How to set up and run a successful e-commerce business.
Anual US e-commerce sales growth rate 2010-2013 was 52%
Swedish e-commerce sales went up 19% in 2013 compared to 2012
Setting up your e-commerce store
Running your e-commerce store
Online & Offline Marketing
Planning your business is vital. First start researching the market. Look at your competitiors websites, Amazon, ebay, look around from a customer perspective and work out why the customer will buy from you as opposed to the competition. Obvious things will spring to mind – better prices, better service, better products, more relevant products, better availability, bigger selection, exclusivity, longer warranty and list goes on. These are you unique selling points.
Write a business plan. This is especially important if you are seeking investment or have a need to communicate plans with partners and other stakeholders.
One of the key things to remember is this, don’t be put off by competition. If anything, it should encourage you by proving to you there is a big market for your product. If there is no competition,. the chances are there isn’t much of a market. But then again, there may be massive barriers to entering the market plus it being a tiny niche may indeed make a very good business for you. By selling on the web, even tiny niches can make you a great livelihood. Just think carefully about what you are proposing to sell, does it lend itself to the web? If products are in demand but are too niche for a high street retailer, you are probably going to do well on-line.
Setting up your e-commerce store
The great thing about entering a market from new, is that you can stand on the shoulders of giants! By this I mean that you need to set out to make the best e-commerce store in your industry. How do you do that? Easy! Look at the bets e-commerce stores in your target market – then make yours better. You have a fantastic starting point with your competition. So steal their good ideas, improve them if you can and maker them your own!
WARNING: Don’t go for cheap/free e-commerce packages!
The leaders in your marketplace will not be using these types of packages for their e-commerce store. They will be using a heavyweight package with great richness and features will full flexibility so you can make your e-commerce business do exactly what it needs to.
It's very time consuming and may be expensive to change your e-commerce solution later. If you are serious about selling online and making money don't make the common mistakes:
- starting with an underpowered solution, expensive or impossible to expand
- starting with a "free" solution that get very expensive as soon you add many products, have many custommers, getting sales or need small extra features
Spend your time wise
Spend your time building your business, not your web site or web shop. Let proffessionals help you to do what they are good at and spend your time on things that only you can do - build your business, do marketting, find and keep contact with your custommers, make sales!
Find a good partner who can offer you apealing, easy to use, flexible and future proof solution. Make sure you can get reliable, long term support - it's crucial for your success. This kind of help is well invested money and not so expensive in the long run. It will save you a lot of worries and time.
Get your website designed and built to be industry leading. That’s exactly where 01media come in, contact us about setting up your e-commerce business.
Running your e-commerce store
When your design and build are ready to hit the market, you need the E-commerce Wheel of Fortune! This is a guide to exactly the activities you need to spend time on in order to make your business successful. The real hard work begins now – but don’t worry, it will all be worth it!
Selection - Spend time making sure you have a great selection of products. Give customers what they want and a vast selection can be a great way of picking up little pockets of business or the “long tail” as it is called. So make sure there is something for everyone.
Now if you are using a drop shipping model (where your suppliers are shipping the goods directly to you customer on your behalf), then it should be possible for you to increase your selection without increasing your fixed costs and overheads – so if using this model, make sure you take advantage of it by increasing your range as much as possible.
If on the other hand you are a traditional business which stocks products, you can still increase your selection, just make sure you properly manage cash flow and stock levels. There is nothin worse than being out of stock or making customers wait (see point 3 for more).
Price - Price is probably the biggest factor when customers choose to buy online and especially when you are selling the same product as your competitors or a very close matching product. So spend your time hammering your suppliers on price.
Call them up and ask them how you can lower the price. Negotiate hard with them, after all it’s your margin at stake! Be well informed when talking to your suppliers and don’t be afraid to walk away. Be prepared to give a little away to get more back. So often you might be able to lower prices significantly if you commit to buying more stock, but there are also tons of other factors you can negotiate on. Don’t forget your suppliers are too compeitiong with each other for your business so use it. You don't ask you don't get, so spend time getting lower prices for your goods.
Research other suppliers, maybe in the far-east, global sources and any other way to find alternatives. Spending time working on price often means seeking out better suppliers.
Customer Service & Delivery – Spend time makiing your customer service the best in the industry, it’s really important for customers to get the best service. Maybe you can offer your customers same day delivery, next day or a cheaper option – at least try to give them options.
Try out different courier companies to work out who gives you the best service and therefore your customers the best service. See if you can lower costs by delivering your packages to local courier depots.
Think very hard about what your customers want and need and make sure you provide a veryt good service. A good service means, make sure when they call they get through to someone quickly, and not just anyone, someone who can answer all their questions and serve them properly.
Try to give them something unexpected, in a way the customer will feel like they owe you a favour. Give them something nice, make it personalised and make sure it is given in a genuine way as how it is given is vitally important. Make sure you are the first to give and that it is unexpected.
You know when restaurants started giving a free tea or chocolate after dinner, average tips increased by 40%. Make you customers feel special! After all, you are a small startup business so you need to make sure you provide top customer service, be better than your competition. This is very important in gaining repeat business and word of mouth referrals.
