Where to start with the e-commerce thing?

In Notebook by Narcis

The other week I was giving some ideas to start a business from your kitchen table. Starting an e-commerce website can be complicated, but it’s easier than starting a physical world. Like any other projects, if you break your big goal into milestones and your milestones into tasks everything looks more achievable. Stepping stones… one at the time.

E-commerce-stepping-stones

Find a product or service that sells

Before you start setting up your website, test your idea with people who you don’t know. The reason for doing these tests with unknown people is to ensure there is a market for your idea (people who want/need that product): this it is called market research. There are tools like online surveys that can help or you can use focus groups. Don’t use friends and family.

Why? Let’s imagine our friend had an idea (bacon-flavoured toothpaste, anyone?) and he became very passionate about it, thinking it’s genius! We are his friends so we think alike and think this is great, or maybe we don’t want to discourage him. If he goes ahead with his passion and there are no customers to sell to, he will waste time, money and the worst of all, self-esteem. But it is most likely that after the focus group, he will understand that Bacon isn’t a good idea, but that ‘strawberry and cream’ and ‘mango and passion fruit’ could sell to a mass market.

Focus on fewer products, it will help your customers to focus too. Remember how stressful it is when a restaurant has too many dishes on their menu.

Do your homework: maths, law and  logistics

You need to know how much it will cost to set up and run your business in order to know how much you need to charge for your products. You will need to design a website, purchase stock, storage, shipping and all that.

You also have to understand accounting, selling laws and terms and conditions (to cover your ass). Don’t worry, this is the one job you can pay a professional to help you with. It’s worth to getting it right.

Lastly, but no less important are logistics. Where are you going to store your stock? How are you going to ship your products (post or courier? As soon as you get the order or once a week?).

Design a site

The fun stuff! I’m sure you like a nice, clean and slick shops. Shops where you don’t get rushed or pressured by the shop assistant. A shop where all is in a logical order so you know where you have to go to get that thing you need, but where it’s also pleasant to browse. Right, this is how your online shop should feel, too.

Plan the site to be logical with a pleasant user journey. Make sure the design looks good: think how you trust a slick site rather than a dodgy one.

To keep your business alive you need to convert (convert the visits into purchases). How? Have an attractive home page (like one of those attractive windows in Oxford Street) showing your bestselling products. Design a product detail page with images and a concise description of the product so the visitor can imagine the product, like browsing. Just as important make sure you always have call-to-actions, aka buttons that say ‘Shop Now’ throughout the site (like that shop assistant who is ready to help you without hassling you).

Basket and payments

Your basket and the following steps are super important because it is where your visitors will convert into buyers.

Make it look secure, professional and consistent with the site. Have a basket page to review the products and make any changes.

By contracting a gateway like Paypal or Sage, to mention two of the big guys, you will avoid storing sensitive information like bank details on your site.

Promote to be positioned to the top

You can’t put a shop online and wait. Your customers have to come from somewhere, for example through a search on Google. You can pay for Google Ads, and appear on the search pages, but there is, although slower, a much better and effective way, and it is FREE! See my post about the basics of SEO.

The tools I can’t recommend enough are a blog and a newsletter. Also, social networks will help, but to a lesser extent. I know it seems a lot of work! But let me explain and then you can tell me whether it’s worth it or not.

Google likes sites that are constantly refreshing their content, but this content must be relevant and good content. It also likes sites where people spend time. Here is where your blog will play its important role. Having good and  interesting content will make customers read (spending time) and they will periodically return to see what’s new. The keywords on your articles will help Google to find you on its searches. Posts are also an opportunity to showcase some of your products.

Let’s see it with an example: an e-commerce that sells… socks. They have a blog with posts about trends, fashion and inspiration for your feet. In a few weeks’ time is Father’s Day (don’t worry, it’s not) so they write a post called ’12 gift ideas for Father’s Day’ and the article can have some ideas which one of them will definitely will be socks, your socks. Following on from that post you can write a short newsletter with a link to the post, which will bring traffic to your site. You can also post the article on Facebook and Twitter.

It’s a fairly big effort, but think of all the advantages. Getting the Google love, putting your site higher in searches. You will create keywords related to your site, meaning that people googling something like ‘gift ideas for father’s day’ are likely to find you, and these people are people ready to purchase (high-value customers). On top of that you will get people through your newsletters and from the social network.

There you go! Work hard, play hard.

To be effective, have a strategy plan, do all this work in one big chunk of time (once a week or even a month) and schedule. Most tools like WordPress (website), Mailchimp (newsletter) or Buffer (social networks) have this functionality.

Analyse, test, analyse again, test again

Knowledge is power. Understand your customer and you will have the power to know what they are after and what you can offer them.

Changes to the site are good if they have a reason. Don’t do changes just for the sake of it… if you have a hypothesis, test it and see what the result is. There are many tests you can do.

On your marks, get set, SELL!

Now that you know what it takes… the ball is in your court. Remember, one step at the time!


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