Thanks to everyone who was able to attend our webinar this week on building a successful online business with ecommerce, featuring Matt Winn from Volusion. If you missed the webinar, you can view the video playback on our Kabbage Kam Webinars YouTube Channel and view the slides on our SlideShare. Both the slides and video are also embedded at the bottom of this article for you as well.
Ecommerce is a rapidly growing industry as businesses realize the success that comes with implementing eCommerce into their business strategies. It’s also cheaper and less risky than a brick-and-mortar store because there are fewer overhead costs.
Unlike a brick-and-mortar, you can also reach your online customers 24/7 and expand your geographical opportunities by offering products worldwide. If you currently own a brick-and-mortar, you know that offline marketing and advertising costs can be high and difficult to track. Online marketing and advertising, however, are less expensive and can be targeted to relevant audiences.
There are six steps to building a successful online store:
1) Decide on a Solution
Assuming you already know what products you’ll be offering and have set their price point, there are three solutions to consider: open source, licensed and hosted.
Licensed solutions are essentially the software you see in a box at Best Buy, and those are a dying solution, so not recommended.
An open source solution means building the whole platform from scratch. With this option, you have complete control over every piece of functionality, from coupon features to locations of product images. The only drawback to the open source solutions is that you don’t have as much structure, which means that the time it takes to get to market, and your overall dependence on technical solutions to get your website up and running, are going to be a lot higher. If you have a technical staff on hand, or have development or coding knowledge yourself, than this may be a viable option for you.
A hosted solution is exactly that: a hosted solution that provides all of the backbones in terms of your website infrastructure. This solution provides all of the features out of the box, and offers a lot of design options. This option is also known as Software as a Solution, or SaaS, and this is what Volusion is. With this option you get consistent software updates, which means that every time a new feature is added you get it immediately.
In terms of security, the IT infrastructure takes place through the hosting provider so you don’t have to worry about security as much as with other solutions. The drawbacks in terms of hosted solutions is that you don’t have full control over how the platform works, so you take what you get in terms of functionality. For instance, if you want to use coupons, you have to use the functionality that is given. In terms of design, you have a lot of layout options, but you will be using a templatized system.
If you have a unique audience and unique needs, as well as the budget or knowledge to invest into a lot of development and tech work, open source is likely the best solution for you. If you’re less technical and don’t have a stringent set of customer requirements, then a SaaS solution may be the way to go.
2) Build Your Ecommerce Site
It’s important to follow these steps closely because each one will determine the time it takes to take your website live, and have the best experience for your customers possible.
First you’ll want to create your categories and upload product. Your product categories serve as the overall navigation structure for the entire website, so you want to be sure to name those categories and outline them in a way that is easily digestible for your customers. For example, if you’re selling apparel online, your categories can be separated in several ways. You may want to separate it by men’s apparel vs. women’s apparel, then have subcategories such as women’s purses, blouses, pants, leggings, etc.
Another way to do it is shopping by brand. You can have categories such as Tommy Hilfiger, Polo, Michael Kors and so on. You can also simply set up the categories by product type, whichever way works best for you.
Once categories are in place, you’ll want to upload individual products and then move on to informational pages. An online business is not just listing products, like eBay or Amazon, it’s a full branded experience. This means you have an opportunity to discuss your company, culture, and the history behind it. The importance of this is improving the customer experience and to help them develop brand affinity.
The next step is design and branding. This is an extremely important area on which to focus. You want to make sure you have everything in place with branding and design to create an experience and tell a brand story when customers come to your website. This involves considerations such as colors, fonts, tone, voice and how you structure your sentences. Every piece of this puzzle revolves around your brand so you want to make sure to have a good idea of what you want your brand to represent ahead of time. This way when you start building it, even things as mundane as adding individual products, it makes a big difference.
3) Select a Domain Name
You want to pick a domain name that is short and easy to remember. Also of importance is making sure that your web address is descriptive of your business, such as your business name or what you do. Make a list of at least 5 domain names you’d be comfortable with as there are already over 1 billion domain names registered in the world, so the one you want may already be taken. By building out a lit of 5 or 10, you can go through your list if the one you want most is already taken. If you are dead set on having the domain name of your choice, and it’s already taken, there are a few options available. You can negotiate with the current owner of the domain name to see if you can buy it from them. The only thing here is that there are people, called “domain hoarders,” who scoop up a bunch of domain names and then make income based on selling them to people who want them. So be careful when you go through this process and make sure that, if this is the domain you really want, it’s worth your time and money.
You’ll also want to decide between .com, .net and .biz. Always go with .com. If you’re a nonprofit, feel free to go with .org and if you’re an educational institution, feel free to go with .edu. Otherwise, go with .com because that’s what everyone associated a domain name with. So if your desired domain is only available on .net or .biz, skip it, because you will have to explain to your customers and clients why your domain isn’t .com.
