By Ryan Ayers
New ecommerce businesses are popping up in every corner of the Internet for a few reasons: They’re simple to set up, they can be very inexpensive to create and maintain, it’s possible to reach customers all over the country (or the world!), and online shopping is becoming more popular every year. 80% of people who use the Internet have made at least one purchase online, and US ecommerce sales are expected to grow to $523 billion in the next few years.
Those are exciting stats, but it doesn’t mean that you’ll become the next Amazon—plenty of ecommerce businesses never make significant profit. This can occur for a number of reasons, of course: the marketing is ineffective, the products aren’t what people want, the business is run poorly—there are so many reasons businesses fail. Savvy entrepreneurs can improve their chances for success, however, by planning the launch and beyond carefully. If you’ve got a great product line and you’re getting ready to start an ecommerce business, consider following these 7 tips before you launch.
1. Research your target market
This is an essential step of any business launch, but it’s one that many ecommerce entrepreneurs neglect. Just because your products could theoretically reach every internet user in the world, the reality is that most of them won’t want to buy your products. Trying to market to everyone is a recipe for disaster, so your first step should be determining that there’s a market for your product—and then learn everything you can about that market.
2. Discover what makes you unique
Businesses that survive have identified their Unique Selling Proposition (USP). What’s yours? Some companies are on a social mission, like TOMS, which has distributed over 60 million pairs of shoes in the last 10 years to needy children in countries all over the world. TOMS’ USP is that they give away one pair of shoes for every pair they sell. Apple is unique in that they maintain their own operating system and focus on design. Amazon’s is that they offer fast shipping and everything a person might need in one place. Every successful company has a USP, even ecommerce sites.
3. Make it convenient
No one wants to create yet another account or navigate through pages and pages of nonsense to get to the ultimate goal: buying something. Don’t make it difficult for your customers to buy—help them! Make the checkout process as streamlined as possible. Default to the cheapest shipping option, allow guest checkout, and remove the pages that act as barriers to the sale.
4. Focus on the launch
You only get one chance to launch, so spend some time planning that launch to ensure its success. You won’t have absolutely everything set up from the very beginning, but the basics should be solid before you open up shop. Set up your automation and analytics, plan your initial launch marketing campaign and have processes in place before the launch—it will make everything much easier down the line.
5. Learn the basics of social media and marketing
65% of adults use social media, and it’s one of the best tools available for advertising and building up brand awareness. Digital marketing will make or break an ecommerce business. Nobody has time for everything, and you may very well choose to outsource your marketing efforts, whether from the beginning or further down the road. However, that’s no excuse for not knowing the basics of digital marketing. No one will find your site unless you tell them about it, and you need to be prepared to jump in on social media, content, and other types of digital marketing. You can’t afford to leave the all-important marketing to someone else without knowing how it works.
6. Optimize for mobile
Mobile device usage is increasing rapidly, and no ecommerce site just launching can afford to ignore mobile optimization. It’s not difficult to build a responsive website, but it’s something you should think about before you launch.
7. Treat it as a business
Because there’s no physical storefront, no lease, and fewer risks than those associated with a brick-and-mortar location, many ecommerce entrepreneurs treat their business as a hobby. That’s fine if you just want to see a product here and there, but if you really want to create a successful business, you need to treat it like one.
Have Patience and Tweak When Necessary
Launching your ecommerce site is exciting, but after the launch, it’s easy to get discouraged by sluggish sales. Remember to have patience—building a successful business takes time! You also have to be willing to change your approach when necessary. Not everything is going to work, and you’ll need to learn how to get a feel for when you need make some changes. Never stop learning and growing—the ecommerce industry isn’t going to stay still.
Ryan Ayers has consulted a number of Fortune 500 companies within multiple industries including information technology and big data. After earning his MBA in 2010, Ayers also began working with start-up companies and aspiring entrepreneurs, with a keen focus on data collection and analysis. You can find more from Ryan on Twitter at @TheBizTechGuru.