Creating an online store is as easy as signing up for an account on any number of platforms and listing a few products for sale. But creating an online store that’s actually successful — is a different thing entirely.
Data suggests consumers are increasingly doing their shopping and buying online.
Take a look at the following tips to make sure that your first online store is a success.
Creating an Online Store
Make Sure There’s a Market for Your Product
Before you even think about actually opening an online store, you need to make sure that there’s a market for your potential product. Do some online research to make sure that your product is something that people are actually searching for and buying online.
Steve Chou, the online store expert behind My Wife Quit Her Job said in a phone interview with Small Business Trends, “You really need to validate the idea first. You don’t want to buy a whole bunch of product unless you know you can actually sell it.”
Check Popular Marketplaces
A great way to research is to look on popular platforms like Amazon, eBay and Etsy. See how many people are selling products similar to yours and how their sales are.
Do a Small Trial Run
Before you go through all the trouble of building your own store, try selling a few of your potential products on Amazon or similar platforms first. That should give you an idea of how they might sell and if there are any changes you need to make first.
Use a Popular Marketplace First
For your trial run and early on in your online store business, Chou recommends sticking with popular platforms like Amazon, eBay or Etsy. They’re much cheaper and easier to set up and use for a short period of time.
Don’t Buy More than You Can Sell
Early on in your business, and even as it grows, make sure that you don’t buy more product than you’re able to sell. Buying in bulk can save money. But buying too much can get you stuck with a lot of unmovable product (and debt) if the market for your product changes.
Add Your Own Storefront Once You Grow
Once you’ve really gotten a feel for your new shop and products, you may want to open up your own online storefront. There are several options for doing so. Just make sure you don’t rush into a decision.
Look into Open Source Tools
Chou recommends that tech-savvy entrepreneurs go the open source route for their storefronts. Platforms like WordPress allow you to completely customize the shopping experience. But they take some tech know-how.
Or Use an Easy Storefront Tool
However, ready-made storefront platforms like Shopify and Bigcommerce can make the process of setting up an online store much easier. If you find that you’re not able to navigate the open source tools, Chou says that these platforms work just fine.
Find a Pricing Model that Works for You
If you do look for an ecommerce storefront solution, you’ll have many different options to choose from. Each store’s needs are different. So find one that has the features and pricing that works for you. Some charge a flat monthly fee while others take a portion of sales.
But Make Sure it’s Scalable
But you should make sure that whatever provider you choose is something that will work for you in the future as well. For example, a platform that charges a percentage of sales might sound attractive to a store with low sales. But as you grow that could change.
Offer Convenient Payment Methods
You also need to think about what payment methods you want to accept — credit cards, PayPal, or others. Different platforms have different built-in payment systems. So make sure that the one you choose is going to make purchasing easy for your customers.
Include High-Res Photos
When customers visit your online store, whether it’s on your own website or a platform like Amazon, they need to be able to clearly see the products you’re offering. That means you need clear, high-res photos that showcase your products in the best light possible.
Don’t Use Manufacturer’s Photos
Chou says, “Never use the manufacturer’s photos. Always take your own. Chances are there are hundreds of other sites out there using those exact photos. And you want to stand out.”
Show Every Angle
It’s also important to include multiple photos of each product so that customers can see every side. You may also want to include photos that give perspective in terms of size, fit and other factors.
Use Straightforward Titles
The titles you give your products are often what lead people to find them in the first place. It may sound tempting to use cutesy titles. But you need to clearly state what the product is so that people know what you’re offering and are able to find it via search.
Cater Titles to the Platform You Use
Some platforms have different search practices. For example, items with clear item descriptions at the beginning of their titles tend to show higher in searches on Etsy than others. Be aware of the search practices of whatever platforms you use so that your items show up in front of as many potential customers as possible.
Look into Popular Search Terms
You should also keep an eye on your own analytics and popular search terms related to your products. That could give you some insights into major keywords that you should use in your titles or descriptions.
Write Your Own Descriptions
It can also be beneficial to write your own descriptions, rather than using those from the manufacturer or another source. You want your descriptions to stand out from other sites.
Keep an Eye on the Competition
Through the course of running your shop, you should always look at what competing shops are doing. And make sure that your photos, titles and descriptions stand out.
Look at Online Reviews for Similar Products
You can also gain some potentially valuable insights from looking at the reviews of products similar to yours on sites like Amazon. It could tell you about changes you may need to make or features of your own products that you should really try to promote.
Use Common Complaints in Your Descriptions
You can even use some of that information in your own product descriptions, if it applies.
Chou explains, “For example, if you’re selling yoga mats and you see that the reviews on Amazon all say ‘these yoga mats are too thin,’ you could include in your product descriptions ‘our yoga mats are extra thick.’”
Make Changes Based on Analytics
You should also constantly be aware of your site’s performance. If there are certain products or types of descriptions that are performing better than others, look into why that may be. You could need to change up your titles, photos or descriptions to make sure your other products perform just as well.
Keep an Eye on Load Times
Customers hate it when they have to wait for pages to load. If your website takes seconds to pull up products and information, you’re probably losing customers. You may need to simplify or change providers if that’s a problem.
Set Clear Shop Policies
When people buy things from an online store, there are a lot of different factors involved. How long will it take the product to ship? What all is included in each purchase? How much is shipping? Include all of that information on your site so that customers know what they are getting into.
Include Information about Returns/Refunds
You also need to make information about returns or refunds readily available. They’re bound to come up, no matter how great your items are. So be prepared.
Create Policies that Work for You and Your Customers
Creating those policies means finding a balance between what’s best for you and what’s best for your customers. Every store is different. So you have to come up with policies that won’t make your customers angry but also won’t make you lose money on every transaction.
But Keep Customer Service in Mind
Even with clear policies, sometimes there are issues where you need to go above and beyond. Make sure that you listen and respond to customers who complain or come to you with questions and try to deal with them in a way that is satisfactory.
Don’t Overlook the Logistics
You also need to make sure that your shipping and logistics process is dependable. If you do this part yourself, you just need to create a system that works for you. But if you rely on another provider for logistics services, you need to really do your research beforehand so that your customers will be happy with the experience.
Encourage People to Buy More Products
Each company also needs to find the promotions and offers that work best for them. But Chou suggested that store owners take a look at their average order size and order free shipping or other offers for orders just above that average amount. That can encourage your customers to increase their order size.
Let Customers Know Where they’ve Seen Your Products
If your products have been featured in any popular magazines, shows or similar media, let your customers know that. Add it into your product descriptions or include a small banner on your photos so that customers looking for that particular product know they’ve found it.
Keep Customers Coming Back
Once a customer has made a purchase from your store, your work is far from over. You need to continue communicating with those customers through email, social, or other online methods in order to win their business over and over again.
Offering discounts or other incentives for future purchases is a great way to bring in repeat business. Consider offering a discount code as a thank you for their initial purchase, which also lets them know how much you value your customers.
But Don’t Bombard Them
However, it’s important to not send out too many emails or updates. Your customers may get annoyed and decide to unsubscribe. So keep the communication focused on really relevant sales or updates.
Encourage Customers to Share
Your store can also benefit from your customers sharing their experience. Ask them to leave reviews or photos of their items on your site to better inform future buyers. Or create a social media campaign to get them involved.
Online store photo via Shutterstock
One of the errors I have committed is that I ended up buying more than I can sell when I was just starting out. It may be best to test the market before you stock up on inventory.
Yes, absolutely! That was one of Steve’s most important points.