – like a discount – – for visitors to sign up for newsletters via an email address. Registered customers can also opt-in to (or forget to opt out of) receiving newsletters. You can then create different types of promotions for different segments of visitors, like registered shoppers, the first time visitors, and those who are frequent buyers.
Referrals count every time another domain mentions your business, and links to it. It can be in the form of an off-site review or press release about your store, or through affiliate marketing, whereby an affiliate takes a percentage of the sale price for each person sent your way that converts into a sale.
Anecdotal evidence suggests affiliate traffic as being a high quality source of traffic, since the content they create is in line with what the reader is looking for, and the traffic they send your way can contain high levels of buying intent.
Brand Building Advertising
Different from the abovementioned direct response marketing adverts, advertising to build your brand isn’t hyper-focused on conversions and targeting or much data either. It aims to build your brand – – your online store – – as a reputable business. This can happen both offline and online, in the form of a print advertisement in a newspaper or magazine, or a commercial or radio spot, or a website take-over ad.
The willingness of a brand to advertise is itself a signal to the public that the brand they are seeing is one that has confidence in its quality, that it knows it can afford the perceived costs of advertising by its current customer base, as well as the business it will receive as a result of the advertising campaigns the company runs.
Felicity: Greetings from the eCommerce experts.
Building your own successful eCommerce business requires the same dedication and persistence in effort that would be given to any other business. You may have the right mental acuity to keep your online store steered in the right direction, and have the chutzpah for marketing it, but, if find yourself in need building it, that’s where we come in.
We don’t just provide the shopping cart software, which has the features and designs that any popular software has. The best thing about InstanteStore is that our team of craftspeople are also here to help business people construct custom eCommerce sites. The most recent examples of successful online stores we’ve helped build are RollingSmokeDiesel.com – – a diesel truck performance parts supplier, RafaelDuro.com – – the commercial website of a personal fitness coach, and DollarSeed.com – – supplier of organic plant seeds.
Have a look inside the same InstanteStore platform that all our merchants use where you’ll gain access to all the functionality used to run all kinds of online stores.
You can then communicate your needs with us and begin the process of getting your online store ready for a world wide web of potential shoppers.