Ecommerce doesn’t have to be hard. Having an online store can cost you virtually nothing and put you in touch with customers from all over the world.
While you still need a strong marketing strategy and a great product (or products) to sell, there is much less to lose when you opt for a digital store over a traditional one. Here’s how you can launch your very own online store in seven simple steps.
1. Choose your products wisely: commercial acumen meets passion
You have to sell the right products in order to succeed as a merchant. Don’t be blinded by a pet project and forget to analyze your product from a commercial angle.
Here are some questions you should ask yourself before launching an online store:
- Is there a healthy market for your product online right now? Some niches aren’t that open to online disruptors, but you might have more success if you change the conversation slightly (like offering a subscription box model instead of a traditional single purchase item).
- Designing a new product for your new venture? Have you validated your product idea with your target market? A great idea is only great if people are willing to pay for it.
- Has the product got healthy profit margins? Can you sell enough of the product to make ends meet?
- Will you make the product yourself or work with a wholesaler/dropshipping supplier? Dropshipping can be a great option for online store owners as it removes the need to store inventory – but it does eat into your profits. Selling homemade products is all well and good, as long as you are able to keep up with demand (which can cripple you surprisingly quickly, especially in the beginning).
- Where you sell will have a big impact on what products to choose – platforms like Etsy and Amazon have totally different audiences.
- Passion isn’t everything, but are you at least interested in the product? Running an ecommerce brand takes work, and you will quickly become bored if the products hold no interest for you. Most of the best ecommerce entrepreneurs are product and brand advocates.
2. Know your market: validation & benchmarking
Market research – do you know the golden rules? Market research is a super important step that needs to be tackled alongside product validation. It should provide you with a blueprint for your ecommerce success.
If you want your store to stand out from the crowd and gain traction, you’ve got to familiarize yourself with your competition. Look at all of the big marketplaces, as well as the smaller ecommerce brands who offer your product. What are the USPs of these different stores, and how will you be able to compete with them? (Look at content, usability, social media, SEO – get really granular with your analysis).
The key to success is accurate market segmentation – choose a narrow niche, and meet its needs well. Any website can sell a broad range of generic products, so your customers need a reason to come to you over anyone else.
Think about how you can use competitor research to help you design a better business from day one.
3. Decide how you will handle inventory: logistics first
Once you’ve settled on a product, you will need to form a plan for order fulfillment and inventory. You need the right logistical framework that will allow for growth and expansion, but you also need a system that’s manageable in your business’s early stages.
Storage rent getting you down? See if you can get shared warehouse deals to lighten the rent load; many entrepreneurs start with storing inventory at home (if you can deal with all the boxes – go for it).
Handling all of the inventory yourself may not be the best option. Many ecommerce merchants choose to work with a dropshipping supplier. Dropshipping means that the product goes straight from the supplier to the customer – just make sure you find one who is reliable who’ll let you apply your own branding to the products.
Make sure you offer loads of different shipping options, and don’t forget to factor in shipping returns as well. Shipping will eat into your profit margins, but not having reliable shipping may damage your brand.
4. Where to sell: Audience and technologies
You’ve got a ton of different ecommerce sales channels and platforms to choose from – choose a platform that makes the most sense for your audience.
Online store options
You can go self-hosted with ecommerce, which is fine as long as you know what you’re doing. This will usually involve downloading a WordPress plugin that gives your existing website ecommerce functionality or building out a custom store in code (more open source ecommerce options here).
If you’re not so confident, you could try using a hosted ecommerce platform instead (Shopify is a good example), that makes it easy to create an online store from scratch. Choose from a range of customizable design templates that automatically scale for tablets and smartphones.
Marketplace selling can help you build up sales capital and brand awareness, but don’t believe the hype about making millions on Amazon in minutes. Other than the obvious ones like Amazon, have you considered selling on niche online marketplaces?
Selling via social profiles like Facebook and Pinterest is great for entrepreneurs who can create a native community with meaningful content.
5. Customer experience first: connecting & serving
The best ecommerce brands operate with a ‘customer’s first’ brand culture. Don’t go into ecommerce if you aren’t into exeptional customer service. It’s a demanding industry that takes it out of you – you need to be absolutely committed to serving up a great brand experience.
One of the key things that you need to keep in mind is customer experience. Go the extra mile and be ambitious about how you want to make people feel when they shop with you.
Start with the basics like having an awesome customer service and support plan that never sleeps. Use live chat software like LiveChat to help you serve customers 24/7 – commerce is getting more and more conversational, and customers will thank you for factoring in speedy response times. Use social media as another great way to connect with your customers.
Think about how all the little things that you do make a difference to your customers. Free gifts and promotions are nice, but don’t always reach for the easy wins. Focus on creating relationships and offering value. Here are ten great ways to improve your online customer experience.
6. Create your brand: perception and value
There’s no need to spend lots of time over-engineering your brand. Think about what sort of tone and aesthetic is likely to appeal to your target demographic.
- Color scheme – When choosing your brand colors, a good first step is to look at color psychology. Is your brand creative? Energetic? Sophisticated? Feminine? Find a color that reflects what you want your visitors to feel in association with your products.
- Tone of voice – Use a tone of voice that will resonate with your audience. If in doubt, keep it simple. You will likely do better with a straightforward and down-to-earth tone of voice than one that tries too hard. Use a free grammar checker like Grammarly to avoid typos.
- Logo – In an ideal world, you would employ a graphic designer to create your logo for you. But if you’re doing this on the cheap, there are ways to create very simple text-based logos for nothing. Try a free logo maker and see what you can come up with – you might find it gives you some good ideas.
- Multi-channel branding – Once you’ve established your brand identity, use these elements across channels – on your website, social media, product labels, etc. – to keep your image consistent and recognizable.
- Imagery – Have you considered using smartphone imagery for your product imagery and social content? You might be surprised by the results.
7. Get the word out
There’s a lot of work to be done in maintaining a steady online audience. Here are some inexpensive ecommerce marketing methods to try.
- Learn from Gary Vee & dominate social media with a “jab, jab, jab, right hook” mentality and give more than you take. Offer real insight and commentary on social media – only go promotional right at the very end once awareness levels have been raised. Always consider carefully what platforms are going to work best for your brand and niche before diving in. More social media strategy gems here.
Engage with influencers – Reach out to popular bloggers and website owners to enquire about an article or feature with a link back to your store. Some may ask for money, others may not. Backlinks build your domain authority, which can boost your rankings in Google.
- Try PPC (Pay Per Click) – It can take a while for Google and other search engines to index a new website, so you may want to consider giving yourself a boost using PPC ads. New advertisers are usually given free ad credits, so you can try this out to see if it works for you before deciding whether to keep doing it further down the line.
Launching an online store is about strategy
- Passion is important, but you have to make ecommerce decisions from a commercial, not passion angle. Validate your product with your market before you do anything.
- Sort out your technology and logistics so that you can focus on brand growth. Make smart choices from day one – think two-three years down the line with your business processes.
- Invest in great, personal customer service; use tools and software to help you be smarter about great service.
- Focus on brand psychology and the values behind your branding to make sure you’re connecting with the right people.
- Use the power of social (and social influencers) to create a content community around your brand.
Planning on setting up an online shop anytime soon? Tell us about your experiences and any customer experience hacks you’ve discovered!