In my opinion, the single most important word in the ecommerce industry is “uniqueness.” This is not to suggest being different merely for the sake of being different, but carefully planning and creating a special image that is yours alone. Everything about your online venture – the market, the product base, the graphics, the copy, the service – all must combine to help you carve out a niche that sets you apart from the competition.
Whether you are starting a new online business or expanding an established one, your primary long-range goal should be to become the industry leader in your particular product line. And this can only be accomplished by design – by carefully and deliberately planning to be different.
8 Misconceptions About Ecommerce Business
As ecommerce sales have grown, many misconceptions have developed about the nature of ecommerce selling. Eight misconceptions, in particular, are frequently voiced – especially by many in the ecommerce field itself who lack uniqueness in their businesses.
(1) “The Ecommerce Glut”
All too often you hear conversations about “ecommerce promotions glut.” Many people believe that consumers and businesses people around the world are overwhelmed by the number of promos they receive. While it is true that many do receive far more offers, for instance by email, than they can read and from which they can buy, this group represents a relatively small percentage of the households and businesses.
(2) The Ecommerce Boom Is Over
From many online experts you hear the voices of doom crying about the increasing number of ecoms going bankrupt or just closing their doors. These speakers and writers conclude that the day of “the ecommerce boom” has passed.
Actual figures fail to support these conclusions.
There have been fewer failures in the ecommerce field in the past decade than in the majority of other entrepreneurial fields. Take a look at restaurants, jewelers, craft shops and a host of other businesses, online and offline, and you will find a much higher rate of failure.
It is true that many of yesterday’s online businesses are not around any longer. There have been vast changes in the global marketplace which have reduced the opportunities for selling products and services that once were popular. But the majority of ecommerce businesses have changed as their markets have changed. Some online stores did fail to keep pace with the changing marketplace, but their ranks were more than filled by new ones.
(3) No Room for Any More Ecommerce Sites
These same voices of gloom and doom who cry over their vision of the decline of online stores often claim there just is not another niche left for a new business and that Amazon (or any other huge ecommerce platform) will take away all the business there is.
While it is true many niches are filled, there are always new opportunities coming along. Dozens of new online stores have come along to feed the appetite for new leisure time activities. And, as lifestyles change, there undoubtedly will be hundreds of opportunities for new businesses.
(4) The Day of the Small Ecommerce Entrepreneur Is Past
Many feel you cannot start small any more. The whole field is so complicated, competitive and costly that only big companies are in a position to start a new online store, they say. But before you join this litany of despair, take a look at the successful new ecoms that have been created during the past five years – including ones that are only one or two years old.
You will quickly find that many of the biggest successes have been originated by a single entrepreneur with a new idea.
It is true that larger corporations have such an interest in entering the ecommerce field that they often acquire the newer entrepreneurial online stores after they have established themselves. But there is still plenty of room for entrepreneurs with innovative ideas.
(5) You Have to Be Glamorous to Succeed
Another myth is that only Madison Avenue-style promotions, featuring expensive merchandise photographed by the world’s best photographers, can expect to succeed in today’s marketplace. It is true that such businesses do garner the greatest amount of publicity and attention from the performance marketing community.
But if you take a look at the entire ecommerce field, you will find lots of businesses that have made it today with an entirely different approach. Their products may lack the glamour. They may have an art budget that would scarcely pay a day’s fee of a celebrity-grade model. And they may be published on a WordPress or Shopify platform. But to their chosen markets, they represent the ideal way to buy the specialized products they feature.
Quality in ecommerce presentation is not just spending vast amounts of money. It is an attitude… and many low-budget online stores represent the right presentation level for cost efficiency in reaching their chosen markets.
(6) Everyone Is Using the Same Email Traffic Sources
Another myth spoken about so often it seems like a fact is that every ecommerce site rents or exchanges customer lists with other ecommerce sites, with none trying to cultivate new buyers.
While there is little question that many ecommerce site owners are content simply use mailings to rented or exchanged lists, the most progressive ecommerce marketers are busier than ever exploring new ways to reach those who have yet to join the ranks of ecommerce buyers.
Innovative marketers are constantly creating new approaches to build their customer lists. Recent years have seen more innovative list-building ideas than any other time in memory… and the pace appears to be accelerating.
(7) People Dislike Receiving So Many Promotional Offers
Many articles in mainstream news portals suggest the global public has grown sick and tired of ads and promotions, especially those emailed. But take a look at the sales results when performance marketers email multiple copies of the same promotion to their buyers. Their best customers keep buying again and again.
(8) The Key to Success in Ecommerce Is Lots of Money
The last myth about ecommerce is that the primary ingredient in success is simply having lots of money. It is important, of course, to have adequate financing for a business, but at least five other things are of greater importance:
- Customer lists – The cornerstone of any successful performance marketing business is the customer database. But just having access to a list of “suspects” is not the base for success. Those with special access to a list of buyers who already have demonstrated their willingness to buy through ecommerce have a major advantage over others. And since ecommerce customers continue to buy from their chosen online stores at a rate of from two to ten times better than those from “outside” traffic sources, ecommerce marketers who have their own established lists of buyers have an advantage over those who do not.
