It’s great to learn from your mistakes, but some blunders cost more time and money than others. We say: do it right the first time! Below are 10 missteps that could impact the success of your ecommerce business.
1. Not researching and choosing a niche market
We’ve said it before on our blog, but it bears repeating – choosing a niche or specialty market helps with revenue. Unless your goal is to compete with Amazon and Target (don’t try this at home), you don’t need to sell every product under the sun. The internet is already one giant mall, so you’ll have more success by selling a few things and selling them well.
When choosing product offerings, you should also define a target audience for your goods. Explore customer profiles that encompass specific interests, age groups, lifestyles and price points. If you already have a product niche in mind, that should help guide you toward your target audience. If you’re having trouble deciding what to sell – on the other hand – defining a target audience can help you narrow down a product niche. Be sure to check out what the competition is doing – is your chosen product niche over saturated or woefully underrepresented? Is there revenue potential? What are the product margins for the goods you want to sell?
Unless your goal is to compete with Amazon and Target (don’t try this at home), you don’t need to sell every product under the sun.
Above all, have clear goals for your product lines and target audiences. This will help you make better decisions around manufacturing, fulfilling and shipping your products.
2. Leaving the technical and legal details for last
You’re all ready to go with a fantastic set of products and an awesome site design. Time to launch www.coolstufftobuy.com to the world, except – uh, oh! – that domain name is taken and that company already exists.
That example may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s just one of several business considerations you need to address before you can launch an online store. At a minimum, we recommend determining the following:
- An ecommerce platform to host your products and process orders.
- A legal company name. What does your state require in the way of registering or licensing your business?
- Domain name. Make sure the one you want isn’t taken, then register it under your company or company owner’s name.
- Email accounts to communicate with customers. Having dedicated email addresses for different store functions lends credibility and professionalism. Your domain registration may come with email accounts.
- A way to accept payment If you plan to accept credit cards, find out which gateways you can use with your ecommerce platform. If you’re not ready for that, use PayPal Express or another third-party payment solution. Whatever you choose, do some research into whether your site requires an SSL certificate for processing payments, as well as whether your payment gateway has specific requirements (you may need to have public Terms of Service and/or Return Policy pages on your site).
- Methods of obtaining merchandise and fulfilling orders. Are you creating products yourself, shipping from your own warehouses or using a third-party dropshipping solution? Are you able to guarantee timely delivery and production, as well as a reliable level of quality?
3. Not showing TLC to your product pages
Online shopping is a lot like window shopping with some extra information. Your customers can see the product but they can’t touch it or try it out on their own. It’s your job to fill in the gaps and seal the sale by providing as much additional visual and written detail as necessary. To that end, it’s important to make sure that your product images are good quality and that they show any detailed aspects of a product that your shoppers may want to see. If other stores are selling similar goods, your product imagery is a prime opportunity to outshine competitors and attract more customers.
Short product descriptions can be the kiss of conversion death...
On the flip side, shoppers who are excited about your products may have a few last questions before purchasing. Help nudge them along by answering some of those questions through the product description. Short product descriptions can be the kiss of conversion death, while detailed descriptions give customers the confidence of knowing exactly what to expect from an online purchase. If that isn’t enough reason to write better product descriptions, remember that more details means more content for search engines like Google to crawl. The goal is for Google to recognize that the contents of your product pages are relevant to the search terms your potential shoppers may use.
While it may be tempting to take shortcuts, it’s important to stress that all content should be your own. Copyright laws protect both images and written content – including product names and descriptions – on the web. Don’t copy others’ stuff or you may pay for it later – either in the form of a lawsuit or having to recreate all of your content!
4. Not testing your payment gateway and order fulfillment process
There’s no point in having an online store if you can’t get your money and your shoppers can’t get their goods. Before you launch to the public, it’s crucial that you place several test orders. Make sure that it’s clear and easy to input payment details at checkout and that payments are being successfully processed through your payment solution. If you’re accepting credit cards through your website, keep in mind that payment gateways have various settings – such as test mode or authorize/capture settings – that you may want to configure further.
Before you launch to the public, it’s crucial that you place several test orders.
Once you’ve ensured that payments are successfully making it through, walk through the order fulfillment process a few different ways. How does your ecommerce provider and payment solution handle partial and full refunds? What happens when you complete an order? How do your customers receive notice that you’ve shipped their items?
Make sure the process runs smoothly – for both the shopper and the store admin –since order fulfillment is the bread and butter of your daily operations.
5. Only viewing your store on one device
As of the 2018 holiday season, over half of all online shopping takes place on a mobile device. While some business owners may find it easier to manage their stores on a desktop computer, it’s essential that you test the entire shopping process across various devices and web browsers. Make sure to test search functionality, browse your categories, select product options, add items to your cart, enter discount codes and check out – the whole shebang. Double check your site design to make sure all elements appear as you want them to.
