Owning and operating an online store was a solid option back when e-commerce was in its infancy, and it’s only become easier to justify since then due to technological advances. Factor in the damage COVID-19 caused to traditional retail (and the world of employment in general) and you have the de facto default option for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Despite all its advantages, though, it’s far from a guaranteed path to success. The online retail world is littered with failing stores (or failed stores that remain live but inactive due to owner apathy), and it isn’t hard to find people who’ll insist that getting into e-commerce is asking for disappointment. It’s an imperfect option like any other — and it needs to be handled well.
In this post, then, we’re going to set out five lessons that all first-time e-commerce store owners would do well to learn as quickly as possible. They won’t inevitably deliver success, but they’ll absolutely make it considerably more likely. Let’s get started.
SEO warrants significant focus
There are plenty of ways to market an online store, but the biggest focus should generally be on SEO (search engine optimization). The average online purchase starts with a search of some kind, whether it’s using the internal search function of a marketplace like Amazon or Google’s dominant search engine. Any store owner who wants to get noticed needs to rank.
And while you can get a brick-and-mortar store noticed through choosing a prominent location, there’s no easy path to success online. It comes down to keeping up with the latest SEO tips and tweaking pages to ensure that they’re best positioned to appear for relevant searches. It’s particularly important to commit to SEO early because it takes time for the work to take effect (unlike with PPC campaigning, for instance, which has almost-immediate results).
Accessibility is vitally important
When we talk of accessibility here, we talk of two things in particular: how easy a store is to access, and how easy it is to use. A site with accessibility issues will attract justified criticism and push people away. Let’s quickly go through these two aspects in turn:
- Making a store easy to access starts with marketing (more on that next) but goes far beyond it. Take mobile responsiveness, for instance. If your store looks good on desktop devices but renders poorly on mobile devices, mobile users will immediately leave it.
And if you use a complex color scheme that causes problems for visitors with color blindness, you’ll lose yet more prospective customers. A strong commitment to accessible design (and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines in particular) is expected of every forward-thinking website creator.
- Making a store easy to use starts with internal navigation elements. Do the menus make sense? Are all the right categories in place? All the product pages need to flow logically. And then there’s the key checkout process. There should be a progress bar to show how things are going, swift loading times, and clear charge calculations.
Most importantly, there should be multiple solid payment options. It’s easier to use a logged-in service like PayPal instead of manually adding card details, and it’s far more secure. Using poorly-secured websites is bad enough, but personal VPNs can mitigate that (even plenty of free VPNs) — they can’t do the same for payments. Shoppers need to feel completely sure that their payments are going to be protected.
A unique brand is a necessity
Just like SEO should be worked on early, branding should be figured out as quickly as possible. Given how much online competition there is, it’s very difficult for an online retailer to outperform its rivals through something simple like having the cheapest prices or offering the biggest range. Having a memorable brand adds something to the mix to set a store apart.
It’s best to put together a comprehensive set of brand guidelines and stick to it for all on-site content and all forms of content marketing. Deviating from the established elements will just make a brand more confusing and less memorable. There’s a lot of long-term value in clearly defining things the required tone, structure, logo, and color scheme.
Customer loyalty is invaluable
It’s tempting for first-time e-commerce sellers to imagine the online world as providing an unlimited pool of potential buyers — and if that’s the case, then surely it doesn’t matter if any given buyer ever returns. After all, there are plenty more to find! Well, it obviously isn’t that simple, because even the most generalized sellers don’t have unlimited prospects.
Burning through customers will make everything harder. One-time buyers will speak of whatever dissatisfaction led to them not returning, sullying the brand. As the overall pool of relevant shoppers steadily decreases, marketing efforts will see reduced ROI, making it harder to stay profitable — particularly since it’s generally long-term customers that spend the most per order.
Any seller who wants their store to thrive in the long run needs to focus on customer loyalty from the outset, which means making customer satisfaction a priority. Make customers happy and they’ll keep returning: for the most part, and in most cases, it’s really that simple.
Money should be kept in reserve
Lastly, it’s essential to keep in mind that investment must always be handled cautiously. However good the store idea is (and however inevitable success seems), there’s no sense in blowing through a startup budget within months — or even weeks — of launching. This almost always leads to disaster, because every store runs into turbulence at some point.
If a store owner spends everything they have then goes through a tough time, they won’t have the liquidity required to endure it: their operation will grind to a halt and they’ll suffer reputation damage that might make it impossible to justify continuing. If they keep money in reserve, though, they can build their store slowly: dealing with the various obstacles as they arrive, and investing in growth only when there’s sufficient profitability to cover it.
Anyone who wants to start an e-commerce business today needs to do their research before they begin, because it’s far from easy. If they can learn the five lessons we’ve looked at here — and proceed at a smart pace — then they can achieve their goals.
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