- Authority – Nothing gives an ecommerce marketer more potential for success than having recognized authority in some area – a unique position that compels buyers to respond more quickly to that online store, instead of patronizing another source offering similar merchandise.
- Products – The ability to obtain products not readily available to other marketers and/or better margins than are available to others is a definite advantage. Obviously, having proprietary products is a major advantage, since you can provide the only source for such products.
- Facilities – Having the necessary facilities for order processing, fulfillment, warehousing and other operations without having to spend the time and money required to develop such facilities from scratch… and already having the experience to operate them efficiently… is another advantage.
- Staff – Probably the biggest single advantage one company can have over another is experienced ecommerce personnel. The explosion in ecommerce has brought about a severe shortage of people who can bring experience to a new online store operation.
While you do not have to have superior strength in all five of these areas at the start, those with these advantages have far greater potential for success than those with little more than just a desire to start an online store, a bright idea and enough money to carry them through the development period.
Very few ecoms are an instant success. It usually takes a minimum of three years before you can even evaluate the real potential for an online store.
Understand Your Customers
Who exactly are the people that make up your market? What are their wants and needs? What is their lifestyle? Does your product line answer their needs and fit that lifestyle? You must be able to answer these questions before you can even begin to think of ecommerce expansion.
Do not try to be all things to all people. Leave mass production to retailers and Amazon-like platforms. Instead, select your particular market and serve the needs of that market better than anyone else.
My experience indicates that in order to preserve your image with your customers, any changes in your ecommerce business should be made gradually. Do not shock your customers by introducing an unrelated new product line or a totally new graphic image.
Loyal, repeat customers represent a great deal of time and expense to a successful ecommerce marketer. You have to be as loyal to your customers as you want them to be to you. Even as you grow, you must continue to be the people your customers have come to know and trust.
Checklist for Your Ecommerce Expansion
How can you improve your successful product base? What products could you offer in the future that would complement your present products?
You must ignore the old saw that every new product must show a profit on its own. Consider products that represent convenience to your customers, even though the products themselves might not be money-makers. The more “inter-compatible” products you offer your customers, the more they will come to you for all their purchases in your product category.
In choosing products to offer, be careful to select only those that lend themselves to being sold online. Consider the possibility of breakage in shipping. Be sure the products can be described fully by copywriters and be photographed accurately. If the products do not meet these criteria, you will be in for many headaches resulting from damage claims and merchandise returned by dissatisfied customers.
If you manufacture your own products, be sure you can handle the production of new merchandise. What costs will be involved? Will you need new machinery? Additional employees? If you purchase from suppliers, will the products you want to offer be available when you need them and for the length of time you need them?
Do not lock yourself into a product offer unless you are absolutely sure you can make it available to your customers. Keep your SKUs affordable. Do not overextend yourself with excess inventory. You might need additional capital to make your expansion plans work, and you will need hard facts to convince your lending institution that your expansion plans are sound.
Never introduce any new product without testing it thoroughly. Some products should undergo months of testing before you risk offering them to your customers. Use the product yourself. Let some of your customers try it; get their reactions, and listen to their opinions. Testing is the only way you can be sure that potential offerings are right for your customers.
You can offer products within a wide price range as long as every product is of consistent quality. If your basic product line is upscale, for example, you will not want to clutter your offers with low-priced accessory items. Again, consider your customer base. Know what customers are willing to spend and the quality of products they want to purchase.
The Customer Database
Have you accurately targeted your ecommerce promotions to expand your present customer base? Some of my consulting clients depend primarily on their present customers to help them acquire new ones. They constantly encourage their customers to introduce their products to friends and business associates.
They supply free samples of their products to these potential customers, who in turn often like the product and become regular subscribers.
It is also important to monitor the demographics of your customer list and review information supplied on the online order forms to keep on top of new business trends and customer preferences.
If you intend to advertise your ecommerce site, choose your traffic sources wisely. Both Facebook and direct media buying sources as well as print publications will supply demographic information on their audience. Do not waste advertising dollars on the wrong target market. You must constantly study your market and your present customers and build on that base.
Before you expand your ecommerce business, make sure all your systems are in place to back up anticipated sales. What good will additional sales be if you are not ready to take additional orders, handle additional production, materials, shipping and billing?
Have you trained your people thoroughly in all aspects of your operation? If your own people do not know your products, your image, your directions, you will never make your expansion work.
Anyone selling your products, whether advertising, public relations or telemarketing staff, must project a positive image for your company and your products. If they do not, negative attitudes will eventually show through their communications with your customers.
As much as possible, your staff should reflect your customer profile. The more closely the style of your inside people resembles that of your customers, the better your rapport will be with your audience.
