Open a store in minutes and start accepting orders instantly.
Sounds great, doesn’t it?
That’s the lure of eCommerce. In the old days, if you were selling something, you were limited to your local vicinity. Today, if you have a website, anyone in the world can find you and buy your products.
That’s why, when business owners see ads from eCommerce platforms claiming how easy it is to launch an online store, they tend to get sucked in. They see how easy it is to create a site, and they associate that with creating a business. Yes, you can sign up for a store in minutes, but then what? There is a lot more that goes into making an online store successful than picking a theme and uploading products to a ready-made site.
There is a famous quote from the movie ‘Field Of Dreams’ that is often misquoted as “If you build it, they will come.” Unfortunately this is a prevalent misconception that has permeated business in the recent years. For eCommerce, the quote should actually go something like “If you build it, brand it, market it, measure and optimize it, they might come.”
I have heard from countless business owners totally heart broken after they fell for the sizzle of these advertisements. The number of online stores that close down within 3 months is absolutely huge.
What if those business owners were given more context beforehand? What if someone gave them a roadmap for putting in the hard work to create a substantial eCommerce business that could change their life?
That’s not to say that starting an online store should be hard. A good platform should make it easy for you to get up and running with a basic store. But the truth is that a successful eCommerce business cannot be made in 15 minutes.
In this post we’ll look at what those ads aren’t telling you, the missing ingredients.
There was recently a study done on pharmaceutical brand names. The study estimates Americans are spending about $44 billion a year on name brands, which are really no different than the cheaper store brands.
But why? Ever since our childhood days we’ve been trained, albeit unwillingly, to love brands. We go to McDonalds for burgers, buy Lays if we want chips, and drink Pepsi or Coke if we’re thirsty. Years ago, I was in line at my local bank and noticed a little girl that looked about 3 years old wearing puma shoes. She was going around telling others in line to look at her new Puma shoes with a big smile on her face. Her mother was also wearing Pumas.
These branding messages come from everywhere! As children, we’re like sponges, absorbing everything we hear and see. Whether it be on the TV, internet or radio we are constantly being bombarded by ads. We are told what’s cool and what isn’t.
We grow up using these products because of their underlying message. Brands can be hip and cool, they can be ethical, they can be edgy, and they have a niche because you simply cannot appeal to everyone.
The point is, branding IS important.
Without knowing who you are or what your company stands for, the majority of people will have a hard time buying from you. You will merely blend in with the rest of the crowd. You need to establish a brand so that people will be convinced to buy from you and remain loyal to only you. This cannot be done in 15 minutes.
If you want to stand out you have to be unique. Do you have a favourite coffee shop? I do and, let me tell you, it has nothing to do with the coffee. Where I work, downtown Vancouver, there are a dozen coffee shops within my vicinity. There are the modern ones, with lots of glass and steel. There are the earthy ones, with lots of greenery and rich wood. They all sell the same things: Americanos, Lattes, and Teas. But what sets them apart? Yep, their branding.
Stand out from the crowd
Picking a theme, slapping on some products and launching not only WON’T differentiate you, in fact, it will ultimately devalue your brand. I have been to many eCommerce sites that are selling vastly different products but yet they look the same. This is because they are using the exact same popular theme that thousands of others are.
What should you do then? Customize your store’s design so that it is tailored to your customers, and unique to your brand. There are many ways to go about this, but whatever you do, don’t get caught with a store that looks identical to 50 of your competitors.
Stand out from the crowd, and you will reap long term rewards because of it.
Create a brand
Chances are you are going to be selling the same, or similar, products as your competitors. How you brand yourself will make a huge impact on why someone will buy from you and not your competitors. Your brand is a chance to convince people why they should buy specifically from you.
In order to create a brand, you have to intimately understand your customer. This takes in depth research. Using this research, you can put together customer personas that you can use to guide decisions on branding.
If you have the chops to create a brand yourself, great! Or if you’re not a design expert, you can hire an individual freelancer, or even an agency. Just don’t skip this step, or you will pay for it.
When you first launch your website, it’s like a billboard in space. Unless you’ve spent the last couple of weeks or months or possibly even a year promoting yourself, nobody but your friends and mom know about your website.
You’re probably familiar with the ‘www’ in web addresses, which stands for World Wide Web. This means you are competing with the entire world and no matter how many times your mom buys your product and tells all her friends it’s not going to help your business. Because that’s what your store is. A business.
It takes time and work for your store to gain traction. Your site will not automatically show up in search engines either. That requires unique content such as product descriptions, blogging, rich snippets, proper URL structure, title tags, meta descriptions, keyword optimization, backlinks, heading tags and much more. This is something that takes time but it’s crucial. Your eCommerce platform should allow you to easily implement good SEO.
