You may notice people occasionally make ecommerce sound like a foolproof get-rich-quick scheme — making claims such as: All you have to do is start a website and the money will start pouring in! Like most things in life, though, the truth is more complex than that.
While it is definitely possible to achieve serious success as an ecommerce retailer, it’s going to take more than throwing together a website and waiting for the millions to roll in. Namely, you’re going to have to get your website, marketing, and branding right to build a viable business.
Here’s a guide covering some of the most important aspects of making ecommerce work for you.
Decide What to Sell… and To Whom
We’d say that there are ecommerce stores in existence selling everything but the kitchen sink… except there are online stores selling those. The point is there are nearly endless options when it comes to products and services you can sell online. Some retailers choose products based on a personal passion or area of expertise; others simply choose what is profitable and in-demand.
Just as important as setting your product lineup is zeroing in on the exact audience to whom you’re trying to appeal. As experts say time and time again, it’s better to have a passionate, loyal group of repeat customers than it is to try to capture sales from just about anyone with an internet connection. Defining your niche audience down to their very specific wants, needs, demographics, and online behaviors will go a long way toward helping you capture their business.
Figure Out a Unique Value Proposition
You’ve nailed down the “what” and the “who.” Now it’s time to think about how you’ll make your products appeal to your target audience. Simply offering products in the hopes people will see their charm isn’t enough. You need a unique value proposition — also known as a unique selling proposition — to demonstrate exactly why people should patronize your brand rather than buying from the competition.
One of the biggest myths about how to start an ecommerce business is that the company with the lowest prices will win the most business. If this were true, companies would simply undercut each other in a race to the bottom — which obviously is not the case.
There are many reasons why people buy one product over another. Consider the example of a customer shopping for a water bottle. There are hundreds upon hundreds of different brands of water bottles out there. A small percentage of customers may just go for the absolute cheapest water bottle on the market, but others are going to prioritize value propositions like:
- Eco-friendly materials
- Insulation to keep beverages cold
- Hands-free drinking mechanisms
- Personalized designs
- Jumbo size
- Convenient carrying handle
- Large array of colors/patterns
- Used by influencers or trend setters
This example just shows you how many reasons shoppers can have for differentiating between seemingly similar products — and there are undoubtedly many more reasons why someone would lean toward one water bottle over another.
Your unique value proposition can pertain to your products themselves, your branding/marketing tactics, or the customer service experience you provide. It’s the winning quality you want people to associate with your company — their reason for not only shopping with you themselves but also for recommending it to their friends and family members.
Explore Options for Order Fulfillment
Next it’s time to consider how you’ll actually get your products from the factory where they come off the conveyer belt all the way to your customers’ doorsteps — and all the stops in between.
Some sellers decide to take the most hands-on approach by producing or ordering products, then storing them somewhere until a customer makes an order online. Not only does this mean finding and paying for storage space, but it also involves handling the packing and shipping process yourself — meaning more effort stands between you and each successful transaction.
The advantages of handling the inventory and fulfillment steps yourself? You have complete control over the look of the products and can inspect their quality before sending them out. You also maintain control over the shipping materials and methods rather than trusting a third-party entity to handle such an important step.
Other sellers decide to act more as the intermediary between manufacturers and customers, taking the orders without actually handling the products. In this strategy — known as drop shipping — you’ll pay a fee to the supplier to have them handle the actual packing and shipping process.
Perhaps the biggest upside of drop shipping is that you’ll cut out the labor-intensive process of storing and shipping products, while also avoiding the risk of trying to project how much inventory to keep on hand at any given time.
However, you will have to decide whether you’re comfortable sacrificing control over the final product. After all, customers will associate the quality, packing, and delivery with your brand — whether they have a positive or negative experience.
Never Underestimate the Power of Content
Before people can become loyal customers, they have to find out your store exists. Search engine optimization (SEO) is an evergreen strategy for driving traffic to your website and brand awareness.
Content marketing especially can help your brand rank higher on search engine results pages — so it’s time to do your keyword research and start creating quality pieces of content, like blog posts. The more useful content you create, the more backlinks your brand will get as other individuals and organizations link to your posts — giving your website more “SEO juice.”
Furthermore, great content can help you build relationships with online users consuming it. For instance, many users find content like how-to articles/videos and gift guides useful when they’re searching for products to buy. Just be sure to avoid making your content overly promotional, as this can actually decrease trust and helpfulness in the eyes of customers and search engines.
Making ecommerce work for you is a matter of doing the legwork and zeroing in on the right products, audience, marketing tactics, and order fulfillment strategy to make your company stand out.