Setting up an online store can be overwhelming, especially if it’s your first foray into the world of eCommerce.
There’s a lot to deal with – choosing the eCommerce solution itself, payment processing, inventory and logistics, order processing and customer relations.
Over the past few years, Mogul has helped a number of clients setting up new online stores or redeveloping existing ones. They have ranged from very small, simple solutions with minimal ongoing costs, through to full-featured stores with substantial daily traffic and revenues.
We have used most of the big eCommerce platforms and learned some important lessons along the way.
Here are our top tips for making your eCommerce venture a success:
1. Get the basics right
It’s so easy to jump straight into the details of how a store will look and function, but there are some critical first steps to consider.
Know your customer
The first step is to make sure you really understand who your typical customer is and how they interact with your business.
Do they need advice from you before they commit to a purchase, or are they comfortable just ordering what they need? How ‘tech-savvy’ are they? Will they be mainly ordering from mobile phones or desktop computers?
Many industries (and individuals) are comfortable with an established offline process for ordering equipment and supplies, so you may be facing a significant additional challenge if you want them to move to a whole new online sales model.
Choose the right eCommerce solution
In my 2018 eCommerce Round-Up post I summarised some of the most popular eCommerce solutions in the market today.
There are many factors which can determine which solution is right for you, and most of them involve trade-offs of some sort:
- Do you need to manage products and stock yourself?
- How deep is your product catalogue? Do you need categories within categories?
- Do you want a fully custom visual design for your store, or are you happy with an off-the-shelf theme?
- What sort of sales volumes are you expecting?
- Do you need fancy functionality like product bundles, auto-renewing subscriptions or the ability for customers to choose how much they want to pay?
- Does the store need to talk to your warehouse or inventory system?
- Will the store pay for itself when you factor in ongoing costs like hosting, maintenance, and transaction fees on credit card payments?
In addition to the eCommerce platform itself, you’ll probably need one or more third-party payment processors such as PaymentExpress, Stripe or Paypal.
Each comes with its own requirements, features and drawbacks.
Make it easy to buy from you
Your store needs to do a great job of presenting relevant products and information to your customer, then get out of the way and make the checkout process as frictionless as possible.
It might sound obvious, but far too many online stores put unnecessary obstacles in front of customers.
You may want them to sign up to your newsletter, but do you really need to shove a full-screen popup in front of them five seconds after they arrive?
Do they really have to go through the process of creating an account, verifying their email address and completing their user profile before you allow them to give you money?
Obviously, in some cases, this is appropriate or even necessary, but a lot of the time a guest checkout with an optional ‘create an account’ checkbox is just fine.
2. Watch, learn and adapt
Observing customer behaviour is critical to the long-term success of your store.
Gather the data
As Matt wrote in November last year, Google Analytics is the industry standard for data gathering and analysis, with an overwhelming array of powerful features available for free.
It even has specific features for eCommerce stores, allowing you to see exactly which products are performing best and making you the most money.
Most eCommerce solutions also include reporting of their own, which will typically be more accurate than what makes it through to Google (a certain percentage of your visitors are likely to be running ad blockers which also stop Google Analytics).
Understand the data
The concept of a ‘sales funnel’ is not new, but it is important.
The funnel is that progression from a customer browsing your product range, to viewing a single product, adding it to the cart and finally buying it.
Typically you expect to see fewer and fewer customers completing each of the above steps, but the aim is to reduce that tapering which gives the funnel its name, to get more people through to the purchase stage.
It’s also important to see where your customers are coming from and how they are finding your store. These ‘referrers’ can tell you where best to focus your marketing efforts.
Act on the data
If your data shows a large reduction between the cart and checkout steps, it may be that your checkout page has something confusing or discouraging customers.
This will only be apparent if you can see that drop-off; just looking at completed sales does not tell you how many people were close to buying but ultimately did not, nor does it tell you how close they were.
This data should inform refinements to your site structure (where possible), your content and your marketing techniques.
One of the things you can see in your data is ‘abandoned carts’ – customers who got most of the way to purchasing but left before checkout for whatever reason.
Various eCommerce platforms have features which let you send a follow-up message to customers who abandoned their cart. This can be a simple reminder or an enticement in the form of a coupon. Speaking of enticements…
3. Sweeten the deal
Unless you are in a very special niche, there’s a good chance your customers will have other options besides buying from you.
There are many proven techniques which can convince customers to spend their hard-earned money with you instead of the competition.
Offering coupons to new customers can encourage the growth of your customer base. You can also offer them in exchange for signing up to your email newsletter, which gives you a great database of relevant recipients for future marketing campaigns. Another approach is to send a coupon out on the customer’s birthday each year, which encourages them to return to your store and spend it.
Loyalty schemes have been a mainstay in brick-and-mortar stores for years, mainly because they work. The idea is to award points or some accumulating ‘currency’, which repeat customers can eventually cash in with a future purchase (or exchange at an exorbitant rate for a toaster or magazine subscription). This gives you extra information about customer behaviour and encourages repeat visits to your store.
Bundles and upsells
Another way to offer discounts is to tie them to a combination of products, which must be bought together. These bundles are typically a set of products which customers frequently purchase together anyway, but if a new customer adds just one of these products to their cart, you can offer the bundle at a discount.
4. But wait, there’s more!
eCommerce is a vast and complex subject, and I have barely scratched the surface in this post.