Setting up an online store, or expanding your existing business into selling your products online is not really that difficult, however, it is also an aspect that is frequently oversimplified and not researched well enough. Small businesses can actually be successful and even have an edge over the bigger online retailers. The key is in knowing and understanding the entire online process from start to finish as well as providing excellent customer service. Here are Ten Points to Consider When Setting Up Your Online Store.
- Sell Physical Products. Physical products tend to sell faster and provide a higher profit margin than non-physical products. Typically, conversion rates are higher, visitors know what they want, they find it, it meets their price expectations, and they complete the purchase. A properly set up shopping cart will be able to see as many as 90% of the transactions completed on the first customer’s visit.
- Absolutely Know Your Shopping Cart Platform. I can’t tell you how many people hire a company like MGR to set up a shopping cart for them and then they completely ignore the fact that they still need to learn how to operate the cart and learn the cart application inside out. It’s like buying any other piece of software (MS Word, Photoshop, etc.) and thinking that the software will just generate sales by itself. Of course it won’t! You still need to learn how to set up your products, add special offers, change pricing, descriptions, keep track of inventory, optimize it for Search Engines, understand how the payment transactions work, and overall, take full advantage of all the features and options that come included with your particular application. Whether you use Magento, X-Cart, BigCommerce, SoftCart, Shopify or any other provider, the bottom line is that the online store is “YOURS” and you will need to learn how to manage it and operate it just as you would manage a physical retail store.
- Timing is everything. No matter what type of product you sell and how many other e-Commerce retailers seem to dominate the online shopping arena, the truth is that e-Commerce is just getting started and there is still a lot of room to grow. Consider that in the USA, only about 8% of people buy products online and the number keeps growing every year.
- Target Average Orders Between $50 and $200. This is the average value of the entire order, and not just an individual product. Orders below that amount will probably end up costing you money when you factor in your advertising expenses to drive traffic to the cart. Orders much higher than $200 – $300 will also require a more solid customer service team to answer customers’ questions. People are also more hesitant to spend several hundred dollars online and the conversion rate of high ticket items decreases dramatically.
- Aim at a Profit Margin of 25% or More. This is really related to number 4 above. If you have a real thin profit margin below 20-25%, you will have a difficult time allocating the proper budget to advertise and promote your store. At the very least, you will want to use Google AdWords to promote your products online in addition to other online and Social Media channels. You will absolutely need to drive traffic to your store and driving traffic will cost you money. Plan for it and add it to your Income/Expense projections. See number 10 below.
- Cyclical Sales-Return Customers. Another advantage of selling online physical products is that you can focus on the types of products that will generate return customers on a certain sales cycle. Whether you sell a seasonal product, or a product that has a limited life span, establishing an online store with cyclical sales will almost guarantee steady income for you.
- Sell Rare or Difficult to Find Products. This is very important and often not very glamorous, but there are literally thousands of products that are just not available at your local shopping mall, yet customers will need and want to buy as soon as they find them. For example, just a few days ago, my garage door broke. I could hear the motor running but the door just wouldn’t open. I looked at it and I found out that the plastic gear mechanism that opens the door was just worn out. Of course, since there are dozens of garage door systems out there, I could have spent an entire day going from to all Home Depot, Lowe’s or ACE Hardware stores trying to find the little plastic gear replacement kit. Instead, I went online, typed in on Google the garage opener model number and I found several pages with matching results. I ended up buying the product online, the store even included a YouTube video explaining how to replace the part, and the price was low enough for me to “risk” buying the wrong part. Since those gears apparently have a life span of 3-4 years, chances are, when mine fails again, I will return to the same store to buy another one. Niche product + Search Engine results + affordable price + video marketing = satisfied customer.
- Avoid Selling Products that Weigh More than 10 lbs. This seems to be the consensus among e-Commerce experts. Shipping heavy products always adds additional challenges. Among other issues, heavy products are usually also bigger in size, they get damaged more frequently, shipping is more expensive and you will have a hard time offering “free shipping” as an incentive to your shoppers. That said, there’s nothing really wrong with selling heavier products though, it’s just a bigger hassle overall than when you ship smaller products. But if you have a particular niche that is profitable for you, weight will not be so much of a factor.
- Divide and Conquer. If you’re serious about selling products online, you will need to have a team dedicated to handle your online presence. At the very least, you should have a technical person with programming background, and a marketing person with e-Commerce experience. Although modern shopping cart platforms are relatively easy to use, once you start getting into custom modifications, things can start to get a bit complicated. The difference between an average online shopping cart and a GREAT and profitable online shopping cart is how much you’re able to modify it to meet yours and your customers’ needs. A programmer will be able to assist you with that whereas a marketing person will be able to come up with original sales ideas and marketing promotions to keep your customers engaged and constantly coming back.
- Advertise! Yes, you will need to advertise your online store. You may develop the most beautiful online store on the Internet, but the truth is that it will be very hard to actually create a profitable and growing e-commerce business unless you have a decent budget to buy advertising. You would think that once you have your own website you will attract lots of new customers but the reality is that customers are not really looking for you. You will need to look for them. Search Engine optimization, PPC campaigns, Social Media promotions, and overall, website and e-Commerce development and maintenance are expensive and time consuming. If you neglect to allocate a good portion of your marketing budget to promote your online products, you may see yourself allocating your last few marketing dollars to advertise the sale your failed e-commerce business.
Of course, I could write dozens and dozens of more tips about e-Commerce but I think the above list sums up quite well the types of situations that come across more frequently when I talk about this topic with my clients. Let me know what your own experience is. Do you have an online store or have you set up a store for another client? If you have any particular questions or if you’re planning on setting up an e-Commerce component for your business, feel free to contact me and I’ll be glad to discuss it with you.
Until next time, this is Manuel Gil del Real (MGR)