Availability – Make sure what you sell is in stock and readily available. How by forecasting what you are planning to sell and making sure there is enough buffer in place to cope with any unexpected demand.
If cash is a major issue, then negotiate with your suppliers. If they stand firm on price them negotiate on other factors such as availability so that you will make sure you are never out of stock. Being out of stock creates a very negative customer perception about your business.
Availability is not just about stock, it’s about you, your staff and your website – just make sure they are all available. Making sure your website is always available involves properly managing your hosting and having a separate development of live environment, plus making sure there are off site backups of your website. These are all very important disaster management processes that ensure your website is always available.
Discovery – This is a very big topic area and covers a very broad range of online and offline marketing areas. Discovery is all about how potential customers find your business. There are some broad principles that need to be followed and only one rule – Make sure your marketing spend delivers a return on investment – easier said than done!
Discovery perhaps makes up a large chunk of the 5 things you need to work on as a new e-commerce retailer. Before we go into more detail about online and offline marketing, a few words about discovery via marketplaces. The truth is many people starting out in e-commerce begin trading on Amazon and eBay. This is a great way to get started and even when your own website channel is established, continue to do this. Exploiting multi-channels like online marketplaces and other shopping aggregators is a great way to be discovered.
Online and Offline Marketing
Running a successful on line business means becoming expert in online marketing – like it or not! Each area of on-line marketing is a broad topic which I could write a book about! So here is a brief outline of each area you as the e-commerce retailer can focus your time on:
SEO - Make sure your website is well optimised for SEO. This involves doing very careful work on your website to ensure it can be best picked up by Google and other search engines. This is a massive topic area. Ensure your business has a Google + (Google Places) listing so it can be easily found locally and that it is well optimised.
PPC – This is basically advertising using pay-per-click. It can be search engine driven , display advertising, display re-marketing. Google Adds and AdWords, as well as FaceBook marketting are suing this type of payment.
Social Media - Get people engaged in you and your company using Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Youtube, LinkedIn and other social media channels. Get good content on there, make regular updates, post engaging content that prompts responses and actions, run special offers, competitions, sweepstakes and more to keep people interested.
Blogger outreach - Often considered part of good SEO is reaching out to people who have blog sites which are relevant to your customers. Contact them and just introduce what you do and see if you can strike up a deal. Maybe they will write about you, post links to your site or let you have some display advertising. Offer them affiliate program, free samples for review etc. This is reall effective way to get more customers and also get higher Google search rank.
Off-line forms of advertising and promotion usually don’t work as well as on-line. Mainly because with on-line you can capture more data and intent about customers. Nothing is better than search because customers are expressing their demand for your products by searching for them.
However off-line marketing can work really well. Having had some good successes and really bad failures with it, one thing that is vital is that your off-line marketing is as well targeted as possible. It need to be at the right place and right time.
Newspapers & Magazines – Create a Press Release and make sure they are relevant and contextually targeted and then send it to lots of local and even national newspapers. For example, if yous sell a health product, make sure you get your get your article/ad/infomercial into a newspapers health supplement, then you will more than likely target the right people.
Newspaper advertising is a little bit of a shot in the dark and my personal opinion is that it doesn’t work very well for the amount it usually costs. If you are going to do it, make sure you have deep pockets, lots of patience and do it consistently. Using QR codes on newspaper and magazine ads are a good idea too to get people onto your website quickly. Just make sure you have a good mobile optimised website or are taking them to a very specific mobile optimised page which has continuity with the ad.
Flyers & Leaflets – The annoying things that are posted through your letter box. Depending on your campaign, aiming for a 2% hit rate is realistic, so 2 inquiries out of every 100 flyer drops or leaflets you post.
Make sure your flyers and leaflets have a special difference about them , something fun or just something people would really like to receive. Ensure you include written testimonials from real customers. When uncertain, people always look to the actions and behaviour of similar others and it is an important selling tool for your business.
TV & Radio - Good for creating awareness and on a par with leaflets in a way as people are not expecting to receive your communication and were probably not looking for it. If you get the right channel you could be in luck. Sometimes TV ads can be much cheaper than you think so at the very least taregt some channels and make the inquiry.
Display Ads – Can be anywhere from billboards to roundabouts to calenders, pens and business cards! Try to think of a clever way to use them to get the best impact for your business.
A good option might be to do some sponsorship. Sponsor a local club or you could offer your product as the prize for a local contest. This has the potential to raise good feeling and sentiment locally for your business and people really do like to support local small businesses.
You can also find other ways to develop local community exposure, just get involved and the rest will flow! Nowadays, advertisers are using ever creative ways to do display ads, from mobile billboards to immersion technology.
Trade shows – These can be great to drum up business for you and engage with people in person is the best way to sell. Make the most of networking. People talking to others and spreading information about your company this way has the great potential to bring in lots of new business.
- Newsletters – Send a regular newsletter to show how much you really value your customers (this can also be online)
Never sell your time for money. Your time is precious and limited. Make an e-commerce store successful and you will make money while you sleep, what could be better?
Article by Murad Kemal