Shopping malls used to be the center of the retail universe, but e-commerce changed that. Now, the first touch points many have with a brand is through its social media channels. Those primary interactions then usually lead to a purchase on a website instead of at a physical location. Many brands now happily live solely online without any brick-and-mortar stores at all. While the predicted implosion of retail stores many made during the pandemic never fully materialized, e-commerce continues to expand rapidly. In 2023, online commerce accounted for a staggering $6.3 trillion in sales worldwide. That number is expected to grow by roughly $2 trillion in the next three years.
Tapping into the massive growth of e-commerce is a tempting proposition for anyone with a great product. However, it isn’t as simple as setting up a website and watching the money roll in. Just like opening up a retail location, there is a lot to do and consider before starting an online business. Yes, the barriers to entry are lower online, but it can still be just as complicated and expensive as a physical store. Mistakes can also be just as costly, leading to a drain on revenue or the demise of your brand. Nobody wants that to happen, so we have developed the following tips for launching your online business. Give them a read before setting up your new e-commerce venture. In this article, we will discuss:
- What questions to ask before committing to launching a site.
- Why knowing who your potential customers are is important.
- Why investing in your online store is just as critical as a retail location.
- How “going digital” will be essential to the success of your e-commerce site and other important tips.
1. IS YOUR BABY UGLY?
Before even starting any online business, you should take a step back and take a hard look at what you are trying to sell. Is it something that solves actual problems that your customers might have? Will people see value in your products? What separates your product from any others like it? How easy to convey are your product’s benefits and value proposition? Is anyone actually going to buy what you are selling?
These might seem like basic questions, but we have seen multiple businesses fail to ask them. Many entrepreneurs are so passionate about their products and have spent so much time perfecting them that they assume everyone wants to buy them. Instead of asking questions, they rush to market, but sales never come. Nobody likes to be told their baby is ugly, but sometimes it is the truth. Asking the hard questions before launching an online business can save you significant headaches and money.
2. KNOW WHO YOU ARE DEALING WITH
If you are just starting your e-commerce journey, you likely haven’t made any sales. However, knowing who your customers will be is vital to the success of your business. The more detailed prospective customer profile you can build, the better. Sure, it may be rough as you don’t have any actual data to use, but you should have at least a solid understanding of the general location, income, gender and age of your customers. Knowing their hobbies, jobs and what they enjoy doing in their spare time can also be a significant help.
The more you know about your potential customers, the better you can connect with them. All that demographic information will also be critical for choosing the right marketing platforms. How you go to market with a product that appeals to young snowboarders is entirely different than something for elderly housewives. One group might only use TikTok to discover new products, while the other has never heard of it. Remember that as you start making sales, you should also gather as much first-party data about your customers as possible. Read our blog post to understand why first-party data will play a big role in the near future.
3. PICK YOUR PLATFORM
One of the biggest barriers to entry to e-commerce in the past was a website. Finding someone you could trust to build one was a chore. Even if they were trustworthy, there was always the possibility they didn’t know what they were doing. There is a lot involved in building a functional and high-performing e-commerce platform. Getting one thing wrong could tank your SEO or cause a frustrating customer experience, making them go elsewhere. Worst of all, you might not even know about the problem. Give our blog story about fixing shopping cart abandonment issues to get an idea of the many things that can go wrong with an e-commerce site.
The good news is there are now easy-to-use e-commerce platforms that greatly simplify the process. Shopify and others like it offer an almost entirely turn-key solution for creating and running an online business. The platform helps create a website, process payments, ship products, track inventory and many other aspects of e-commerce. Etsy is another alternative for hobbyists who do not need a full-scale and wide-ranging e-commerce solution. Of course, there is also selling your products directly on Amazon. Often, a combination of platforms is best for maximizing sales. None of these are free; they have monthly fees and take a percentage of your sales. The temptation may be to skip them and go on your own. Our advice is that unless you are a seasoned e-commerce professional, their services and conveniences are worth the cost.
4. INVEST IN YOUR FUTURE
Nobody likes a retail store that is dimly lit, poorly organized and looks like a hot mess. Most customers will turn around and walk out the door. They will usually head to a competitor that provides a better customer experience and more helpful staff, even if it is more expensive. The result is a loss of a sale and a customer that is highly unlikely to return. Neither is good for a long-term business plan.
