How to build an amazing eCommerce store in 2016 – Part One

How to build a thriving e-commerce storeThe tremendous growth of e-commerce worldwide is a well known fact. While customers are clamouring over themselves to buy the latest goodies online, you’re probably wondering how you can get in on this growing demand for e-commerce?

Perhaps you already have an idea for an amazing online store? Either way, read on. I’m going to explain step-by-step how to go about building a successful e-commerce store for your brand. Let’s do this!

Deciding on your nicheDeciding on a niche

This is a critical aspect in the life of your e-commerce store. I’ve seen far too many times how, in the eagerness to get a piece of the e-commerce pie, an entrepreneur rushes into a business model or product space that:

  • Is way too saturated in terms of competition (Note: I’ll touch on Unique Selling Proposition later to address some of this)
  • The margins are far to low and therefore extremely difficult to make a profit (Note: I’ll cover pricing a little later as well)
  • There is no demand. No one is actually willing to buy the product you are trying to sell

Right, so how do you go about deciding on a niche market to enter? You need to do your research!

Identify your customer. Who are you going to sell to?

You’ve got a product in mind but it’s important to identify and understand who your customer will be. Good questions to ask are:

  • Where do your customers live?
  • What are their interests?
  • What gender are they?
  • What do they value in life?
  • What are their fears?

You’re basically creating what is called a Customer Persona here, to better understand who you are going to market to and if they will be able to buy your product. You can check out a great article on Buffer about Marketing Personas for more on this topic.

Is anyone searching for what you are selling (on Google)?

Search is hugely important when selling online. Google, as we know, is the King of web searches and it’s therefore critical to understand if customers are actively searching and looking for the products that you are selling.

The simplest way to do this this is to use the Google’s Keyword Planner tool (you will have to sign in with your Google Account or create one). You then simply enter a term that you think people are going to be search for and Google will give you some data. This will give you a great idea of how many people are looking for something similar or the same products as what you are selling.

Keyword Planner

What’s the competition like?

Another useful indication that you will get from the keyword tool is that of competition. This basically tells you what level of competition for searches you are going to have to deal with for the various available keywords. Medium and Low competition are often good segments to target as you won’t have as many competitors. Of course, this is always only an indication, and must be used in conjunction with your own insight and knowledge of the product and space. It’s a good indication though.

If you feel that all the above adds up to you having a potentially winning product, then proceed to the next stage. 

Study the competitionStudy Competition

No matter what industry or product you pick, there will be competition. It could come in the form of direct competition (as in BMW vs Mercedes) or indirect competition (as in air transport vs ground transport). The point is, there will be some form of competition and it’s a good idea to find out who they are.

Here are a couple tools to help you figure out what the competition is up to:

What makes you unique?Stand out from the crowd

It’s important to have a clear picture of what makes your business unique and sets you apart from the competition in your customer’s eyes. This is called a USP – Unique Selling Proposition. A good definition from the Encyclopaedia defines a USP as:

The factor or consideration presented by a seller as the reason that one product or service is different from and better than that of the competition.

In order to stand out from the ‘crowd’, you’re going to have to do something differently. Bring a new slant to a tired and boring industry, shake things up with a value added service, something! This is why it’s so important to understand your customer first, so that you are then able to provide them with what they want.

Very importantly, don’t attempt to compete on price. Let me repeat this, do not attempt to compete on price alone. Unless you have millions in the bank and are able to carry a significant burn rate for a prolonged period of time, this is not an option. Rather take a look at some of the areas I’d recommend competing on below:

  • Quality
  • Service
  • User Experience
  • Customisability
  • Environmental awareness

The key here is to to stand for something. Don’t be a generic offering. There are too many generic e-commerce stores out there!

Have a plan, but be flexible

Have a plan

Planning is key to your success, but that doesn’t mean that you need a complex business plan, heaps and heaps of documents, or a 10 year forecast.

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” – Benjamin Franklin

What’s needed is enough information and foresight to see you to launch and six months in (of course you will be thinking long term, but don’t be distracted by it). Write out a one-page overview of your plan and make sure you read it daily. Stick to your plan but allow some space to be able to adapt to different situations that may arise. So often I’ve seen start-ups fail because something came up that was totally unplanned for and there was no flexibility built into the ‘plan’.

If you are deadset on writing out a business plan, try some online tools to help you out. You could try something like enloop. Whatever you do, make sure you have a plan. One that allows for the unexpected and that can change as your situation does.

The Products

Make your products look great

As an e-commerce store, products are the heart and soul of everything that you will be doing. I find it strange that so many entrepreneurs focus on everything else, with their products being an afterthought. “We’ll just build the site, grab some supplier images and descriptions, and do a bulk upload”. Well, that is definitely one way to do it, but I can guarantee you that its not the right way. Your products need to be appealing, interesting and attention grabbing. With e-commerce you don’t have the luxury of all five senses – taste, touch, smell, hearing and sight. You have one. Your customers can see your product, that’s all. Make sure that what they see is the best possible version of your product!

Product Descriptions

  • Enticing / Sensory – Use words that are enticing, that make the customer want to buy. Explain how the product feels, what it tastes like, the smell of it. You get the idea.
  • Focus on benefits – It’s so easy to talk about the features of the product. “It has a 40inch screen and surround sound” vs “It transports you to a whole new dimension”. Explain to the customer what they are going to get out of this deal. How buying this product will benefit them personally.
  • Make it easily scannable – Don’t write long paragraph style descriptions. Make sure you break your content up, using bullets and headings so that its easily scannable for the customer. The customer should be able to glance over your description and come away with the reasonable understanding of the product.
  • Tone of voice – Use a tone of voice that is appropriate for your target market (see Customer Persona explanation above). If your product is for leisure or fun, you would use a different tone than if you sold mining equipment to large corporates. Make sure your tone is consistent throughout and that it sounds “as if the same person wrote all the content”.
  • Search engine optimised – Needless to say, this is crucial for any e-commerce store. Make sure that you write your content in a way that is optimised for the product you’re selling and includes relevant phrases that match what might be searched for by potential buyers. We’ll touch on in this in more detail later on.

Product Images

Product images are extremely important. I’d always recommend using your own images over stock images, and I would go so far as to say that it’s worth spending money on having professional images taken (there are some great articles out there on how to take your own images if your budget is tight). The critical areas to focus on are:

  • Quality – make sure you have excellent quality images. The product should be centred, in focus, and well posed.
  • Resolution – high resolution is a good idea (within reason as you don’t want long loading times). The customer should be able to zoom in to see more details and to get a good idea of what the product will really look like.
  • Size – make sure that your sizes are consistent. All images in your store should have the same dimensions. This may seem like an unimportant detail but it makes a significant difference when the store is viewed as a whole.
  • Angles – have as many different possible angles of the product as you can manage. Customers will want to see the front, back and sides at the very minimum!

Wrapping up part one

That brings me to the close of part one, I hope you found this interesting and useful. You may have noticed that I’ve not even touched on how to go about actually building the e-commerce store in terms of design and code, you’re very perceptive. I’ll be covering this in part two. Here are some of the topics I will be covering next:

  • Marketing starts now
  • Build it right the first time – which platform?
  • Hosting is not an afterthought
  • Neither is security
  • Handling customer support and queries
  • Ongoing marketing and emails
  • SEO and Analytics
  • And much more

Get a head start

If you’re eager to get started with your store and can’t wait for my next article, feel free to get in touch with me, or simply click on our Start a Project button, and we’ll be happy to help you along.

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