Starting an ecommerce business is fairly simple: If you’ve got a good idea for a business, you can use an ecommerce platform to build your store and start selling in just a few hours.
The question is, what is a “good idea” for a business? How do you know if your idea can become a viable venture? And how can you be sure about that viability without dropping a ton of money on inventory, advertising, and fees first?
Simple: You test your ecommerce idea before you turn it into a business.
Any good entrepreneur conducts market research and takes the pulse of the community before starting a business, whether it’s a brick-and-mortar shop or a simple online store. You can run some tests on your ecommerce idea in your spare time, and typically get a sense of whether there’s a market for your product before committing yourself 100%.
The landing page(s) test
A landing page isn’t an entire website, just a standalone page with a few key details you can use to pique people’s interest in your ecommerce idea.
It’s easier than ever to create, test, and tweak a landing page that describes your business idea. Your page needs just three important things:
- A headline: Your headline, tagline, company motto—whatever you want to call it, write something eye-catching that sums up your idea.
- Your idea’s benefits: What problem does your business solve? How would you describe it in relation to what your competitors offer? What will customers get for their money? Be sure to list a few of the most important benefits, such as “affordable” or “cloud-based.”
- A call-to-action: In order to capture people’s email addresses (so you can contact them at a later date, when your product or service actually is for sale), as well as to measure your conversion rate, use a simple CTA like “Sign up for early access,” or “Drop your email address below” or “Get our newsletter here!”
The concept is simple: Can you get people to visit your landing page? And when they do, can you convince them to sign up or otherwise express interest in your business idea?
Step One: Drive traffic to your page through ads
Once you build a landing page, how you let people know it exists—besides telling the people in your inner circle, like family and friends? Use ads on platforms like Google and Facebook to drive traffic to your page.
Google and Facebook are the two biggest names in internet advertising, and they cater to different audiences and behaviors. Google users are active: They are searching for answers to questions. Facebook users are more passive: They may stumble across your ad while browsing through other content. You should try to appeal to both types of audiences, especially in the testing phase.
Google and Facebook are the two biggest names in internet advertising, and they cater to different audiences and behaviors.
Put a little money behind ads on each platform and see what percentage of people who are served the ad click on it and visit your page. This is known as your clickthrough rate, and it’s an important metric to note in this experiment.
Step Two: Use A/B testing to find the best-performing pages
Once users arrive on your landing page, they may or may not decide to convert by following your CTA. But did they fail to convert because they weren’t interested in your idea, or because your copy was weak? Or because your page design was confusing? Or your CTA wasn’t clear?
The best way to make sure that people are interested (or not interested) in your idea is to create multiple landing pages and to test the performance of each one. Change just one variable each time—your headline, or benefits, or photos—and see which versions drive the most conversions. Then eliminate your worst performers and continue to tweak a single variable until you max out your conversion rate. Now you can be sure it’s your idea, rather than your copy, that is or isn’t converting visitors.
Step Three: Measure your CTR and CVR
Average clickthrough rate, or CTR, is just under 2% for search ads and 0.35% for display ads. If you beat these numbers, your ads are compelling and convincing users to visit your page—which is a great sign.
An even better sign is if you beat the average conversion rate, or CVR. Your conversion rate is the percentage of visitors who clicked your ad and then went on to become a customer—or in this case, a newsletter subscriber or someone seeking early access. Average CVR is about 2% on mobile and 4% on desktop.
Average CVR is about 2% on mobile and 4% on desktop.
If your CTR and CVR are higher-than-average after a few weeks of tweaking and testing, that’s a pretty good sign that your business idea is worth exploring further.
Gauge potential market size and trajectory
Looking to spend even less time and money on gauging the potential viability of your ecommerce business? There are a few other routes you can take to gather preliminary information and see where you stack up.
The first is to use a tool like Google Trends to see what your potential size and trajectory might be. Google Trends shows how a search term has risen (or fallen) in popularity over time.
If the trajectory of your terms is trending downward, look elsewhere.
Identify some search terms that relate to your business idea and see how many people search for them—and more importantly, whether interest is at least steady or growing. Fidget spinners were one of the hottest items in ecommerce history at one point, but after peaking in mid-2017, interest has mostly fallen off. If the trajectory of your terms is trending downward, look elsewhere.
Research your competitors
Another way to see if there’s a market for your idea is to find competitors in your space and see how they are faring.
In all likelihood, your idea is not 100% original, and someone else may already be in the business of selling it to people. That’s okay: It’s why Lyft exists alongside Uber. Competition is good, and shows there’s enough space in the market for more than one option.
Once you’ve identified your competitors, there are a few ways to see whether or not they’re doing a good enough job capturing your potential customers—and if you can make in-roads on them yourself:
- Check traffic estimates: Use Alexa to see how much web traffic your competitors get, and whether that traffic matches the kind of search interest you noted via Google Trends. If their web traffic is lacking, that could be a sign that your market’s needs aren’t met by your competition.
- Investigate their social media presence: How is their social media engagement? Do they have lots of posts, followers, and reactions? Are there complaints—and if so, can you use this information to build a better product?
- Conduct keyword research: Research tools like Ahrefs and Ubersuggest can help you see whether search terms in your industry have already been extensively covered—or if you can compete to rank for them on Google.
Many people believe that in order to test an idea, they need to develop a minimum viable product (MVP) in order to sell to customers and see if it resonates. But even the time and money needed to develop, market, and sell an MVP adds up. Before getting bogged down in building, tweaking, and improving a product, test the demand first.
By using the landing pages test, seeing who clicks through your online ads, and researching the potential market and how competitors are faring, you’ll get a much better sense of whether your ecommerce idea is worth pursuing—or whether it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
Have any questions about testing your idea? Ask 'em in the comments!