Motivational Monday: 12 Essential Pieces of Advice for Starting in eCommerce

Being on the road to starting an ecommerce business is an exciting adventure. But while it’s exciting, it’s also very confusing when you first start out. It’s like a giant scary maze that you’ll have to navigate through to find the gold at the end. To help you navigate, we've listed 12 key pieces of advice for getting started in the world of eCommerce.

Begin with a very specific niche market

Don’t pick and choose random products or a giant selection of products to sell. Focus in on a specific niche to start out. Just because Amazon is great at selling everything, doesn’t mean you’re going to be right from the start. It takes companies years of testing, perfecting, raising money, and growth to get to the product selection and scale that they’re at. A small starting focus will allow you to find a community, find focus for your brand, and allow you to focus your marketing efforts. The time and effort that you put into your beginning focal point will stick with you forever and lay the foundation for your business.

ALWAYS have a way to capture leads!

Always, always, always!!! Capture leads the best you can. This is the most crucial piece of marketing advice that’s ignored all too often. Even stores that have been around for 1-2 years fail to put any effort into this. If someone comes to your site to browse around and you don’t have any system in place to capture them, you'll miss your 1 shot! You’ll only be able to remarket to whoever you manage to sell to the first time around. If you’re paying for this traffic, that’s even worse! You’re now not only letting potential revenue slip away but you’re advertising costs are inflated.

Find a way to capture and remarket to leads by:

  • Capturing their email/social connection with a discount/promotion
  • Capturing their email/social connection with informative content
  • Encouraging them to ‘like/follow’ you on your preferred social site
  • Create a giveaway or competition to capture their info

Don’t assume anything!

Just because you ‘think something will work’ or someone gave you a piece of advice, doesn’t mean it’s correct. Find ways to test and research everything, especially if you’re counting on it as an essential cog in your machine.

Research and find your perfect platform

Don’t go with a platform just because they’re running a discount, is the cheapest, or have one thing that you want that the others don’t. Think about what truly matters to you not only right now but also further down the road. Remember that major site changes and platform migrations are, to put it lightly, a giant and expensive pain in the ass. Be sure to do your research of the platform, it’s long term costs, the functionality it and the applications/plugins for it provide, and your potential ability to get expert help. Basic example: You sign up for a year with a super cheap platform that isn’t common, the only experts for the platform charge 2.5x normal rates. Was it worth it?!?

Here’s a quick list of major platforms to help you get started (alphabetical order):

Slim your starting marketing strategy

Once again, this is a situation where you have to focus on what you want to do and perfect it. Just because company A or B is able to maintain a Facebook, Twitter, Email, PPC, SEO, Retail, Branding, TV ads, etc etc etc. strategy all at the same time, doesn’t mean you can. These companies have agencies, large budgets, and a lot of staff working to keep these cogs operating. Figure out what you can do and test some to see what’s working and what isn’t. Then focus on perfecting what works for your brand. I stated this about social in my 'How to optimize your social buttons' article, pick the social networks that you want to focus on and then perfect them. You’re not going to be successful with any if you’re shooting at all of them at the same time.

Start tracking from the start!

I shouldn’t have to say this! Metrics/Analytics/Data are the foundation for running a successful business, period. Perhaps you don’t know what to look for or how to read them, that’s not an excuse to not have them. As a consultant myself, when a client doesn’t have prior records of metrics that I use to help better their business, I’m stuck guessing about what could work until the data comes in. At least have them ready for someone who can understand the data.

I’d suggest having Google Analytics (everyone’s suggested base of analytics) applied to your store. It’s free, forever.

In addition, track your social buttons with Addshoppers social analytics. It’s free for early stage stores.

Mixpanel is also an amazing solution that is free to early companies as well. It enables you to create and answer deep questions about how different advertising, and pathways affect sales and conversions.

Know exactly what your competitors are doing!

You’re not perfectly unique. There are many stores and sites just like yours in many ways. See what they’re doing wrong and what they’re doing right. Take notes on their weaknesses and see if you can exploit them. As well, don’t be afraid to copy what they’re doing right. Lets say you sell hemp products. If your competitor has managed to create an amazing following from posting ‘hippie’ like photos on Facebook, don’t be afraid to follow along.

