Selling something online. Sounds easy, right? In many ways it is, and in many others the path on eCommerce success can be fraught with potholes. If you’re considering starting your own online store, consider these quick tips for building a successful eCommerce site.
#1: Find your niche
The biggest mistake most businesses make when venturing online is spreading themselves too thin. E-commerce sites face huge competition, with millions of online stores operating worldwide, and there are very few sites that sell many things well (see Amazon.com and a few big box retailers). This means, without a massive advertising budget, there are really only two types of products you will sell with success:
- One-of-a-kind products that you either make yourself or have exclusive rights to sell. For a great local example of this, see www.FoodyGardenTowers.com. This Wenatchee-based company makes a unique type of gardening tower for growing plants indoors, and they only have a few comparable competitors.
- A specific product niche that you enter with laser-like focus. Why? Search engines love e-commerce sites that are very specific. Try, for example, googling “buy corset online.” The top four results are all for online stores that only sell corsets. What you won’t see at the top of the list: Amazon.com or some generic fashion retailer that sells corsets (among many other things). In fact, one of those search results is for www.OrchardCorset.com, which is based right here in Wenatchee.
#2: Pick an easy-to-use shopping cart
Here’s the good news: the barriers to getting your online store up and running have become really small, and some great tools exist to help you sell online. Once upon a time you needed a website developer (or four), three months and at least $20,000 to get a store up and running.
Now you can be up and running in a week or less with an upfront investment counted in the hundreds, not thousands of dollars. Fully-hosted and supported e-commerce website builders like Shopify, BigCommerce and 3dcart offer website templates that look great “out of the box,” are fully integrated with credit card processors and shipping calculators and offer excellent support, all for about $100 a month.
#3: Get some help … but take ownership
As a self-professed e-commerce expert, I know this sounds self-serving, but get some help from a pro if you’re ready to get online. Yes, the aforementioned e-commerce store builders are great, but they won’t make it easy for you in the following areas:
- Shipping. This is perhaps the trickiest part of setting up a new store. If you’re going to generate real-time rates from UPS or the U.S. Postal Service, you’ll want some technical help, as it can be a complicated process. Also, I have yet to see a shopping cart that fully solved a store’s shipping needs without some customization and tweaking.
- SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Here’s a mostly-accurate saying: Everything matters to search engines. Unless you know what “everything” is, enlisting some help to make sure your site is built and structured correctly from the start can help you get noticed sooner.
- Tax, payments and a thousand check boxes. The reality is, your shiny new e-commerce website has a seemingly endless array of settings, including numerous ways to set up payments, calculate taxes, set up your products and send notifications to your customers. It can be helpful to have someone walk you through this process on best practices.
All this said, your success online will primarily come down to your interest and investment. In my experience, the most successful online stores are run by people who (surprise) put consistent, daily effort into improving their site and marketing their business online. Before you take the plunge, make sure you’re ready for the challenge. Your online store isn’t a simple “set it and forget it” proposition.