Tips for Building Your eCommerce Business

Probably one of the most common questions you get asked when helping online retailers with their technology and marketing is “how do we increase sales, traffic, and conversion rates”.  This generally leads to length discussions about how you are building your online retail business.  We decided to take some of these discussions and pull out some core concepts.  Here are a few tips that we are pretty consistent on:

Launch at 80% complete

This has to be one of the hardest pills to swallow, especially for non-techy owners/management.  We’re big believers in launching something as quickly as you can so you can start to collect analytics and make adjustments based on real data, not just what you think your customers want/need/like/dislike.

When we get a clients site into working condition we like to recommend a soft-launch with some gentle marketing to gather data.  Some of the items we want to test immediately are landing pages, product pages, special offer layouts, shopping cart presentation, and the checkout process. It’s hard to do any of that with just our own people and possibly staff at the retailer.  We can try and think like real customers, but we probably aren’t truly “real customers”.

Don’t listen to your supposed “best customers”

Your most frequent shoppers are great for business, and we aren’t saying don’t pay attention to them, but listening to the few in this case is not the best approach.  People who are on your site as much as you are have the same problems you do when it comes to making suggestions, they’re too close, too familiar with how it works.

Coming from the enterprise software world it was common practice for us to ask “power users” what features they wanted in the systems we were building.  When we finally released updates, the large majority of the systems users were unhappy as they couldn’t figure out how to do many supposedly simple tasks.  The same goes for eCommerce.

Design for your customers, not yourself!

See above.  What you think your site needs may or may not be what your customers are looking for.  As business owners you speak a different language than your customer.  You know your product so intimately that you can probably find it by SKU, UPC or Manufacturer number.  Your customers don’t know any of those things.  Design your site with a focus on how the customer is going to A) find the products they want easily, and B) make it easy for them to purchase.

Spend YOUR time wisely, on what you’re good at.

Many of our clients come to us because they are neither web developers nor internet marketers.  They have the good sense to know that if they are going to sell their products and services online then they will need professional help.  For those who are thinking they will learn how to do it all themselves, my hat is off to you for having the desire to learn the ins and outs of doing business online.  However, be prepared to spend months and possibly years learning because even as professionals we are still learning. 

Some of the best advice I ever received was to focus on what you’re good at, and surround yourself with people who compliment your own skills in order to work towards a common goal.

Embrace Social Media in small, incremental steps (see spending time wisely above)

The hot topic of the times, Social Media / Networking / Technology.  eCommerce has been a little slow to adopt in the Social Media arena.  Our theory for this slower adoption has to do with the Facebook Beacon fiasco, but that’s a very long discussion saved for another post.

For small to mid sized eCommerce sites the social internet is something that is very difficult to embrace.  Why?  Because it takes time, time that many store operators don’t have.  They’re busy handling customer service, sales, fulfillment, site management, business management etc…

We think that the small to mid sized eCommerce site should embrace social media 100%, just 100% of one service at a time.  Bite off what you can chew.  If you’re going to try out Twitter, focus as much as you can on this one medium.  If it pays off, fantastic!  Now you can look at other mediums (perhaps Facebook?).  If it doesn’t work, you can look at other mediums.  The point is, you want to fully test each particular medium and give it a fair shot.  If you try to do too much at once, you’ll just end up doing none of it well.