It’s a sector that was booming, even pre-pandemic. In 2019, e-retail sales surpassed $3.5 trillion worldwide. All the stats point to now being the right time to start your ecommerce business but how exactly does ecommerce work? This guide shows you step by step the decisions you’ll need to take, trends to be aware of and handy tips to get up and selling fast.
#1 Start an ecommerce business
Global retail ecommerce traffic hit a record 22 billion monthly visits, in June 2020. So the key to a successful online store is... getting started.
There’s a lot of practical things to decide, from choosing products to building your ecommerce store but first of all, you need to make sure you’re solving a problem for your potential customers. Crack this, then follow the steps below to build a successful ecommerce business.
#2 Find ecommerce products
Profitable trending products are the jackpot. But how do you decide what to sell when it seems everything imaginable is already available 1 click away? Maybe you already know what you plan to sell. Is it your passion? Or a great product idea? Or just new to your local area?
Ecommerce lets you quickly add new product pages to see if they sell well. Great product ideas aren’t always obvious to start with. Who would have predicted crazes like Fidget spinners? (Someone very rich right now.) Rather than sending yourself mad wondering ‘Will loungewear last?’ concentrate on what you do best – your core products. Once you have your core products sorted, you can look at trends and see how these could fit comfortably within your online store.
Trending products 2021
As well as transforming our shopping experience, Covid-19 also morphed what we spent our money on. Products like fashion face masks went from niche to mainstream (although sales have dipped, they’re still strong). Home fitness and athleisure are also massive as gyms close and posh tracksuit bottoms in Zoom call meetings becomes the new normal.
Pick a trend, find something about it that fits with your brand and you’ve a strong, sharable message for your social media channels too.
What is dropshipping?
A dropshipping business is where you sell goods to customers but don’t stock or ship them yourself. If you’re interested in starting a dropshipping business, read more about it in our guide:
Make money online with a dropshipping store
#3 Research small online businesses
If you’re running a small business, market research surveys and focus groups, with SWOT analysis take a lot of time, money and effort – all things in short supply. However, it’s essential to work out if you’ve picked the right business model and potential customers actually want to buy your products and services. A few quick, simple wins...
Check out your competitors
Who else is selling similar products? What do you love about their website and app? What isn’t working? Is your pricing competitive? How are they creating cross-sell and upsell opportunities? Make sure you sign up for their emails too. You’ll learn about their offers and promo tactics, as well as the messaging and products they’re pushing.
Speak to customers
Even better than seeing what other small businesses are doing is chatting directly to potential customers. Even 10 customer interviews can massively change how you run your business. You can incentivise customers to chat to you with money off next time. And automate questions after a sale – easy to do if you have your own app.
Angry Facebook rants are a great source of ecommerce customer insights.
Do Facebook research
Head over to Facebook and find groups linked to your product (again, your competitors’ Facebook pages are worth a look). And have a good scroll of the comments. You can pick up good ideas on social media and it’s brilliant for candied truth about customers’ pain points.
Once you’ve found the right groups, mine them (if you’re selling bath toys for example, post a question to the community of parents on Mumsnet). With social media it’s important not to come across as spam, so ask your questions as an owner of a small business wanting to help improve their lives. Ask questions, don’t sell them stuff yet.
#4 Build your online store
Now you need to make some decisions for your ecommerce platform. Would your business model work best with a website, an online marketplace or your own app? Obviously there’s pros and cons to each one (and endless variations).
An easy way to start, the biggest online marketplaces get a huge slice of ecommerce sales and traffic on the biggest marketplaces is eye-boggling. Make sure you watch out for fees, these range from 14% to 25% on every sale.
And 75% of customers never buy again from the same online store. It’s very hard to build loyalty when you don’t have access to their data and you’re not dealing with them directly (it’s a bit like passing ‘my mate fancies you’ messages in the playground). Online marketplaces have no interest in building your brand, so they’ll happily show customers cheaper alternatives – even when they try to reorder.
A mobile responsive website
We’ve got a quick guide explaining exactly what an ecommerce website is and what you need to make it work successfully.
Don’t forget about the ‘mobile responsive’ part. Making sure your online store looks great for all screen sizes is vital if you don’t want to throw away ecommerce sales.
Your own app
Apps make 3x more sales than mobile websites. It’s the most contained world to build a relationship with your customers. Which may be why in-app purchases are growing 46% year-on-year.
Sounds like a no brainer but app building can be tricky. Often you need complicated technical knowledge and software projects have a reputation for going over budget and taking forever – completely useless if that means lost sales for you. No code app builders have improved the situation and Studio Store for example offers a complete ecommerce package with you apps delivered in as little as 2 weeks. The cost is fixed and affordable too and more importantly, there’s no revenue share, so you won’t be handing over your profits to a tech giant each month. Worth a quick look.
#5 Ace customer service
It’s far easier to get repeat orders from existing customers than new ones. Pretty obvious but often seeking new customers can take priority over keeping those you already have happy. Great customer service is a way to set yourself apart from the big online competitors who can always beat you on price. Quality – of your products or the way you improve customer experience – lets you avoid a race to the bottom.
Remove Live Chat frustrations by advertising clear times when it’s available.
How to do Live Chat right
One key way to do this is simple, Live Chat. Make sure your app or website has Live Chat features and make sure questions and customer issues are answered quickly. 95% of customers value getting their issue completely resolved over a fast response time. And 52% are more likely to stay loyal to a company offering Live Chat support.