Getting away from the manufacturer templates

Assuming you are selling products that you didn’t manufacture yourself, you’re going to get the manufacturer's suggested defaults. Don’t use them! Always add your own flair to things and create new images and description. Add information that they might’ve neglected to include; height, weight, obscure features and functions, etc.

Typically these defaults are boring and don’t speak to the customer. In addition, the default descriptions are an SEO nightmare. If every site that sells the product is using the same text, you’re seen by search engines as “just another” and won’t rank well.

Don’t try to undercut other’s prices

If you’re a new store, you’re going to commit corporate suicide if you try to compete on price this early. It’s simply not possible. Stores that have been around for awhile have better deals from the manufacturer, better deals with shipping carriers, and know how much they can lose on a customer now, that they’ll make up for with their business later.

Your best action is to market well, brand well, provide something special (ex: amazing customer service) and add your own personal touch. Trying to wedge yourself under competitors prices and take on the extremely slim margins, will cause you to crash and burn.

Always be alert to potential fraud and incidents

This is an obvious issue that anyone would say “Well duh, I don’t want to be scammed… I already know that” to. The problem isn’t that you’re not aware that fraud exists, it’s that you assume that your financial institution will take care of this problem if you are. They won’t, and your cash flow could be destroyed before they do.

My two personal stories:

Back when iPads were a ‘hot’ item and everyone was lining up to get one I managed to get my hands on a few before they went out of stock for a month long period. Thinking I was smart and going to make a quick buck, I turned to eBay to sell them. A high priced, popular item is one of the biggest targets for fraud. The bids kept coming in, and then finally a final bidder in France wins the purchase. 24 hours go by, 24 hours that I should have shipped the product in but thankfully was out of bubble wrap, and eBay emails me canceling the purchase because they suspected it was fraudulent. eBay still has to this date my $54 for that winning purchase fee. I can live with not getting that fee back, but had I sent the $800 product and never received any money for it I would’ve taken a hard hit.

My second story is around software sales. A long time ago, in a webspace not so far from here, I was building Facebook Applications. Not all of them did well so we sold the turn-key scripts to people who thought they could make a few changes and do better. It was set up eCommerce style, come in and buy, get the download, and leave, so that we didn’t have to deal with anything. These scripts were popular and people knew they’d make money back with them so we were charging upwards of $1000. Eventually some clever (swear word) thought he’d minimize his costs and make pure profit by using a hacked PayPal account to buy the scripts and get them before it was flagged. This ended up being a two week battle with PayPal and the person who had their account hacked in an attempt to get the $1000 we were supposed to have from that sale of goods. Never happened. PayPal pulled the money from our account, the hacked individual walked away with his money back, and the hacker who could be anywhere in the world walked away with our code which we can only assume he resold to others.

#3 in the article “5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Opening an Ecommerce Business” Armando talks about his encounter with a “Why would they do this” situation.

Whenever your gut tells you that something is going to be wrong, it probably is. Always check out big orders, don’t make it easy for frauds to get your product before you get the money secured, mitigate risk, and lastly always have enough in the bank to keep you afloat if a deal goes bad.

Talk to people in your space and in eCommerce

We naturally want to protect our businesses with our life. They’re our income, our passion, our everything; ‘our baby’. Much like a young child though, if we never let them go outside and explore they’ll never grow and learn. This horrible metaphor is trying to get across the point that you should protect your business but no one is directly ‘out to get you’. The best thing you can do for your business is converse with people in your space. This could be anyone from people who sell products like yours through retail, the manufacturers, partnering products, etc. It’ll help you gain new ideas and perspectives on the products you’re trying to sell and what people are looking for and buying.

Other conversations you need to be having are with like minded eCommerce store owners and eCommerce marketing consultants/experts. These individuals have experienced a lot of the pitfalls and challenges that you have or are about to face. They can help you work through them with their experience and provide insight into things you should be looking into that they’ve already tested.

A great place that I recently have joined and highly recommend is the ecommercefuel forum. This community is packed with brilliant ecommerce store owners sharing around information and asking well thoughtout questions when they’ve hit a wall. You’ll find me there providing SEO and digital marketing advice to members.