If you’re on your computer, try viewing your site on all the major web browsers – Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari – to catch any display or functionality issues. The goal is to ensure that all your customers have the same great experience while shopping your online store.
...it’s essential that you test the entire shopping process across various devices and web browsers.
6. Overlooking shipping strategy
When determining which shipping methods you’ll offer, it’s important to find a balance between your needs and your customers’ expectations. You’ve likely shopped online yourself, so you know that shipping fees can be an unpleasant surprise at checkout and may even cause a shopper to look elsewhere for the same items. But the decision to offer free shipping isn’t a simple one – it’s important to determine the average amount it will cost you to ship your items.
Most shoppers are still willing to pay for shipping, as long as the pricing is reasonable and the delivery time frames are clear
Do some research into the average size, weight and shipping materials for some of your products. Calculate how much it will cost you to ship and adjust your shipping prices accordingly. While you don’t need to turn a profit on shipping, it’s wise to build in padding so that you can weather the occasions where you lose money on shipping. Some sellers account for this by building shipping fees into their product prices, while others set a minimum order total or shipment weight for free shipping. You can also look into third-party shipping partners – like Stamps.com or Shippo – to streamline the process and get discounted rates when processing large numbers of shipments.
Depending on the shipping costs for your items, free shipping may not be a financially feasible option for you in the beginning – and that’s okay. Most shoppers are still willing to pay for shipping, as long as the pricing is reasonable and the delivery time frames are clear. Customers love to see Shipping information in your FAQs or on a stand-alone, easy-to-locate web page, rather than waiting to find out at checkout.
7. Failure to calculate costs of promotions and incentives
Promotions and discounts are important tools in a seller’s arsenal, but they’re only useful if they improve your bottom line. Whether you’re offering an automatically applied discount promotion, a coupon code for newsletter signups or contest entry, it’s important to consider the cost compared with the potential boost in revenue.
Try to strike a balance between driving conversions and providing value to your customers.
Contests and free samples aren’t right for every product niche and may only net a small number of sales (if any). It’s important to calculate the value of your samples against the cost of your actual products. For example, sending samples of consumable, one-time-use products – like cosmetics or snacks – can be a solid move since it lets shoppers try your product while still leaving the door open for future purchases. If a free sample is reusable and costly, however, there isn’t much incentive for customers to buy another one and you may end up losing quite a bit of money on production costs.
The same principle holds true for everyday discounts and coupons – don’t discount your inventory so much that you’re selling it at cost. Try to strike a balance between driving conversions and providing value to your customers.
8. Trying to do too much at the beginning
Keep in mind that building your online business is a process and it won’t happen overnight. Try to focus on the important aspects first, rather than fixating on small details along the way. Unless you’re a major retailer, it isn’t reasonable or expected to have every possible feature upon your grand opening. Bells and whistles like loyalty programs, wish lists and customer account features aren’t necessary to get started. You can slowly add those features as your business grows without having to delay your profits.
When it comes to design, know that your website doesn’t need to be 100% custom-designed to look professional. Choose a theme that’s clean and easy to navigate and make sure you have a solid logo for branding purposes.
Unless you’re a major retailer, it isn’t reasonable or expected to have every possible feature upon your grand opening.
9. Not planning for growth
For most sellers, the ultimate business goal is to grow in reach and revenue. Many sellers end up spending too much time and money on growth strategies early on, when it may have been better to plan and wait.
Here are some pitfalls to avoid:
- Spending too much on Google Ads and PPC campaigns too early
- Creating social media accounts on every platform, then neglecting them due to lack of content or personnel
- Paying for premium newsletter management systems without establishing a customer base or content strategy
- Cross-selling your products on other marketplaces — such as Amazon — before establishing a reliable production and fulfillment schedule
Once you’ve been operating your store for a while, you’ll have a much better idea of your business and marketing needs, as well as areas where you have the most opportunity to grow. You’ll also have a better idea of how much revenue you can put toward your growth strategies.
10. Setting and Forgetting
In order to be truly successful, it’s best not to view your online store as a quick and easy way to make money. Just like any brick-and-mortar business, maintenance is key. Be sure to constantly reevaluate your product offerings, shipping policies and payment methods to best fit your business model and your customers’ needs.
Once your store gets off the ground, prioritize your energies toward strategic decisions and marketing. Automate small tasks wherever you can or hire specialists who can do them faster. There’s ample help out there for most of your business needs – from data entry to accounting to product photography. The time you save can be used to brainstorm big picture business improvements – improving your brand strategy, attracting and retaining customers, optimizing SEO and constantly tweaking...it’s all part of the business life cycle!
Do you have any tips for setting up an online store? Share your thoughts with us below!