Ultimately, making a success of e-commerce depends on the way you think about it. People who treat it as a hobby will have a (potentially profitable) hobby. Those who treat it as a real business could build a way to generate all the income they need.
So what, precisely, is involved in treating your e-commerce website as a ‘real business’?
1 Think big
You may see yourself as the online equivalent of a lemonade stall. But if you think of yourself, instead, as an organic lemonade factory – or at least have that as a goal – you’ll have the right mindset to turn your tiny venture into a genuine money-maker.
In other words, don’t just think of it as ‘a website’. Think of it as a conventional business, and behave as if it were.
2 Sniff out the right e-commerce software
What works for you? Plenty to think about here. What are you using to design, build, operate and host your website? Make the right choices now and you’ll save weeks and months of heartache later.
How will you deal with your accounts? (And no, your favourite spreadsheet program probably isn’t the best accounting tool for a growing business…)
What about your customer database? Your social media management (which, almost certainly, you will need)? And your shopping cart solution?
And what will you do when (inevitably) something goes wrong? (“I’m terribly sorry, Mrs Jones – I can see now that it was four candles you ordered, and not fork handles…”) It’s important to plan what happens when the system fails – and learn the lessons if (or, more likely when) it does.
3 Who are you talking to – and where will you find them?
Rule one of any online marketing is to know who you are targeting with your offer. That, in turn, will help you to find them. Will they be on Facebook, or would they be more likely to use Snapchat? If they’re business people, would they be on LinkedIn? What newespapers do they read – if any? What do they like? And where would they meet offline?
If you’re paying for online advertising you’ll get the best results by defining your audience as narrowly as possible. (“Yes, actually we’re interested in 47-year-old single grannies living within a 5-mile radius of Cleethorpes.”) And the better you know them, the better you can target your website content, your online articles, and your new products or services.
4 Make your customers your marketing executives
Once upon a time in an old-fashioned grocery the shopkeeper would personally fetch everything you asked for. If you make your online shopping experience equally friendly and helpful, your customers will thank you – and talk about you to their friends.
And if something goes wrong? Turn it to your advantage. Dealing honestly and promptly with mistakes – yours or those of others which affect your customers – can turn a complainer into a passionate advocate for your services.
5 Know their habits (but keep it honest)
In an online business the only experience customers usually have is the one you give them on your e-commerce website. So it’s important to understand what they do while they are there.
There are plenty of tools that can help you to do that, but it’s increasingly important to watch out for privacy issues. You don’t need to know who is abandoning their online shop before they buy – you just need to know where and when they did it. Because if that becomes a pattern, there’s clearly something at fault in your process.
An abandoned basket is frustrating, but your response to it should be cautious. After all, you don’t know why the customer gave up. But handling the situation with care could net you a good sale – and a customer who (rightly) feels they’ve been well and politely treated.
6 Does it still have its mojo on mobile?
Let’s face it, most websites are built – and previewed – on a reasonably large screen. Just bear in mind that many of your customers will be looking at it on tablets and mobiles. If it doesn’t work just as well there, then it won’t work for you. (“Honestly, Leonora, they must think I’ve got magnifying glasses for eyes…”)
7 Create the perfect process
Successful ‘real world’ businesses are all about process – about taking a good idea and finding the best way to make it work. Your e-commerce site needs to do the same. So test out the process – thoroughly – before you go live. Ask people you trust, but have no connection with the business, to try it and feed back on their experience. And once it is up and running, encourage your customers to tell you what they like and don’t like about the site. You absolutely need honest answers.
And if you could use some help…
We have years of experience with e-commerce websites, and with the various different programs you will need to run one successfully – and we’d be happy to advise you. Better yet, we also have years of experience in fulfilling orders from e-commerce sites – and dealing with customer queries and complaints in a way that will turn grumblers into advocates.