4) Accept Payments Online
At the basics of ecommerce, your website needs to be able to accept payment for your products. To do this, you want to focus on what methods will be most convenient for you and your customers, and how it aligns with your overall brand. At a minimum, use PayPal or Google Wallet. PayPal is the most popular, however, there are issues with using PayPal. Often times, depending on the version, when someone comes to your website to make a purchase, they’ll be redirected over to the PayPal site to login with their PayPal credentials. This can create a roadblock to finalizing the purchase, and if your customer can’t remember their PayPal login credentials, they may bounce off of your site to go find the product elsewhere.
You ultimately want to consider accepting credit cards directly on your website. There are various payment integration options, or your ecommerce website will likely have options for you. One piece of advice is to make sure that you read the fine print and understand all the associated fees. They’re all fairly self explanatory and easy to digest, but be sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. Some rates may be higher than others, or have higher monthly minimums. Be sure to read as much as you can and ask a lot of questions. Accepting credit cards directly on your website makes your brand seem higher in stature and creates a better user experience.
5) Protect Your Store
You may have seen lots of news stories about security breaches to companies such as Target, Michael’s, and even Jimmy John’s. You need to protect your store, especially if accepting credit cards directly, which means you’ll need to purchase an SSL certificate. An SSL certificate’s main job is to encrypt sensitive information, such as credit card numbers, as it flows across the web. You also want to learn the sign of fraudulent orders, such as higher than usual order sizes. If unusual orders come through, call that person and verify the order. This prevents lost inventory and lost money.
6) Grow Your Business
Ecommerce design and user experience are important because, all the marketing in the world won’t help if you have an ugly website. It can make your whole business look less credible. It’s also meant to pull people into your website to shop. The following are good examples of two companies who put a lot of thought into design and user experience:
ShadesDaddy is a good example of a well-designed homepage:
- Customer service clearly listed at top
- Branded at top
- Search box at top
- Good use of real estate, using a slide show which rotates through relevant, inviting content
- Testimonials from customers clearly placed
- Clear CTA, a call to action, such as “shop now,” brings the customer into your product pages
Bella Notte is another good example of a good design experience, especially in their product pages:
- The product photography is beautiful , this is very important when selling online products since people can’t feel or test your product
- Alternate views offer multiple angles and ranges of the product to better paint a picture
- Pricing information is clear
- Social sharing buttons encourage people to share your products with their networks, earning your brand free marketing
- Options allow people to choose the feature that best suits them
Product descriptions are important. The ideal product description:
- Focuses on the benefits of the product to help tell the story of the product
- Is very well written, as bad spelling and grammar make the website and products appear less credible
- Is easily digestible as people don’t like to read a lot of text
- SEO friendly so that search engines can find your product description
- Speaks to your customers
Why Do You Need to Market Your Store So Well?
There are lots of websites for your customers to choose from, so make sure you stand out from the crowd. There are many types of online marketing tactics, but the main takeaway is to find the right mix. Here are the major players:
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is using keywords to help search engines find your website content and list it, so people find it when they search. Many business owners hire SEO experts to help with this, but with a lot of research, you can do it yourself.
- Pay per click advertising (PPC) or Paid Search. Think about the last time you went to Google and did a search: did you see listings at the top or right-hand side? Once you click on those you cost a marketer money, but the benefits is that it makes their website much more visible. Again, many companies hire PPC experts, but with a lot of research, you can do it yourself. It offers a quick boost to website traffic and helps with visibility.
- Social Media Marketing is a great outlet for new and small businesses. Social media marketing offers a strong ROI, and you can build a fanbase to speak highly to others for you.
- Email Marketing. A lot of people say email marketing is dead, but it’s not. Email is one of your most cost effective marketing channels because you can market directly to the people who have opted into your emails. They already want to hear form you, so you can give them company updates, talk about new products and specials. This boosts repeat business and builds loyalty. Additionally, people are shopping on mobile more and more and email marketing helps to drive people to your site from their smart phones.
Grow Your Social Media Presence:
People follow your brand on social media:
- To receive discounts and promotions
- To show others they like your brand
- To receive access to exclusive information
- To get updates and news about the company
Start with the social media channels that will be most effective for you. There are a lot of channels out there, but only use the ones you’ll actually be on. Most businesses start with Facebook and Twitter
Top Six Pieces of Humble Advice to Close With:
- Be patient and work steadily
- Don’t overcommit yourself
- Focus on one area at a time
- Create smaller, actionable goals
- Remember that sales won’t happen overnight, be patient
- Focus on your product and your customers
We hope you found the information that Matt provided about ecommerce and your small business helpful, and that you feel well on your way to selling online. To learn more about Volusion, visit their website at Volusion.com.
Did we miss answering something that you were looking for in this webinar? Let us know in the comments, on Twitter: @KabbageInc, or email us at email@example.com. Sign-up for our free small business newsletter to get access to more webinars and marketing tips by entering your email in the form at the top of the sidebar of this blog. Thanks for listening in! We hope to see you next time!
Thanks for listening in! We hope to see you next time!