Who Said Online Commerce Was Easy?
There’s no doubt that you’ve recently stumbled upon an ad that exclaimed how EASY it is to transact business on the web. You may have also recently followed this white rabbit only to find that there’s more behind the curtain than you expected. There is a current perpetuation of sleek marketing designed only to pull you in, not to help you succeed. In the end nobody wins when you, the business owner, is unable to successfully setup, sell and market your services online. The online store vendor loses a customer, and the business owner loses faith in the power of selling online.
So why is an ecommerce company writing this blog, especially when part of their spiel is how easy their platform is to use? First off, we believe in truth in advertising. Honesty is always the best policy. Second, it is important to us that you are successful in your online endeavors. Your win is our win. We can’t survive without a successful base of online stores. Lastly, we feel it is critical to underscore the best practices for deploying and managing a site that will help you achieve your goals. So now, without further ado, we’re going to lay it out, right here, in front of everyone.
Truth Number One – The Platform
The platform is the first part of the equation that enhances your ability to sell and marketing your goods and services. By far, the base expectation is that the platform be easy to use and manage. The platform should address all modern shopping concerns which can be summarized (but not limited to) the following:
Mobile Responsive Shopping Experience – Your users should be able to browse and order items with the same ease that they would on a desktop.
Maximum Product Flexibility – You should never encounter a situation where your ecommerce system can’t handle the product or service you’re trying to sell
Ability to Sell Anywhere – It may not be your first concern, but the ability to sell to international customers will eventually come up if your store experiences success. Ensure that you’re ready to handle that situation should it present itself.
Vendor Agnostic – Many ecommerce platforms limit your ability to sell to a limited set of vendors. Make certain that if you use multiple vendors to fulfil your orders that you can without issue.
Confidence in Taxation – Billing your customer after the order has complete for taxes is not an option. Your ecommerce platform should provide solid, real-time calculations for you.
Modern ecommerce Experience – In the world of online retailers such as Amazon, users have become accustomed to a process that involves a simple browse-to cart-to purchase workflow. Make sure your vendor provides the same ease of use.
The platform is just the first component of selling online. It is the base from which everything starts and grows. Just because your platform enables you to do all of these great things, it will not be the only factor in the success of your online business.
Truth Number Two – The Business Plan
All too often people make the leap to join the online selling frenzy without knowing what they’re getting into. They have an idea they feel is solid, but a tangible business plan isn’t even yet drawn on a napkin. The primary thought is “Hey, I can just sell my stuff on the internet. I’m going to be rich”! Some people will get lucky, but who has time for luck? Perhaps you’ve already considered these points, and we hope you have, but just in case – here they are:
Know what you’re selling and who you’re selling it to – Does your product / service set have an audience? If so, are you confident in how you’ll reach them?
Do the math – There’s a myth that your product has to be the cheapest out there to win. It starts with understanding your costs. Your margin has to do more than cover your operational costs. You’re in this to make money. These costs can be classified in two ways:
Hard Costs – This refers to physical assets, overhead and labilities you’ll run into when doing business online.
Soft Costs – In other words, your time, your effort and any other costs not necessarily embedded in the margin your product provides
Operating Policy – While boring and often overlooked until necessary you’re going to need a plan that covers your operating policy. Some examples might be:
Refund Policy – your customer isn’t happy. How do you handle returns and guarantee of product?
Terms and Conditions – these are general rules that your customers need to know about how you do business. It should cover everything from the state(s) you operate in, how you handle disputes, your limitation of liability and other disclaimers.
Resources – You should already know the resources you plan to use in order to ensure your orders are fulfilled and your customers are happy. These resources might fall into the following categories:
Employees / Staff
Vendors / Suppliers
Shipping / Logistics
Materials and Cost of Goods
Legal – Sometimes a costly and potentially scary topic, but unfortunately necessary. Make sure you have a lawyer in your back pocket should the need arise.
Business License and Incorporation– Among other things, you absolutely must abide by your state and federal guidelines for properly registering and operating your business before you commit to selling online.
Insurance – It’s not a matter of if something will happen, but WHEN it will happen. Always insure your product and your business in the case of disaster.
We don’t typically take trips across the country without a map or understanding of where we’re going. Why would running an online store be any different? Always enter uncharted territory with a plan. A wise person has been quoted to say “Those that fail to plan, plan to fail”.
Truth Number Three – Sales and Marketing
I’m always surprised that this topic is often an afterthought of new online store owners. There is a common misconception that you’re suddenly going to rank on page 1 when someone searches a keyword remotely similar to your brand. I’m going to set the record straight in that just because you have an online store does not mean that people instantly know about you.
We’ve compiled a short list of things you should be aware of when marketing in this space. Keep in mind that we’re only giving you the tip of the iceberg here. It will be up to you to properly research your industry / market and perform the necessary due diligence in ensuring people find your home on the internet.
Search Optimization (SEO) – You should know that people finding you via web searches takes time, money and a great amount of effort. It is a literal mad dash that really requires a qualified professional’s help.
AdWords and Online Advertising – Hands down this is the fastest way to get people to your site, especially if you’re brand new. This instant gratification comes with a cost, however. AdWords are not cheap when you’re dealing with prominent keywords and you’re paying for clicks, which do not always convert into a real sale.
Social Media – Your use of this may depend on the type of space your business is in. Not all businesses can benefit from social media marketing. Evaluate and plan accordingly.
Direct Mail and Email – Sometimes considered ancient means for marketing, they can be very valuable tools. Again, this channel requires a good understanding of your customer, how they order and your general product mix.
Putting a Bow on the Business
Can you be successful selling online? Absolutely. Is it easy? Not always.
Your platform should be the easiest part of managing your business and should accommodate most every facet of your operation from setup to sale. The balance of tasks at hand depend on you, the business owner, to accomplish your own share of sweat equity, which sometimes also carries a high financial burden.
Are we discouraging operating a business online? Never! We’re simply aiming to make sure that you understand that online sales can be just as challenging as operating a physical location. You need to know that work is involved and that, at the end of the day, your success shouldn’t be guaranteed by your platform, but by you and the work that you put into your business.