Couple of years back I wrote an article "if you build it they will come" noting the truth that building a website will not make your business an instant success and that commitment, time, money and planning goes into successfully selling online.
Unfortunately, the same misconceptions are still buzzing around the internet and we are still seeing potentially successful new business fail for relatively simple reasons. Here are a handful of the most common issues we see, and (hopefully) how to avoid them.
The first one and the most basic is that you do not build a website or online store to appeal to yourself. In this age of cheap online stores and DIY websites, it’s easy to fall into the trap of building a site that you think looks cool rather than tailoring it to your target customers.
The aim of an online store is to sell your products and services to your customers. The important factors in design and user experience should be the needs of the target customers and not your personal opinions. If you want to sell only to yourself, you don’t need an online store…
As a business owner, you should have a good understanding of what your customer wants and how they want to buy. I have seen some major website failures because the business owner is basically stubborn and believed that the way they buy online represents what their customers want as well.
Some classic examples are: the use of sound tracks on websites and videos of the business owner presenting the business, these types of auto-play features just make visitors leave your website (particularly if they are trying to do a bit of quick online shopping at the office). Also avoid complex and flashy designs, they may look cool and exciting, but if they confuse customers, are hard to navigate or don’t work on mobile, then you’ll lose sales.
Take the time to get feedback from your customers, both before and after building your site and tailor the site to them. Something you think looks great but is confusing to your customer, should be removed or redesigned, even where it means getting rid of your favourite part of your site.
Extending from this, business owners can very often know their products and services too well. Potential customers that are looking for your product may not know your business or your products, and need more information to be comfortable with their purchase. So you need to provide enough information to convey both the benefits of your products and your business.
Communicate, communicate and communicate
Unlike a bricks and mortar store, where a customer can easily ask questions, an online store (and an online shoppers typical attention span) mean that the customer needs to be able to gather and understand everything they need to make an informed purchase quickly and easily.
This is the second most common issue, and often the hardest for small businesses to grasp.
Unfortunately, the big web and eCommerce companies (and many keyboard warriors on forums) constantly talk about how easy and cheap it is to get set up and selling online. The fallacy is in the second part of that statement. Getting set up is often easy and cheap, but having an online store doesn’t guarantee any customer will ever find it, find a product they want or buy that product.
Much like a bricks and mortar business, without some degree of marketing the chances of a customer wandering in and buying something are significantly reduced. Further, because you are online you aren’t likely to get any digital foot traffic (at least until your SEO is mature enough to start getting ranked on Google etc).
Marketing can come in many forms online including pay per click and shopping portals, as well as more traditional marketing like print etc.
For example, many successful online businesses started by selling only on eBay and only moved onto their own online store once they had enough stable revenue coming from eBay to support the online store while it built their direct sales revenue and ranked on Google to generate organic traffic. Those formative months or years selling on eBay built not only revenue, but also a brand presence and seeded the market for their products. That way the new online store already had brand recognition, market tested products and (hopefully) some loyal customers before it even opened its metaphorical doors.
Make sure you have a plan and budget allocated for how you will attract new customers, and then experiment with different marketing methods and channels to find which (or which combination) works best to get customers to your site.
Many online stores will create products with a couple of images and a description (often provided by the supplier). So many online stores selling similar products will look largely the same and so price becomes the only differentiation.
However successful sellers will tell you that success is about creating a Unique Sales Proposition (USP). The USP is all about why someone should buy from you as opposed to just pitching a product. The USP could be based on a myriad of ideas but rarely will price be a factor:
Some small business owners (or start-ups) will not provide adequate contact information or try to isolate themselves from the business. Visitors will read that as a fly-by-night business.
When you walk into a physical store you can tell immediately what the business owner is like and what level of service you can expect. I am sure that you have all had the experience where no one walks up to you and asks what you need. It is pretty easy to gauge the interest of the people serving you in a physical store but not so in an online store.
Online visitors look for signs of trust when they shop online:
Providing an understanding of who you are and how to contact you, provides customers with the sense of confidence they can reach the merchant in the event something goes wrong.
Unfortunately we service providers can often be the source of the problem.
Our job should be to provide a safe and reliable service that can be used by merchants to run their online business, but some parts of the industry are more focused on getting your business in the door than on whether you have a business in the first place.
Many "ecommerce as a service" providers offer cheap or free solutions that can be enabled with little or no assistance. That is great for a business with real products to sell and a plan to sell them as it gets them up and running with minimal fuss. Problem is, it also allows people with no products and no plan to fail online quickly and the results are negative for everyone.
Don’t get rushed into the decision, take the time to work through your idea and turn it into a viable business plan before starting up an online store. It’s a lot harder to go back and formulate a plan after you get started and are busy with the details of getting the business going.
Disruptive technologies can change the way consumers and businesses operate and that has certainly happened in the retail and general commerce space. B2C and B2B ecommerce websites have moved buyers from the shopfront and the phone to the web. Companies with sales representatives have found more business customers want the convenience of ordering online anytime. Demographics and communication technology changes have seen visitors to websites coming predominantly from mobile devices rather than desktops.
With the expanding horizon of the opportunity comes greater need to target your audience and plan your marketing. But, of course, often small businesses don’t understand this until it’s too late. As mentioned before, think about who your customers are, how they shop and how they will find and use your site – then build your plan and your online store.
In summary, I am not going to be so crass as to say that "life was not meant to be easy.." (thank you Mr. Fraser) but, I will say that there are no really successful people in business that work 4 hours a week or 4 hours a day. The successful people I know have committed enormous effort and time to PLANNING, BUILDING and RUNNING their business. It is a 24/7 commitment. The myth of the instant online millionaire unfortunately could have been written by the good Brothers Grimm because it is a fairy tale.
Republished from the original post on Linkedin - 6 July 2017