Google now uses HTTPS (SSL) as a ranking signal. This means SSL already effects your ranking in Google. This doesn’t work if only your checkout page uses SSL. The entire site needs to use SSL. Does your eCommerce platform use site-wide SSL?
AdWords & other paid channels
Beyond organic search engine traffic, you can also buy traffic through advertisements. The most popular being Google’s AdWords. Done right, AdWords can be a consistent revenue channel for eCommerce stores.
Generating a ROI from AdWords takes work, but you can follow our guide to get started with AdWords for eCommerce, or hire a freelancer to get you started on the right foot.
Aside from AdWords, you should also experiment with Facebook and Twitter advertising. With some tweaking and optimization, these channels can work great for eCommerce businesses.
Something that LemonStand encourages their customers to do is build an email list. It all starts with your list. Start building one even before you launch. Once you have a list of people, you can start your eCommerce email marketing.
Email marketing, including shopping cart abandonment emails, are an amazing way to grow your business over time.
Conversion rate optimization
Once you start getting traffic, are they turning into paying customers? If not, why? This requires someone experienced to analyze your store to find the things that are causing people not to buy your products. Optimizing your product pages, checkout and homepage will pay off, big time.
This also includes A/B testing your eCommerce website, so you can figure out which changes result in more sales. A/B testing your eCommerce website can result in massive increases in sales because it shows you what gets people to buy, and what doesn’t.
You can get started pretty easily. Check out our A/B testing for eCommerce eBook on doing this, and use software like Visual Website Optimizer or Optimizely.
Word of caution: some eCommerce platforms can’t actually be A/B tested. All eCommerce A/B tests should be tied to revenue. Since some eCommerce platforms don’t actually let you track anything on the checkout process (and use a different domain name such as checkout.cartify.com), A/B testing software such as Optimizely cannot properly determine which test generated the most revenue.
I saved the best for last. Digital marketers have been promoting the benefits of creating quality content for ages now, but in general, eCommerce businesses still haven’t received the memo.
Start investing in content creation now, and you will be ahead of the game. Building up a library of quality content for your eCommerce business takes time. This is precisely why it’s an amazing marketing strategy; your competitors are likely too lazy to and impatient to do it.
When choosing an eCommerce platform, make sure you are aware of the actual cost. Don’t get fooled, many platforms may seem like a good price but when it comes down to it, you will spend a ton on transaction fees, extra apps to fill gaps, higher priced plans to get basic functionality like live shipping rates and more.
Filling functionality gaps
Are you sure that $29/month plan include everything your business needs? What about live rate calculation from USPS or FedEx, is that included on your plan or only the $200/month plan?
Are flexible, mobile-friendly themes included for free that can be customized?
Transaction fees are a whole other ballgame. If you are using a platform and paying them a monthly fee to use it in the first place, why should you be paying them an additional transaction fee? Isn’t that like being penalized for being successful?
What if you don’t want to use their payment processing services, so that you can get a better rate from a company like Authorize.net or Payfirma, or even to offer an alternative payment option like Amazon Payments or PayPal? Will you have to pay additional transaction fees to the eCommerce platform if you do this?
Also consider what happens if your business grows. Will the platform support your growth, and be flexible enough to meet your needs as your business becomes more sophisticated? How much will it cost to switch to a platform aimed at more successful businesses in the future?
What about design? Are you going to pick and theme and customize it so that you don’t look like a thousand other stores or are you going to start from scratch with a freelancer or design agency? Many platforms offer high quality themes for free when you sign up for a plan so you already have a starting point which can cut down on costs.
I recently came across an article from about 2 years ago that was telling people to just do everything themselves because it will save you money. Just buy a theme, upload some products and start selling. I was astonished that someone within the industry would actually suggest this to people.
I was then curious to see what people had to say. Sure enough there was comment after comment complaining about developers and designers and tons of “yep I just did it myself!”. Well, when you clicked on the link to their stores, sure enough most of them were no longer there. The ones that were still live, were shockingly bad.
I would liken this to someone wanting to build a house. There are online videos and books about how to build a house but should you do it? Probably not. Unless… you’re a carpenter. In that case, carry on.
A good eCommerce platform will direct you to people who are experts within the industry that will be able to create a store for you that WILL last.
Put In The Work
Growing an eCommerce business is hard work. There’s no way around that. What’s possible to “open in minutes” won’t even resemble what will bring you to success. You will need to put in many hours of time, run experiments, fail and learn, over and over. It’s an ongoing process, but if you’re persistent and put in the work, you will succeed.
So, don’t worry about whether you can launch a store in 15 minutes or not, because what really matters is building a solid foundation on top of an eCommerce platform that’s made to grow with you, run by people that help you grow.