More and more people are opening online stores in today's digital age. To start an online store, you'll need to know the tips for starting an online store. Let's find out what those are and how they can benefit your eCommerce store.
According to the US Department of Commerce Retail Indicators Division, eCommerce sites grew by over 14 percent in 2021 and over 50% during the pandemic. While those numbers are impressive, many eCommerce businesses will fail due to poor branding, product selection, and pricing.
If you want your company to succeed in this competitive marketplace, it's important that you follow these tips.
What is an online store?
An online store is a web-based application that offers a wide range of products or services online. Customers can browse through the products and then place their orders online. The order will be delivered to the doorsteps of the customers.
Examples of online stores include Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal, and eBay.
10 Tips for starting your own online store
You've got a great idea for an online store. You know what products you want to sell, how much profit you want to make, and how many customers you expect each month. But before you start building your eCommerce site, you'll want to assess the opportunity before moving forward.
This guide will help walk you through the process of starting and running an online store step by step.
1) Find a gap in the market
To start any online business, it's important to understand your niche and target audience. In other words, you need to figure out what makes your company different from others in the same industry.
Once you've established this, think about how much time and money are going into marketing for other similar companies. Is there any room for innovation? If so, try brainstorming ideas for doing things better than the competition!
2) Validate your products
Before you start selling, it is recommended to validate your products.
Validation means that you need to know if the market for your product is there before investing a lot of money into its production and shipping. Fortunately, there are ways to test this idea without spending anything.
To validate a product or niche:
Look up similar items on Amazon and see what their reviews say. Look at Amazon's best sellers list.
Put together an email survey with two questions: “Would you buy this?” and “How much would you pay for it?” Then send out 100 emails asking these questions (and don't forget to thank people who respond).
You'll get back some data about whether there's demand for your product and, if not, what might be wrong with it.
3) Choose the right platform
Choose a platform that is easy to use. You will want something that allows you to upload content and manage inventory easily and an intuitive user interface. Some of that can be overcome with a strong and robust theme, but often the platform has to be superior to deliver good results.
People shopping online are often in more of a rush than they might be at their local store, so it's important to ensure your platform doesn't slow them down or cause confusion.
Choose a platform with a good reputation. If there aren't many users on the platform or the few people who use it have bad things to say about their experience, then chances are it's not worth considering for your business at this point in time.
Choose a platform with good customer support options available 24/7 (especially if you plan on expanding overseas). Many platforms offer live chat features and phone numbers for users outside the platform's country.
However, some fail miserably when it comes time for customer service inquiries or fixing technical problems in general. So check out reviews before committing yourself fully.
4) Ensure you have the best web hosting
To conduct business online, having the best web hosting to meet your needs is vital. Some eCommerce platforms are self-hosted, like Shopify, which is an added advantage for performance, speed, scalability, etc.
Other eCommerce platforms like WooCommerce rely on WordPress, which requires web hosting. You will likely want managed WordPress hosting, VPS (virtual private server) hosting, or Cloud hosting, as shared hosting will likely not scale or support the performance needs of the website.
Luckily, many great website hosting options are available to ensure that you only need to worry about how the website will sell products vs. how the website will perform.
If a brick-and-mortar business is about location, an eCommerce business is about hosting. You will find it more difficult to operate your online store without the best hosting.
5) Know who your ideal customer is
You need to understand your target market. There are not a lot of successful startup eCommerce businesses out there that don't know who their target customers are. From growing brand loyalty to planning your online advertising, you need to know who you are selling to.
Once you've got a solid idea of what you want to sell and who your ideal customer is, it's time to start thinking about how that customer moves through the buying process.
It's important to know what motivates your audience. What are their pain points? How can you help solve them? This also includes knowing what they're currently doing to solve these issues.
If it involves spending money on another solution, then consider creating a new product or service that can replace it or at least mitigate the problem and make their life easier while they search for a better option.
To sell online successfully, an eCommerce website might need to diversify its product line or reach customers via outside channels, like public marketplaces such as eBay, Amazon, or Etsy. It's important to be where the online shoppers are if they are not finding your online store.
6) Invest in great website design
The design of your e-commerce website is an important factor for success. While functionality should always be a priority, it's also important to ensure that your online store looks professional, modern, and trustworthy.
Professional: The look and feel of your site should represent the quality of your products or services. For example, If you are selling high-end fashion clothes, then the design of your site should reflect that aesthetic while still being clean and accessible.
Modern: Buyers expect up-to-date websites with their browsing experience as technology advances at breakneck speed. An outdated website will make potential customers think twice before they click “buy now,” – especially if they know other competitors have snazzier websites than yours.
Trustworthy: The goal of your website is to build trust with potential buyers. This can be accomplished by including customer reviews, testimonials, and product descriptions that detail the benefits of buying from you over competitors. You can also add trust badges for SSL security, credit card protection, and the BBB seal.