A few pointers: avoid customer frustrations by displaying clear times when Live Chat is available (and make sure someone replies, during these times). Better to have a shorter time window that’s more realistic.
And read any automated responses out loud – if you stumble over them or they don’t sound like something you’d say to a colleague – rephrase them to sound more natural.
#6 Encourage recommendations
Building your brand makes growing your base easier too. 75% of loyal customers will recommend a brand to friends and family. And personal recommendations are far more powerful than any ad campaign.
Remember to ask customers for reviews after every purchase. The good ones make it more likely for new customers to try you and the bad ones help you improve your ecommerce store.
Again, loyal customers are far more likely to give you a detailed review rather than clicking on a number of stars.
Customer testimonials are powerful, they’ll encourage potential customers to click on your product pages, fill in your data capture forms and to buy from you.
#7 Build customer loyalty
77% of consumers claim that they’ve been loyal to a brand for at least 10 years. That’s the aim. Repeat business is far less effort for you and reduces your advertising spend too. Becoming a beloved brand and creating real relationships with your customers makes financial sense but how is it done?
Consider a subscription service
Take your research and see what you can offer differently. Whether that’s a new shopping experience, new products or services. Perhaps offer a new way to pay? Subscription services keep money coming in from customers with less effort from you and they work for everything from razors to doggy treats to cooking kits.
Build a loyalty programme
This can be as complex or simple as you like. Start by offering customers a freebee on their birthday if they sign up to your newsletter or highlight that their fifth order is free in your online marketing. Start a relationship with your customers and build brand loyalty – it’ll help you fight against the online discounters.
#8 Try Conversion Rate Optimization
You’ve got your ecommerce store up and running, now it’s a good idea to think about conversion rate optimization (CRO). This is simply looking at how your customers are actually interacting with your online store and improving the chances of them doing what you want them to.
Test your call to actions (colour, wording, position on the page) to increase ecommerce sales.
Landing page design
Improve your home page and product pages, if you want them to buy a product make it very obvious (for example, a big ‘Shop now’ button in a contrasting colour that stands out from the rest of the page). Remove distractions – if it’s confusing for customers to know what they should be doing or looking at, they’ll click away.
But if you’re not a designer, how can you know what will work best? Test. Run some ads and look at the data – do you get more sales when you alter something on the page?
- Make sure customers don’t have to scroll down to get to your main message.
- Keep headlines short and punchy
- If you can cut words out, do it.
- Get specific – can you tell them a % improvement from using your product? Add that.
- Talk to them personally – and talk about the benefits of this product to them. (‘You’ll wake up refreshed’ vs ‘Users feel more refreshed when they wake up’.)
- Every word on your ecommerce store should answer ‘What's in it for them?’.
Call To Action
The call to action (CTA) is crucial to get right. We’ve talked about making it stand out from the page. What it says is key too. ADT increased leads on their site by 60% by changing their CTA from “Book a Free Survey” to “Get a Free Quote.” Again, testing is the only way to know which converts better.
#9 Avoid the abandoned cart
It’s a massive wasted opportunity. Potential customers add your products to their shopping carts but don't quite follow through to those all important ecommerce sales.
Conversion Rate Optimisation (see above) can help. Are your CTAs clear enough? Is there a confusing sign up process before check out? Is your payment process smooth? Do customers feel happy handing over credit card numbers? On site distractions, a complicated payment process or hidden costs can all lead to drop offs.
Push notifications and 1-click ordering in reminder emails can entice customers back to your online store.
Embrace abandoned cart emails
One extra benefit of your own app (vs online marketplaces for example) is you own all the data of customers who’ve clicked products but not checked out. Send an email reminding them their chosen product has been saved for them, with a one-click order. Follow up with an offer, you can automate this with a 10% or 20% discount if they still haven’t ordered after 5 days, for example.
Yes, you can build an ecommerce business
Ecommerce is growing fast and getting started can be fast and affordable. Obviously we’d recommend the Studio Store Ecommerce app as you get it in as little as 2 weeks for a low monthly cost.
But whichever route you choose, make sure you:
- Solve a problem for customers
- Choose products carefully
- Do your research before you start
- Choose the right ecommerce platform
- Resolve customer issues properly (more important than answering fast)
- Remember the power of recommendations
- Build customer loyalty
- Keep optimising your site or app
- Don’t forget about abandoned carts.
And lastly, good luck!
What is an ecommerce store?
Your ecommerce store can be a simple website, part of an ecommerce platform, an online marketplace or your own app. Or any combination of these selling your goods or reselling other people’s.
How can I set up an ecommerce business?
Once you’ve worked out what you want to sell, you’ll need to set up a website or app and use online marketing to drive traffic to it. You’ve lots of options on how to do this (even we have a huge range) but the very simplest is Studio Store, which gets you up and running in as little as 2 weeks for a low monthly cost.
How do you grow an ecommerce business?
Drive more traffic to your ecommerce store through online marketing and search engine optimization. Appeal to more potential customers with new or more tailored products or build relationships with your existing customers.
What’s Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO)?
Improving how customers interact with your website by looking at data, making changes and then retesting. It’s an essential way to increase ecommerce sales.
How do I optimise my conversion rate?
Easy ways to optimise your conversion rate are creating a sense of urgency (limited time offers, limited stock…) and reducing friction in your potential customer’s buying journey (no complicated form, confusing checkout or tricky signups).
How does ecommerce work?
Ecommerce businesses sell products or services online. It’s cheaper and easier to start an online business than a physical retail store. Potential customers can find your online store through search engines, online marketing or word of mouth.