We live in the ‘Gold Rush’ era of the internet: never before has it been easier to launch a web-based product business, selling hard goods online and shipping them to national and international destinations. The web is still young enough to play host to all sorts of opportunities, and the current crop of ecommerce tools means that starting and running an online store has never been simpler.
However, launching an online product business is by no means easy. An ecommerce store is more than just a website – it’s a business with many components, and it pays to thoroughly hash out your plan beforehand.
Here are ten steps you need to take in your planning phase in order to give your store the best chance of success.
1. Niche It Down – Who is your Ideal Customer?
Before diving into the nuts and bolts, you need to precisely identify who your ideal customer is. Ask yourself this crucial question: who is the person that is actually going to buy from you? The clearer the picture you can get in your head of a representative target customer, the better everything else will flow – including product selection, marketing, and branding.
Try to really get inside the head of your ideal prospect. What are their main problems and desires? What kind of personality do they have? Are they frugal, or do they spend big? Your answers to these questions will inform many of the other strategic decisions you make later on.
2. What’s Your USP?
Once you know precisely who you’re selling to, you need to identify your Unique Selling Proposition. This is what makes you different from the competition, but it’s also what makes you better. Why should people choose to buy from you instead of other stores selling similar items?
Think in terms of value for the customer. A nice store design is not a USP, whereas superior customer service, custom product designs or being an authority in your industry could be.
3. Decide on a Business Structure
Before you begin trading, you need to decide how to legally define your business. Whether you opt to do business as a Sole Trader, a Partnership or a Company, your choice will depend on your own particular financial situation. If you’re unsure, a word with your accountant might be your best bet here.
4. Get Your Domain Name!
Choosing your domain name can be tricky, since so many catchy names and effective business phrases have been snapped up already. Do your best to come up with a short phrase that represents your brand: what you want your store to “be about”. It’s difficult, so you might have to compromise.
Generally, .com or .com.au are seen as the most professional domain endings, whereas .org, .biz and .info should be avoided.
5. Choose Your Store Platform
There are several great platform choices for your online store. BigCommerce is a popular one, and often suits the needs of many first-time store owners, combining flexibility and functionality with a delightfully simple user interface.
If you need more complex functionality, there are other options out there also. Carefully check out the features of the stores you’re interested in, and choose the one that best fits what you want your website to be able to do.
6. Decide On Payment Methods
What types of payment will you accept? This will also depend on the store platform you’ve chosen. Generally, most customers expect to be able to pay directly by Visa or Mastercard as well as Paypal, so factor that in when choosing your merchant account.
7. Formulate a Marketing Strategy
Once you’ve built your site, you clearly need to attract the visitors who are interested in what you’re selling. This is internet marketing, and it’s a mammoth, complex field.
Start with a basic plan for how you’re going to get in front of your target customers and entice them to click through to your store. You’ll probably want to be up and running as soon as possible, which will entail the use of a Pay-Per-Click advertising strategy, at least at the start. As you develop content and a web presence, Search Engine Optimisation methods become worthwhile and they’ll yield more organic visitors from Google and other engines over time.
There are plenty of agencies and consultants who are willing to take charge of your online marketing for you – so if you’re new to the field, it could be a wise move.
8. What Look and Feel Do You Want?
It pays to put some forethought into the ambience you want to create with your store design.
This links back to the first point about identifying your target customer. What’s going to make them feel like they’re in the right place? A handy question to ask yourself is “If this was a physical shop, what atmosphere would I want inside?” The answer to that question should inform colour and design choices on your website.
9. Choose Shipping Options And Charges
Where will you ship to, and what will you charge? Will you ship internationally? It might be a good idea if there will be high demand for your product abroad. You may need to run the numbers on product profit margins here, and see what you’re able to offer your customers.
10. Choose an Analytics Platform – And Decide What To Measure
Finally, once your store is making sales, you’ll want to be able to take a look at the numbers and identify things to improve on. A good web analytics tool is your best friend here – these pieces of software let you pinpoint trends in user behaviour on your site and see whether the numbers are moving in the right direction.
Google Analytics is usually a solid choice, but there are other options. The main thing is to educate yourself about web analytics – the more you can extract actionable insights from your online store’s data, the more you can test, tweak and optimise things to generate high revenues and happy customers.
Marcus Falley is a representative of Study Now, Australia’s biggest directory of online courses and distance education courses. Courses are available in a range of industries including digital marketing courses.
Photo Source: Flickr, Creative Commons