The number of online shoppers is expected to be over 200 million by the end of this year. What does that tell us? Online shopping will continue to grow at an accelerated pace, and businesses need to capitalize on it as quickly as possible. There are new E-commerce stores popping up on the internet daily, but not all of them are successful. Though E-commerce is expanding at a jaw-dropping rate, there are still operations that fall belly-up and sink under the pressure of low revenue and wasted resources. There is a barrier to entry with e-commerce, and many retailers quickly realize it when their store goes live.
Why do E-commerce stores fail?
This is an important question to address before your store goes live. Knowing the mistakes that other retailers have made will help you dodge the common pitfalls– because the truth is that there is a noticeable trend with many of the failed stores.
- Little working capital. If you’re an existing business with decent cash flow, this shouldn’t be a concern. New online retail businesses have the tendency to get into the game with little-to-no capital. If that’s the case, you’ll have no breathing room to comfortably make adjustments and withstand any setbacks (trust me, there will be issues).
- A poorly designed website. The website is arguably the most important element of the store. An E-commerce store must be fully functional, totally secure and visually appealing. If even one of those qualities are missing, your store will always underperform.
- Anemic traffic. Neglecting to substantially and consistently increase your traffic is like committing retail suicide. No shoppers=no revenue, plain and simple.
- Not knowing when to make adjustments. There will be challenges with your store. Perhaps one day the shopping cart will randomly malfunction, and maybe a traffic source will suddenly dry out. Some things will be out of your control, and you will have to adjust your operation accordingly. There will be times where you’ll have to persevere and see how things play out, and there are other times when you have to pull the plug on certain strategies that you’ve been trying.
Things you must consider in the planning stage of the store
Depending on the type of business you own and how many years you’ve been in business, you may know the answer to some of these questions.
What products will you be selling?
This is probably the first thing that you should know in the planning stage. Are you selling physical products that have to get shipped via a postal service, or are you selling digital products like ebooks, software and videos? The product that you’re selling will have a direct effect on the store’s functionality. Will you be selling multiple products, and if so, can multiple items get added to your shopping cart? Will there be any additional upgrades or options with your products (like specific color or size options, for example)? How will the pricing structure work on these products? Will you be offering discounts, like” Get 20% off on the next order”, or “Buy one, get one half off”? Your products will influence the functionality of your site. If your site cannot meet the demands of your products, you’ll be severely limited.
How will you accept payment?
This is a heavy detail. There are several ways that you can accept online payments. We’re going to run through the unique set of advantages and challenges that you’ll encounter with these options.
PayPal/Amazon Payments/ Google Wallet- I grouped these together because they are similar, though they do have their differences. All 3 make it extremely easy for customer to checkout, and they are all safe and secure. There is a certain trust factor when you use these companies. When someone sees “Pay with Amazon”, for instance, the trust factor can increase, seeing that Amazon is an international brand with billions of dollars behind it. PayPal, Amazon and Google have dedicated years into streamlining the shopping process, and each of them have made the purchasing online goods easy. They do come with fees, and they can hold funds for risk management purposes. Check out PayPal, Amazon Payments and Google Wallet for more information.
Merchant accounts- A merchant account holds funds from credit and debit card sales and transfers them to your bank account. How is a merchant account different than a company like PayPal? PayPal will process payments through their own merchant account for your company. With a company like PayPal, you can get easily approved for an account. With merchant accounts, there can be somewhat lengthy application periods that come with the possibility that you may not get approved. For a merchant account you will need a payment gateway to verify the card number and to check whether there are sufficient funds in the cardholder’s account (some merchant accounts already come with payment gateways). Merchant accounts have their own set of advantages over payment aggregators like PayPal:
- Money can get deposited into your bank account faster (usually 1-2 business days).
- Transaction fees will be usually be lower. Most merchant accounts give you the option to make your fees monthly, or you can opt for a per transaction fee.
- With some merchant accounts, customers will be able to checkout on your site. Some payment gateways, however, will take the customer to another page to make the transaction.
The absolute best thing that you can do is thoroughly investigate the options to see what will work best for your business.
How will the product be delivered?
This will depend on the type of product you’re selling. Digital products are fairly straightforward and have no shipping costs. You will only need to take the customer to a fast, functional and secure page to download the product.
With physical product delivery, you have many other considerations. How will the product be delivered? Will you charge for shipping? Where are you shipping to? Are you able to ship internationally? These are all questions that should be answered.
How will the website be designed?
If your website is poor, you might as well pour gasoline and throw a lighter on any money you’ve spent putting your online store together. The website is all-important. Think of it like this: can a brick-and-mortar store be successful with an unsightly exterior, flickering lights, a decrepit interior, a weird odor and chipped walls? Nope. The same goes for your website. It must be visually appealing, while being completely functional.
With design you have options. You can use an off-the-shelf product or service to design the site– think of plugins like WooCommerce. Or, you can use a designer or develop to create a professional and more customized website. At the end of the day, you have to employ a solution that can comfortably meet your needs.
Even if you are tech savvy, the wisest option may be to hire a qualified designer, because if they’ve been around the block, they already know how to create E-commerce sites. Your top concern should be that the website logically makes sense– that the navigation will quickly take someone where they want to go; that the search bar works properly; that the checkout system is painless; that product pages properly display offers; that categorization of products functions well. These are important things to consider, and if your site doesn’t meet the challenge, you will be losing out on revenue.
Online shopping is predicated on convenience and speed. Shoppers want to conveniently shop from the comfort of their own couch, without any headaches or hiccups. Your website shouldn’t be in the way. The experience needs to be seamless. If that’s something that you believe that you will have a difficult time achieving on our own, do not hesitate to hire help.
How will you get traffic to the site?
An E-commerce site without steady traffic coming to it is like an empty store. You need a plan on how you’re going to market your site. Like web design, if you aren’t an expert in this area, you may want to hire assistance. Here is a list of things that you should consider:
- If you want to pursue SEO, you need to dedicate time to investigating your online competition. Certain keywords will have more competition than others. If your business has a great deal of competitors, you will want to find traffic-friendly keywords that are not too saturated with competition.
- If you want to run paid ads, you need to advertise in relevant places where your prospects spend time. If your budget permits, try different ad platforms to see what works best for your business.
- Be active on social networks, as that can be a consistent source of traffic.
- Don’t neglect the content on your site– think of blogs, videos, etc. Your content can get shared on other websites, which can bring you a great deal of additional traffic.
Your E-commerce operation needs thorough preparation. The recommendations listed in this article can be the starting point for your online store. The best thing you can do is take what you learned and apply it to your planning process.