If you’re a new business owner, you know the importance of marketing your products online. You’ve learned how to target customers so they click your ads and visit your homepage. But you can’t help thinking you’d make more sales if customers could make purchases just as easily, with the click of a mouse in the comfort of their own homes.
Fortunately, starting an online store has never been easier, but managing it effectively and profitably can still be a challenge. Here are six mistakes to avoid when embarking on your first e-commerce adventure.
- Not doing market research.
Just as you need to find out what your target demographic wants to buy in general, you need to find out what your customer is looking for or is likely to buy online. Start with the handful of products you know will sell rather than filling your store with random hopefuls.
In her article for Inc.com, Arianna O’Dell describes how she lost focus when building her online store: “I was having so much fun creating the things inside my head that I went on a ‘creation spree’ without doing any market research to see if the new styles would perform. Though many of the ideas were fun to make, they didn’t sell, making it harder to generate an initial profit.”
- Stocking up on merchandise before you make a sale.
If you are selling items you are not producing in-house, the traditional approach would be to order from a wholesale supplier before your online shop goes live. The problem is that you are paying for merchandise you might never sell, and now you have to pay for the space to store it, too.
A better option is dropshipping. When customers order items online, you order from the supplier, and the supplier ships the items to the customer directly, which minimizes the risk and hassle involved in packing and shipping boxes yourself. Services like Oberlo’s allow you to set up a dropshipping business model with a variety of online marketplaces.
- Selling on the wrong platform.
Different e-commerce platforms attract different customers looking for different products. Etsy, for example, is a great market for selling crocheted baby hats, but a terrible one for selling sports memorabilia. While many people sell physical goods on Shopify, you can also sell intangibles, such as massage appointments, interior decorating consultations, fitness sessions, music lessons, memberships, or digital downloads.
While you can find practically anything on Amazon, competition for sales is fierce. Vendors report that handmade, customizable, one-of-a-kind, or private label items sell best. Although you may need to focus on a single online store at first, O’Dell points out the benefits of using multiple platforms: “When I first started selling my products online, I put all my effort into the Etsy platform…after putting my products on Amazon, Shopify, and Pinkoi, I saw my sales quickly double.”
- Incomplete product information.
Your online customers can’t physically inspect your products, so if they don’t see a clear description, they’re likely to move on. WithintheFlow.com recommends listing the size, shape, color, and materials or technologies used, and high-quality photos are essential. Return policies, shipping costs, and any customization options like gift wrapping should also appear on the product page; don’t make customers add the item to their carts or check out before they can see this information.
Basic specifications alone won’t trigger a sale. Customers need to know the benefits of using the product, how it compares to similar products you sell, and why it’s superior to its competitors. In his article on cio.com, Ralph Tkatchuk says customers “will not purchase a product they do not fully understand or connect with. For the best chances of success, companies should spend time crafting rich, detailed descriptions.”
- Lack of customer options.
Not all customers have credit cards or are comfortable entering their credit information online. You can avoid losing sales by offering other options, such a PayPal and direct bank transfers. Companies like Trustly, who offer secure bank account transfer services, allow online stores to make sales internationally as well as locally.
Alastair Brian points out the need for multiple shipping options in his article for webdesignerdepot.com: “Every customer is likely to have different delivery expectations. Some may have an important event, like an anniversary or birthday, just around the corner so they will prioritize fast shipping to get the ordered gift on time. Others may be more interested in saving some extra bucks through free shipping.” For customers who have abandoned items in their shopping carts, free shipping is usually the factor that gets them to return.
- Poor customer service.
Unhappy customers write bad reviews, which quickly earn you a bad reputation. Customer service begins with the design of your online store. According to Withintheflow.com, privacy policies are now a legal requirement for online vendors and should be prominently displayed, along with your store’s individual terms and conditions. Tkatchuk points out that having a security system that uses SSL certificates is not only an industry standard, but also a sign to customers that their information is in safe hands.
The most important part of an online store is the “Contact Us” page. If your customers have no way to reach you, they have no reason to trust you. Include a phone number, email support form, and several social network profiles that will be monitored constantly. A live chat is the most convenient option for customers, but only include one if you have the ability to monitor it 24/7; a dead chat or an open chat where customers are ignored is worse than none at all.
By avoiding these common pitfalls, you will be well on your way to building an online store that will make sales, keep your customers happy, and most importantly, keep them coming back for more.
What e-commerce mistakes have you learned from? Let us know in the comments.