Starting an e-commerce business is a lot of hard work, and the first few years can be described as a growing and learning experience. If you’re feeling frustrated or overwhelmed, don’t despair. Successful entrepreneurs know that it’s possible to make it through to the other side, and they have some advice to share about how to make it happen.
When you ask winning e-commerce businesses what they would tell their younger selves, the answers almost always involve finding ways to set yourself apart from the rest. When shopping online, nearly half of consumers will first choose to visit a mass commerce marketplace, like Amazon. This isn’t to say that you’re competing with the likes of Amazon, because you’re not.
Successful e-commerce businesses know that it’s not about head to head competition. It’s about understanding and appealing to your market in ways that the giants can’t. Here are few tidbits of advice that, if given the opportunity to go back in time, winning entrepreneurs would tell their younger selves in those early days of growing their businesses.
Look for the Gap
You have a brilliant concept for your e-commerce business. You know it’s brilliant because you’ve seen it done and you already know the potential. If you’ve told yourself this, even once, you need to stop right here.
I get that it’s nearly impossible to come up with an entirely new, revolutionary concept for your e-commerce business. It’s all been done before, but there’s still room to set yourself apart, and it’s crucial that you do it.
Somewhere in your market, there’s a gap.
You don’t want to offer the exact same thing as your competitor and then try to beat them at it. You want to find the spot that your competition isn’t reaching and make it your target. This doesn’t even need to be anything extreme.
Let’s say you have a fairly niche market, with only two other players that are your competition. Finding the gap might be as simple as offering better deals on shipping or exceptional customer service. It could also be a product or service that the market is quietly asking for, but you’re the first really listen.
The bottom line is to succeed, you need to offer something that the others aren’t. Don’t try to be like them. Be better by being unique.
Don’t Rush Your Launch
You want to go live and start bringing in revenue as soon as possible. The problem is that jumping the gun and starting too soon can have the opposite effect of hurting your profits.
You need to think everything through. Every single thing.
Launching a successful e-commerce business takes time. You need to research your concept, gather inventory or plan out how you will meet customer demands for your service. There’s marketing, website building, content creation, etc. The list goes on.
Maybe you’ve read the blog posts about starting up an e-commerce business in a week. Sure, you can do it, but not many quick starts have longevity.
How long should it take to launch? Well, that depends on your business. What really matters is that you have a thorough plan. Brainstorm, make lists and have a solid business plan. Know you plan of action and give yourself enough time to not rush through any part of it.
Going back and fixing mistakes, or even starting from scratch will only cost you time and profits in the end.
Don’t Wait to Jump into Marketing
You should be thinking about your marketing strategy from the very beginning. Businesses that are solely e-commerce don’t have the perk of a storefront to do any of their marketing for them. While you won’t hear mention of storefronts from many marketing gurus, the fact is that a physical location makes you more visible to the community.
With e-commerce, you’re counting 100% on your marketing strategy to do that for you.
If you wait until you are already up and running, you’re starting too late. You should be researching marketing strategies, talking to professionals and gaining an understanding of what your own limits are in terms of budget and time.
If you are running with a slim budget, search engine optimization (SEO) and social media might be your best marketing playgrounds. If you have the money to spend on pay per click (PPC) or hiring a team to help you with marketing, you’re still going to need to do a lot of research.
The key to marketing your e-commerce business is to try different strategies and adapt until you win. For example, many e-commerce businesses have success with SEO, but it can take a while to show results. So, maybe you spend a little bit on PPC to generate traffic until you have tweaked your strategy enough to get great results through organic search.
Also, don’t hesitate with getting familiar with social media. By social media, I mean all of it, not just Facebook or Twitter. Diversify yourself across multiple social media platforms while you’re learning where your market is and do lots of testing along the way.
Reaching Too Wide Can Kill SEO
The more you offer, the better the chance of generating higher traffic, right? It might seem like a wide reach will get more people to your site, but the opposite is true.
You remember above, when I said to get started on marketing ASAP? If you did, you’d understand why reaching too far will kill SEO.
You need specific targeted keywords to perform in organic search. You also need things like valuable content and a positive user experience. If you are trying to be everything to everyone, you aren’t going to be specialized enough to show up in relevant search results.
If you needed a hard to find spice for a Mexican themed dinner you’re planning, are you going to click on the general supplier who seems to have everything, or the business that ranked higher in search results because of their specialization in Mexican groceries and spices?
Specialization might result in a smaller audience, but it’s one that’s more likely to convert to paying customers.
Content for Customers
You’re going to need content. Today, it’s non-negotiable.
You have a website and at the very least, you’re going to need product descriptions that compel the visitor to buy. But, you really need more than that. There’s blogs, newsletters, social media and more. If you aren’t familiar with the concept of content creation, now is the time to become interested.
The trick to successful content creation is realizing that your focus isn’t to highlight your brand, it’s to add value to your customer’s lives.
Instead of creating a social media post that brags about your latest addition, you would do better by adapting the content to show the value of the new product to your viewer. Instead of content that tells about your expertise, you should be showing your worth by offering content that informs and educates.
The Value of Knowing Your Customer
Even if you think that you know your customer, take the time to dig a little deeper.
If you are in the business of wedding consulting, then you know that your market is couples looking to get married. But, by getting to learn more about them, you can adapt your marketing strategy to reach more of them.
For example, is it really the couple that’s your market, or is it the bride? Chances are it’s the woman that will first initiate contact. Think of ways that you can really focus in on your specific market.
How old is your average customer? This makes a difference in which social media platforms they are more likely to be using.
Is there a secondary audience, like mothers of the bride that might also be looking for your services?
What type of content are they looking for?
What do they expect from you?
Optimize for Mobile
Let’s just start by throwing around a few statistics on mobile e-commerce.
95%of mobile users look up information with the purpose of calling or visiting a business.
By the end of this year, mobile devices are expecting to account for 27%, nearly a third, of e-commerce sales
People who shop on mobile devices statistically spend more money than those that shop from a desktop.
If you haven’t caught on, the mobile customer is important to your business.
If you want to succeed in e-commerce, you need to adapt to this section of the market. This means pages that are easy to navigate on mobile devices and fast load speeds that mobile users demand. The way that the mobile user searches for your business is also different, and needs to be considered when thinking about digital marketing.
With the right starting point, you will have a successful e-commerce business. And, one day you too will look back and think about what you would tell yourself in those early days if given a chance to go back. The future is bright for e-commerce, and now you have the tools to start your journey.