To the internet entrepreneur, Ecommerce is an expansive frontier waiting to be tamed. However raw the marketplace is though, it is important to recognize that internet retail is not too different from brick & mortar retail. At Ecommerce Partners, we can attest to the capability of the internet to provide a solid online business with enough customers to flourish. What few retailers fail to realize is an online storefront takes more care and planning than their physical storefront. While there is less overhead, the clientÃ¨le is more fickle. While more people see your product, a lower percentage of them will actually buy something. These differences mean you have to take more care in constructing your users’ online shopping experience, and adjust your attitude towards the new age of retail.
Here are some ways you can prepare yourself and your business for Ecommerce success:
1. Plan ahead:
We get calls from potential clients who have product launches 2 months out and they want full-featured websites to be ready in time for their first shipment and television commercials. It just doesn’t work like that. The design process alone can take up to 2 months for a product that depends heavily on branding. Functional specifications, estimations, scheduling, and pre-production revisions all take time – not to mention you also have to wait in line for development with the other projects your chosen firm has taken on. Then there is the quality assurance and bug fixing. If you want a truly realized website, give your project 5 months minimum.
2. Invest in your storefront:
‘What can I get for $3000?’ Nothing. Your Ecommerce website is a storefront like any other. How much money would you invest in a brick & mortar establishment? My guess is over $200,000. You don’t need nearly that much of an investment in your Ecommerce store, but it is important to keep that perspective. Half as much will get you something truly respectable. With equal parts design, development and marketing, a solid investment will ensure a solid showing on the internet marketplace. Remember that you’re not only paying for hours put in during the actual development and design, but also the planning, strategizing and quality assurance. The mentality towards approaching an Ecommerce project should not be that of reducing costs, but instead to increase profits.
3. It’s more than just a website:
Once you have your online store, as wonderful as it is, nobody is going to know you exist unless you get the word out. Search engine optimization, search engine submission, paid advertisements, promotions, email campaigns and word-of mouth all play a vital role in getting customers to your store. Without a diverse approach to attracting customers, your site will simply fail to make you money. It is also worth noting that without an astronomical budget for all of this marketing or brand recognition, an unfocused target audience is equally as dooming. The game has progressed enough to the point where it takes a significant investment to break into a general market. Know who your customers are/will be and market directly to them.
4. Respect the marketplace:
I hear a lot of strange comments from hopeful Ecommerce website owners; they have this spiteful view of internet customers, assuming that if they cast their net wide enough, they’ll catch a few sucker fish. The methods they use include attaching suspect handling costs to every shipment to make up for their suspicious discounts, or using sub-par imaging to represent their product. These Ecommerce evils stem from the perception that the internet is still an untapped market; a lawless frontier with nothing but enthusiasm drawing the masses to digital storefronts. This is *so* 1998. The internet has matured. Quality of service and presentation will earn you a solid customer base that will be hard to shake.
5. Progress impresses more than sensation:
Even the most beautiful websites begin to feel like derelict galleons after months without any updates. Ecommerce is not a one-off setup process; you need to display your commitment to your product, brand and business by frequently updating the features and call-outs on your site. Not only does this let your customers know that your site is a priority to YOU, it opens up more of your inventory to the eyes of the public who normally don’t browse past 2 clicks. Even with a small stream of traffic, you can convert more idle browsing customers into paying customers by impressing them with your commitment.
6. Don’t be nosy:
A common tendency of Ecommerce sites is to ask for too much information from their customers. Do you really need your customers to create an account in order to shop with you? Is their phone number absolutely required? Beyond the basics of paying for the order and getting the order to their doorstep, the rest is really not your business. Studying page analytics tells us that one of the largest customer drop-offs in the order processing sequence is at pages that request irrelevant personal information to the purchasing process. The abandonment rate triples if you ask for anything more than the basics. Consumers are suspicious and on-edge from the nightly reports of identity theft, but they are willing to pay you for your product as long as you don’t impose yourself on them.
7. Inform and educate:
Your customers can’t touch, taste or test your product over the internet, so the next best thing you can do for their shopping experience is to educate them. People shop with a variety of priorities (for example, I bought my MP3 player based on battery life alone) so it is important to reach out for those who are searching for the answers to their questions. If you answer their question first, you will get the sale. The way you portray the information about your products also reflects your competence as a retailer. Describe your products objectively on the product detail pages and leave the ‘salesman talk’ to your call-outs and external advertisements.
As the market fills out and the leaders are defined, we’ll begin to see with impunity that quality of service wins the day on the internet. With an infinitely networked social environment and the only prime electronic real estate represented by arbitrary words followed by a dot com, the only things that truly matter in Ecommerce are recognition and customer experience. If you run an online store, or see one in your future, I hope this article has helped by illuminating one or two dark corners in your understanding of the market. Most of this appears to be common sense, but it doesn’t always occur to someone unless they’re immersed in the industry like I am, so I am happy to spread the knowledge. I wish you all great success.