7) Optimize your product pages
Optimizing your product pages is necessary to get the best conversion rates. The goal of your product page should be to present the information buyers need while also encouraging them to make a purchase.
To do this, you'll want to include the following:
A good description of what the product is and how it works. Instructional videos excel at this and are well received.
Keywords (that have been researched) and the proper search engine optimization of the content to ensure that Google can find your page when people search for similar products.
Images of what the product looks like (if possible), including photos from different angles so buyers can get a better idea of what they're buying
Product specifications such as size or color options
8) Create a solid marketing strategy
Your marketing strategies should be documented so that you regularly evaluate and update them. You will have to update the marketing plan as your business grows, your customer base changes or new opportunities arise.
A comprehensive marketing strategy should include the following sections:
- A budget for the next 12 months (or however long you want to track)
- A calendar of events showing when you will run sales, promotions, and other activities
- A list of all your marketing channels, such as email newsletters and social media accounts, with their respective contact information
- A table detailing each channel's expected reach and cost per acquisition calculated based on historical data or industry averages, if available
- The team members and their roles and responsibilities for ensuring the marketing strategy get executed.
9) Keep your store updated
It's important to ensure that your site is always up-to-date with new products, promotions, and other content. You don't want to leave your customers waiting for a product they see on another website while visiting yours.
You also want to ensure your post on your blog regularly. Don't think that because you're an eCommerce business, you don't have to pay attention to content marketing strategies. Blogging is essential for any business model that seeks organic traffic from search engines.
The good news is that a top eCommerce platform has considerable blogging capabilities in tow. The best is WooCommerce because it is built on WordPress, the best platform for blogging, and Shopify, which has put a lot of work into improving its blog capabilities over the years.
It's as important for an eCommerce site to be properly optimized for search engines. This means ensuring new fresh content is published on the website for long-term growth and that search engine optimization is applied to each and every product description.
10) Offer free shipping
Shipping costs are a big deal for customers. They want to avoid them whenever possible. Offering free shipping will give your online store a competitive advantage if you add the shipping costs into your pricing structure and then offer free shipping to your patrons.
According to Funnel Strategist, around 90% of online shoppers say free shipping encourages them to shop even more online.
You will likely find your eCommerce sales will suffer if you don't offer free shipping. It truly is that much of a game changer in this day and age. Online marketplaces like Amazon and Wayfair have instituted free shipping for years and are two of the biggest online marketplaces in the world.
Small business owners will do well to factor the shipping costs into the markup for the products or offer it at a tiered level, like what a new marketplace like Banggood does, which is all orders over $49.99.
Tips for running a successful online store
Starting an online business today is typically easier than running one successfully. Running an online store is challenging but incredibly rewarding when you start to see success.
A good marketing strategy can go a long way to contributing to your online store's success. However, it's also critical to consider other elements of a successful business, such as pricing and customer service.
Here are some of my favorite tips for making your online store run smoothly and successfully to grow your business and increase sales and profit margins.
1) Product Descriptions
Your product descriptions will be the first thing people read on your eCommerce website, so it's important that they are detailed and descriptive. Even if you aren't an expert in your field, you can use Google search to find out more about a topic. Try to answer these ten products and industry-related questions:
- What is it?
- What does it look like?
- How big is it?
- What does this product do for me?
- Why should I buy this product over another similar one?
- Where did you get this product from?
- Where can I buy the same thing from elsewhere? And why wouldn't I want to?
- Is there a strong brand attached to this product?
- Who owns these products, and what has it helped them accomplish?
- Are there any customer reviews available for reference before deciding to purchase from here instead of elsewhere online?
2) Customer Support
Customer support is a huge part of running an online business, and it's important that you have the right systems in place for new and existing customers.
Generally, you will want to provide 24/7 customer support via form, email, and live chat. This helps customers feel like they're being treated well and can ask questions whenever they need to.
Additionally, it's also a good idea to have a help center or an FAQ section so that people have answers right at their fingertips when they're looking for them. This largely depends on the type of product you are selling and its complexity.
There may also be an added benefit to starting a YouTube channel if video tutorials benefit your audience. This is a great differentiator over competitors.
Finally, ensure that you communicate your return policy so customers can see how long they have to send something back if there are issues with what they purchased from your store.
3) Accept Payments Online
Accepting payments online is one of the most important things you can do to make your customers happy. As a small business owner, you likely don't have a lot of extra cash. You need a way to accept payment without relying on cash or checks alone.
The great news is that numerous payment options are available for companies like yours. There are so many that it may be challenging to choose one that best suits your business model.
Some popular solutions include accepting credit cards through Stripe or PayPal, allowing customers' bank accounts to be linked through apps like Apple Pay or Google Wallet, and even taking advantage of pay-over-time options offered through ShopPay, PayPal, and Klarna, among others.
