You’re just about ready to launch your online store – you have your products and website ready to go – so what could you possibly be missing? We asked online merchants what ideas and concepts they didn’t understand until after they opened their online store and we got some interesting responses.
They say hindsight is 20/20 vision, so let’s learn from the experiences of successful online retailers who share: the 10 things I wish I knew before opening an ecommerce site.
1) "Business plans are not just for business students.”
Have a well thought out business plan. Sounds cliché but true. It’s easy to think that your online business will just play out but a detailed business plan is your ticket to success. It should cover everything you need to plan, strategize and launch your online store. A business plan will also make you ask yourself questions that you may not have thought of before. Plan for a successful online store with these 10 steps to write your ecommerce business plan.
2) “Know your business well but know your competitors better.”
Have an in-depth understanding of similar products and services available to customers. Consider businesses that do what you do but also those that can take can replace your business. Once you pinpoint your competitors, learn everything you can about them, such as:
- Where do they advertise?
- How do they handle customer service?
- What features does their site have?
- How do they price their products?
- How is their site better? How is yours?
Also, gauge your competitors’ marketing efforts. One of the greatest tools recommended by a store owner is SEMRush, which provides full reports on a company’s SEM and SEO efforts.
3) “SEO is not just another acronym.”
Understand the importance of SEO (search engine optimization) from the get-go. As you just saw above, search engine optimization is essentially the lifeline of your online business. Be familiar with SEO best practices before you or your developer start your SEO efforts.
The following articles will help give you a clear understanding of SEO and how it can help your ecommerce site:
- The Ultimate Guide to SEO for E-commerce Websites by Kiss Metrics
- Perfecting On-Page Optimization for Ecommerce Websites by Moz
- 60 SEO Tips and Online Marketing Techniques for Ecommerce Websites by WebSEO Analytics
Something many merchants also wish they knew is that Google frequently change their rules. Make sure you’re always up to date on best practices by signing up for Google’s Webmaster Tools.
4) “Defrauders live in our world, too.”
Once you start selling online, you open up your “digital” doors to all types of people from all types of places. Just because you operate by certain a moral code does not mean everyone else does too. Be aware of people, namely defrauders, who operate unethically. Some examples of situations merchants found themselves facing include:
- Charge backs from unauthorized credit card use
- Damaged and undelivered package claims
- Customers returning goods in used condition
- Hackers looking to steal customer information
To prevent credit card chargebacks, be vigilant in spotting characteristics of “card not present” fraud. Large purchases, multiple purchases at a single time, and the sale of an item from a low traffic page are just a few examples. Keep in mind that as you set up roadblocks to prevent fraudulent activity, you make it harder for normal customers to make purchases. For example, secure passwords that keep out hackers – 8 characters long with a number, letter, and symbol – may also keep out customers.
5) “Walk a mile in your customers' shoes.”
It’s easy to get caught up in seeing things from your perspective. But when you start to consider any decision about your online store, be sure to think about the effect it will have on your customer. Create a persona, give them a name, and always consider what they think.
For example, to provide better personalized newsletters, a merchant required customers to fill in more information about themselves. Instead of learning more about customers, they drove them away. Once customers saw the number of required fields and the amount of private information they had to share, they simply abandoned the cart.
Another merchant decided to offset increased shipping costs by removing their shipping special. Customers now have to pay for shipping regardless of their purchase total. Although they expected a small drop in in orders, they did not expect the average order value to drop as well. They successfully offset shipping costs but ultimately lost revenue from decreased order totals.
Bottom line: Always consider how your decisions will affect your customer.
6) “Don’t underestimate the power of a personal touch.”
Selling through a digital storefront makes it easy to forget that customers are people - real, live human beings. The world of ecommerce can feel impersonal but that’s easy to change by adding a personal touch. It is a way to separate yourself from giant online stores like Amazon. Adding a personal touch may seem counterproductive because of the amount of time you spend, but it can go a long way.
Some merchants surprise customers with small gifts with each order. They don’t use it as a marketing ploy or a sales tactic but just a way of saying “thanks” for their patronage. These simple gestures keep customers coming back time and time again. This adds to the bottom line by saving countless dollars that would have otherwise been spent on acquiring new customers.
It is a simple concept but the challenge lies in its execution. Whether it is to your customer, your developer or your team, it’s important to take time to listen to what they have to say. When you’re providing customer service, take time to understand your customers’ problems. If you are unable to paraphrase your customers’ problem, you do not fully understand their issue. Taking time to listen will not only help you provide better service but lead to increased customer loyalty. You should also listen to your development team. It not only creates a good working relationship but speeds up the development process. Regardless of who you listen to, be sure to take it with a grain of salt. Understand their perspective and where their ideas/concerns stem from. Are they saying it to help improve your product/online store, or are they being lazy?
8) “You are as strong as your weakest link.”
Running a successful online store usually involves small teams of people. Your team is anyone who helped you get your online store ready for launch. This includes everyone from the photographer, to the developer and even your investor. The weakest link in your company isn’t necessarily the person who contributes the least or works the fewest amount of hours. It is the person who has a negative attitude. I don’t mean to start a crusade against anyone who has a bad day, because we all have those. Just be sure to take note of anyone who doesn’t believe in your product or service and brings down the company morale. Keep in mind that you are also part of the team and your morale matters. Try out these tips from Small Business Computing, to build a positive team for your online business.
9) “Done is better than perfect.”
In an ideal world, everything should operate like clockwork. You have quality images for your products, each product description is error free and SEO friendly, and your web site has a beautiful responsive design - down to the last pixel. However, in the real world, this is hardly ever the case. Problems come up and things don’t always go your way. As one merchant shares, learn early on that not everything has to be perfect. Simple product descriptions are better than no product descriptions. The same goes for social media. Acting and reacting to posts every day brings more value than a perfectly-timed and fancy social media campaigns. By settling for good enough, you get more done which leaves you more time to perfect the things that do matter. Is your site good enough? Ensure you have these 10 things customers look for on your ecommerce site.
10) “For every beginning, there is an ending.”
It’s tough to think about the end of your business just as you are starting up, but having a concrete exit strategy is important. Sure the exit strategy should be part of your business plan, but we’re showing you how important it is by including here again. The chance that you’ll pass down the business to your child, if they even want it, is very unlikely. The following piece of advice helped one merchant come to terms with the need for an exit strategy.
You are not the online business but rather an employee of the business. As an employee, what you invest into the company should be returned to you as the company starts making money. Whether you choose to run your business forever or sell it to someone, an exit strategy will help you see the bigger picture. When it comes to making important decisions, it will help you see past this week’s profits to make choices that will benefit you in the long run.
What advice will you take to heart? If you already own your online store, what advice would you share with new merchants? Tell us your stories in the comments below.