The ecommerce store owner’s guide
You’ve done some looking around, worked out what you can sell and finally decided you want to hop into the world of e-commerce. For many that’s enough and they dive into it without realising that, just like a bricks and mortar store, an online store requires every bit as much effort, possibly more, than its analogue counterpart.
An online store has its own set of rules and upkeep’s just like a physical store and, unlike what many may think or be led to believe, once your store is live the work has not finished, if anything, it’s just begun. Here are somethings you should consider before deciding to take the plunge…
1. Do you have a reliable 27/7 internet connection?
This is the most simple and one so easily overlooked. You will need to be tied to a solidly reliable connection and provider. Downtime, any down time, means not being able to connect with not only your store but also your customers. Some providers are better than others and some plans are better than others. Do your research and find out which is the best option for where you are – downtime can become expensive and you will have little recourse if your telco is rubbish.
2. Do you have a marketing strategy?
Launching your store can be likened to shooting a rocket into space. It’s an achievement to get it launched but once it’s on its way, it needs somewhere to go to. An online store not backed up by some sort of marketing strategy is a dead duck. Even with the best SEO practices, your store is one in thousands and you will be purely relying on someone, somewhere, finding it.
Like any business, you need a marketing strategy to reach your audience, with out it the road to sales success will be slow, if at all.
3. Is your supply chain reliable?
What are you selling? Does it need to be made or do you need to stock it? Do you have enough stock? We have seen many examples where a stores success has almost been its undoing. Where everything was right and the sales flooded in, the inability to meet the demand almost sunk the operation. While this is a ‘nice problem to have’, it can prove disastrous for the unprepared as online shoppers can be very unforgiving and a bad experience can taint your store’s reputation for a long time.
4. Are your back end processes in place?
Linked to #3 are your backend processes, the mundane things that keep a store ticking over such as packing and shipping. Like your stock, the ability to package up and dispatch what people are buying is very important. How are your products packaged, how are they shipped. Is it cost effective? Who ships the orders, how often? These are all things that many people think they can work out as they go but experience has shown us that having this fully worked out before you hit the launch button will save many headaches down the road.
5. Are you able to communicate effectively through email?
Online stores work for you 24/7, which means people can visit your store anytime. As a result, email is your friend as quite often visitors will want to ask questions outside of the working day; you will need to correspond with these potential customers over email.
To be able to communicate effectively over email can be the difference to closing a sale or never hearing back. What makes effective email communication?
- Ability to engage the sender.
- Convey the feeling of friendly and helpfulness
- Provide the information requested in simple terms.
- And the single most important element: Communicate with clear, well punctuated, correctly spelt language. Nothing reflects more poorly on you, and your store, than a poorly written email.
6. Can you respond immediately?
Online stores are about immediacy, they do not sleep and visitors often have short attention spans before they move on. If a potential customer makes contact with you, be sure you are able to respond quickly. If you can’t, make sure that this is made clear at the point of contact on the website, otherwise it will look like you are either not serious or do not care.
7. Can you copywrite?
The internet is a strange mix of visual and written information. A visitor to your store will read about your products and store as much as they will look at the pretty pictures. From product information to payment, shipping options and terms and conditions, a website or ecommerce store has quite a large amount of written information contained within it. This information can be the decider for many if they spend with you or not.
The ability to present copy in and a clear, easily understandable manner is key. While most of this writing should take place before your store launches, you will find that being an organic thing the copy will evolve over time, as you begin to understand your audience. For example, with our store, we found that a good number of sales were coming from parts of the world where English was not a first language, so we worked hard to minimise complex text and break it down into easily translatable chunks (via Google Translate). For more critical areas such as payment options, we eliminated text altogether and designed info-graphics that say the same things without words at all.
If you are not confident in writing text, find someone who is and remember, read, re-read and read it again, before posting it.
8. Are you able to maintain your store?
One can tell a store where the owners are not capable of ‘maintaining’ it themselves, as they often look outdated, areas are left incomplete, or some parts just look untidy.
If you are launching an online store, make sure YOU can maintain at least the basic aspects of it to ensure it does not look unattended; services like Pixelated Commerce’s WP Management,can keep the technical aspects of your site updated at all times, but you are responsible for keep the site’s content fresh and in order. You would not open a shop and let it become shabby, so why do the same online?
9. Can you keep your store fresh?
Closely tied to #4, a website, especially an online store, needs to be kept fresh. Depending on the design it may not always be applicable, but a once yearly refresh can be a good idea for smaller stores to keep them looking crisp and up to date. Some site designs though can be so simple and clean that there is not much to refresh, so in these instances try to keep things active with new images once in a while or, if you have a blog attached, regular postings to give the feeling that people are actually ‘at home’.
Sites that are left to sit after they are launched begin to look unattended if things never change, from a customer’s point of view, this gives a bad look.
10. Be prepared to relaunch!
Lastly, and this is perhaps the number one thing you must be be prepared to accept, websites are organic and as patterns change so do they. Be prepared to dump your website and start again if you are finding what you have does not work.
Regardless of how much money or time has been spent on your shiny new website, if it’s not working, for whatever reason, be prepared to redo it because it’s not going to make you any money. In preparing a rebuild, make sure you fully investigate all the issues that are not working and redesign according to them – there is little point doing a rebuild and making the same mistakes!