4) Performance tracking
Conversions are important for every business, but when it comes to eCommerce businesses, it's even more crucial. Understanding how conversions are best measured and setting performance benchmarks are vital to the success of online businesses.
It's important to track your sales and traffic stats. This data is critical to understanding which products are selling best, who your most loyal customers are, and what marketing initiatives are working.
Successful eCommerce websites rely on understanding these data points to know which sales channels are the best investment for new product ideas. It is a must if you go for business funding for your online store.
5) Upsells and Cross-Sells
Upselling and cross-selling are online techniques to boost sales. Here's how it works: you'll offer more expensive and complementary products to the customer after they've already made a purchase, such as a set of books or an accessory for a smartphone case.
It may sound intimidating, but it doesn't have to be. These techniques are quite simple once you get the hang of them. Just remember not to push too hard. You don't want your customers to feel tricked into buying more stuff they don't need or want in order just because you told them to.
When done correctly, both upselling and cross-selling can boost sales successfully. According to Funnel Strategist, 10% to 30% of most e-commerce revenue is generated through upsells. And, Invespo reports that personalized cross-sells make up 7% of e-commerce store visitors and account for over 26% of their revenue.
6) Promotions and Discounts
Discounts and promotions are a great way to increase sales.
Discounts can either be used as an incentive for customers to purchase your products, or you can offer discounts as a reward for customer loyalty. Discounts can also serve as a way to encourage customers to buy more than they would otherwise.
Promotions add tremendous value to the shopping experience and are used regularly by top merchants, states, and the federal government. Think of sales tax holidays. Successful online stores will use promotions like BOGO or savings on future purchases.
Click the link for more information on how to boost sales using promotion apps.
7) Social Media Marketing
Building your brand and interacting with customers through social media marketing is a fantastic strategy. You can use social media to promote sales, deals, and events and use it as an outlet for customer service.
Social media can be used to gather useful customer information as well as to help you create a community around your brand. User-generated content in the form of customer testimonials on social media is one of the best ways to build brand loyalty, and social proof goes a long way to building your brand.
The following are a few popular forms of social media marketing and which most online stores want to pay the most attention to:
- Facebook groups (and pages)
- Instagram stories and reels
- YouTube videos
- TikTok shorts
- Twitter tweets
8) Email Marketing
One of the best marketing strategies for your online store is email marketing. It's a fantastic way to connect with your clients and establish a rapport.
Email marketing can promote sales, new products, and offers. A well-written email campaign will get you more sales and increase customer loyalty by informing them about upcoming events or special offers for loyal customers only.
Most eCommerce platforms have decent, if not sophisticated, email marketing tools or add-ons you can put into use to build your subscriber lists and send out personalized campaigns based on user behavior and interactions with your eCommerce store.
9) Managing store inventory
Managing your store's inventory can be challenging and take too much time. Ensuring you have a good inventory management system can help control stock levels to know when to reorder.
Many stores today are turning to outside or third-party fulfillment. Some specialty companies will handle all of the back office needs or even wholesalers who dropship, so you only need to concentrate on the marketing and retail sales.
10) Managing your shipping
Managing shipping details and rates is one of the most challenging components of running a profitable eCommerce store. If you cannot manage shipping rates to maintain profitability, you will find yourself out of business relatively quickly.
Many eCommerce retailers get tripped up by handling shipping responsibilities. If you don't feel you have a good handle on shipping, it is best to outsource that part of your operations to ensure customer delivery and satisfaction remain positive.
Benefits of running an online store
1) You own a piece of digital real estate
Digital real estate is booming, and successful businesses find outlets to sell their companies more easily and for more money than before. Marketplaces like Flippa are great for buying and selling online businesses.
This option makes it all more important to implement strategies to grow your online store successfully and ensure you have a decent exit strategy should you want to sell down the road.
2) You can scale your business more easily
Implementing an eCommerce solution or hybrid solution means you can grow your customer base without expanding your physical footprint. A small brick-and-mortar is easier when you know that most of your sales happen online.
You can hire more people to work for you in strategic areas such as marketing and sales. This is a great way for small business owners to level the playing field with bigger retailers and ensure scalability when right.
3) Customers can shop whenever they want
As an online store owner, you don't have to worry about the time of day or night. Your customers can shop whenever they want, from anywhere in the world. Plus, your site is available 24/7 for their convenience.
An eCommerce website is a true difference maker for small businesses with bigger ideas or simply making money online. There is no better way to expand a business model in today's world than by enabling online shopping in your own online store or in online marketplaces using your brand.
Online Store Tips Wrap-up
The choice to start an online store is empowering. But running a successful online store is something that takes time. It’s not an overnight process. It will be worth all of your hard work if you have the dedication to see it through. There are multiple ways to start selling online, so finding the right path forward to meet your goals and passions is one of the most critical elements for success.