Be especially careful that your telemarketing people are projecting a positive image of your company. This is an extremely delicate area that needs constant monitoring. We all know that the people answering business phone calls and talking directly with customers create the first, and sometimes the last, impression of an organization.
This is particulary true in the performance marketing business in which promotional campaigns are your “sales reps.” Your phone operators often are the only people with whom the vast majority of your customers will ever talk. Be sure you train them to handle your customers in a professional manner.
It is all the more important if your phone people not only handle customer service but also order taking, upselling or “order confirmation” so prevalent in cash on delivery schemes.
It might be a good idea for you to establish an awareness program as part of your telephone training. You could invite each of your telemarketing agents to join a “buyer’s club.” Every operator would be allotted a certain amount of money each year to make purchases by phone (and phone only).
It would be inspiring for your people to actually experience how customers feel when they call in an order. This will make them know what impressions courteous, knowledgeable service people leave with customers. You should also want them to experience bad service, uninterested or uninformed telemarketing people.
You should give them the opportunity to place an order, anticipate delivery of goods and then, perhaps, receive damaged or incorrect merchandise.
I am sure these personal experiences will impress upon your telemarketing people the importance of good service more than any formal training or lectures ever could.
If you think expanding your ecommerce calls for updating its graphic image, by all means do so as professionally as possible. Again, do not make the mistake that so many would-be ecommerce marketers have made. Do not try to copy another business’ image, hoping to “cash in” on its market.
That tactic may confuse customers. It may even work for a short time, but established ecommerce sites can change gears faster than a novice business, leaving you with a “cheap imitation.” How much more challenging to create your own image. How much more sound to establish your uniqueness, carve out your own market niche, be the maverick that others admire and customers trust!
Remember that your online store must carry your “sale.” The photography must illustrate your products honestly, as well as attractively. At the same time, graphics are the means to justify the cost of your products. You need professional graphics people able to present your products dramatically while maintaining credibility with your audience.
Whatever your online store style, be sure that models and settings are appropriate to your products. Ecommerce customers really do try to identify with the pictures on your website. Therefore, realistic models are important.
For example, an 18-year-old athletic male model might be perfect for selling sportswear, but he would be completely wrong for executive time-management training products. Furthermore, illustrations should present realistic settings for your products, so customers can picture themselves using those products in their own environment.
You must fully describe every product. Customers cannot ask questions as they can in a store, so you must anticipate every question and answer it with your copy. More important, your ecommerce copy must far exceed the knowledge of any ordinary store clerk. Not only should it accurately describe the products, but it should also explain how your customers can use the products to their fullest benefit.
If you know a product is right for some, but not all, of your customers, be honest and say so up front in your product description. Your frankness will gain credibility for all your offerings and help establish lasting trust with your customers. Keep in mind that your goal is repeat business.
Customers misled by copy descriptions and dissatisfied with merchandise received from you will hesitate to buy again.
How many campaigns should you conduct and how often? While some leading ecommerce businesses produce and send out promotions as often as every day, others, prefer to hold to one meaningful campaign a week or every two weeks.
There are no hard and fast rules governing campaigning frequency. The number of campaigns you choose to conduct depends mostly on your product line.
You may try to conduct your main campaigns less often to keep a sense of expectancy.
Some research suggests that B2B ecommerce customers tend to keep the promotions “on hand”. They seem not to be treated as “throw-aways.” Especially if the product line, as well as the prices, are fairly stable and do not call for repeated updating throughout the year.
A different type of product line, for example, a designer fashion ecommerce that features seasonal items, would require more frequent marketing touches to keep the offerings current.
The number of, for example, mailings you make should be logical for your product offering. If you mail promos with little or no new merchandise on a daily or weekly basis, you are risking an overkill. Before long, your online store will have all the appeal of a salesperson the customer cannot escape. And, of course, you will have to raise your prices to cover all the additional costs of creative production.
Specialization in Ecommerce is Key
I believe the future belongs to ecoms that specialize. Contrary to the current trend, the successful marketers in the ecommerce industry will not be those that try to duplicate the product selections found in retail stores or huge ecommerce platforms such as Amazon, AliExpress or Ebay.
The ecommerce stores with the most staying power will continue to be those that offer customers complete one-stop shopping in a particular product line. They will be those operated by people who have diligently studied their market and have creatively matched their products and their image to that market.
While your online store may have somewhat similar product lines to your competition, you should strive to define your own unique market and build your image, product line and reputation to suit your target customers. You should plan your image and market niche carefully, precisely and successfully. Just then you can expand your product lines while keeping your original concepts fresh, unique and exciting. These are classic rules of ecommerce know-how of how to stand out in the crowd.
- No matter what stage of growth your ecommerce business is in today, it is very important to be unique.
- Find your market niche and protect that niche by constantly improving, renewing, learning, understanding.
- Do not become complacent. Do not let anyone take your place. Leave copying to the amateurs who try to cut the pie into smaller and smaller pieces. Instead, make your own pie – and keep it all to yourself!