The same can be said for your online store. Online customers will abandon your shabby site quicker than retail ones, as they usually have numerous options just a click away. If you don’t invest in your e-commerce website, don’t expect your sales to flourish. Spend the money to hire a professional if you can’t take high-quality product photos and videos yourself. Do the same for written product descriptions. If the website layout options provided by your e-commerce platform aren’t appealing enough, hire someone to create a custom version. All will help keep customers returning, and sales pointed in the right direction.
5. MAKE YOUR WEBSITE SECURE
One big reason to invest in your website is it gives people a sense of security. Online fraud is rampant, and customers are extremely hesitant to provide their credit card details to a site that looks like it took five minutes to build. A professional-looking e-commerce site with high-quality photography, videos and product descriptions free of grammatical errors goes a long way toward diminishing those fears. Potential customers will no longer think you are a fly-by-night operation looking to sell their financial information to the highest bidder.
Another way to convey that your e-commerce site is legit is by listing a physical address. It might seem counterintuitive for an online store, but customers are less trusting without one. Most will also want a clearly defined return policy to ensure they aren’t stuck with your products. Legitimate certificates of authenticity from internet security bodies like Norton, McAfee, Trustwave and TRUSTe help convey that your site is also trustworthy. An SSL Certificate is an encryption method used to keep credit card details secure. Consumers look for a locked padlock in the browser bar of your website along with its domain name starting with https to ensure your site is SSL Certified. Make sure that your website has all of these features so customers aren’t afraid to make purchases.
6. GET AUDITED
People love to shop online because it is simple and convenient. Do anything to take away that convenience and they will rapidly abandon your site. Patience is minimal online, and potential customers will head to your competitors if your website takes longer than three seconds to load. Have a checkout process that has too many steps or is confusing? It is another reason people leave your site and head somewhere else. Even something seemingly benign as asking for credit card information before giving a total cost can have people leaving your website in droves and sales plummeting.
Making matters worse is that many of these sales killers can be hard to detect. Like unseen parasites, they slowly suck away sales without you noticing. Adding to this is that most customers don’t return after a frustrating online experience. That is why it is essential to audit your e-commerce site thoroughly before it launches. You want multiple sets of eyes going through your site and trying to “break” it. They should also make mock purchases to see if your checkout and shipping processes are glitch-free. This process should continue at regular intervals even after your website launches to ensure nothing is a drain on revenue. Give our blog post a read about how to audit your website to get started.
7. MIND YOUR MARGINS
Not knowing your margins before launching your e-commerce business is a surefire way to sink it. Defined as the selling price of a product minus the costs of goods, margins seem pretty simplistic. However, there can be a lot of hidden expenses in e-commerce that can add to the cost of your products. E-commerce platforms like Shopify and Amazon all take a percentage of your sales. That percentage can vary depending on your plan level with your e-commerce platform. Credit card companies also take their cut of sales for every online transaction.
While these costs may seem insignificant, they can quickly add up, especially when dealing with low-margin items. Offering free shipping or the lowest prices can be a great way to attract customers. However, both are pointless if you are losing money or merely breaking even on every transaction. A better plan is to understand the complete cost of every transaction fully. Then you can adjust prices as needed to ensure that you are making a profit. Carefully research what your total costs are before making your first sale.
8. GO DIGITAL
You have to go where your customers are; for e-commerce that means going online. Getting your social media sites up and running will be a very high priority. Ensuring you have enough engaging content that introduces your product to the world is vital. All of this content should be developed before your site goes live so you can launch your social media efforts simultaneously with your e-commerce website. Using the prospective customer profile we mentioned earlier will also help focus your efforts on the right social media platforms.
Remember that social media is now almost exclusively “pay to play.” Posts without any spending behind them are likely to get very little engagement. Waiting for a post to go viral is like hoping to win the lottery and not a good business plan. Getting eyes on your product to ultimately drive sales will require a solid digital marketing strategy and budget. Without one, very few people will even know your product exists. The good news is that while digital marketing is becoming more complicated, it is still one of the most effective ways to reach new customers. Set aside a decent budget and give our blog post on what to know about digital marketing to understand the basics.
LEAVE IT TO US
Starting an online business can be an overwhelming task. Crafting an effective digital marketing and social media strategy for your new venture can be just as daunting. At Kahn Media, we can help with our award-winning digital marketing team that are experts in crafting engaging campaigns that deliver results. We are adept at social media management, so you can focus on running your business instead of constantly being online. Our creative team can handle any photography or video needs to get your business up and running. As a full-service agency, we can also help with public relations, event planning, influencer management and strategy development. Contact us to see how we can be a powerful partner for your brand launch.