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Starting Your Niche Ecommerce Site or Just How to Begin Selling Your Products Online [Ecommerce Series].

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Running a profitable ecommerce is as tough a chore as anybody in any business faces. You have to be a brilliant merchant, a tough buyer, and an accounting genius. More than that, you have to be a super judge of creativity, an inspired copywriter, be able to direct temperamental photographers, know all about inventory control and shipping, and, on top of that, have a great eye for graphics. And that is just the beginning.

This article is the first part of the “Ecommerce Series” on my blog which will provide a look into what everyday is becoming a more complex business of selling products and services online.

The tips in this article series come from my consulting work with companies selling products online (and offline) as well as creating selling platforms for them.

The difference between winners and losers in this game is almost without exception, the difference between those who respect derails and complexities and those who show disdain for the complexities and nuances of the ecommerce business.

Part 1: What It Takes to Make An Ecommerce Work

Whether you are just getting started or you are already a veteran online seller, it is a good idea to step back and take a good look at the business.

The Quiz: Is the Ecommerce Business Really for You?

Many people want to be in ecommerce, especially after they hear stories of some ecommerce veteran’s outstanding successes. But is it really that easy?

It is true that, to succeed, you need no special education, no advanced degree and no long apprenticeship. Quite a few successful ecommerce specialists started business in something quite different.

But observations of successful ecommerce people indicate that they share certain characteristics and qualities. Give yourself the following test.

You might be reassured about your qualifications – or save yourself some grief. If you plan to work with a partner, answer as a team. If either one of you has the qualities needed, answer positively.

Score 3 points for each question you can answer honestly as “very much”, 2 points for those you answer “to a degree”, 1 point for “very little”, 0 points for “none”.

  1. Do you have the ability to organize your work and your time? Do you usually accomplish what you set out to do? Are you truly a self-starter motivating yourself even if nobody supervises you or watches you? Do you feel you work well on your own, rather than being part of a team or reporting to someone else?
  2. Do you stand up well under pressure and frustrations? When things go wrong, can you take it on the chin and bounce back?
  3. Do you get along well with people? Although your customer contact will be at a distance, you must have understanding and empathy for people’s feelings.
  4. Do you have at least an elementary knowledge of ordinary business procedures: filing, bookkeeping, orderly record-keeping?
  5. Are you current with the times through social media, online portals, television, streaming sites, magazines, and other media? Do you know what is timely, new and wanted by the public?
  6. Are you the kind of person who generates ideas? Can you look at a procedure objectively, without thinking “but we have always done it that way”? Can you look at a product or process and think of ways to improve it? Do you see a need for a product or service and wonder “why don’t they…” or even better, “why don’t I?”
  7. Do you communicate well enough to conduct business correspondence with international suppliers, customers, business associates?
  8. Do you think you have a “nose” for merchandise? Does your personal choice in products, clothing, furniture, etc., usually turn out to be “right”? Do friends compliment you on your taste? Are you usually happy with purchases some time after you have made them?
  9. Are you inventive? Can you conceive of or produce any product or service that could be advertised for sale online?
  10. Do you have any artistic abilities? Any technical training in art or graphics? Could you prepare illustrations for your online ads and promotional emails?
  11. Can you write copy for ecommerce promotions and advertising? Do you have slumbering talent you could develop?
  12. Do you have a way with figures – a bent for analysis of data? Successful ecommerce is a numbers game. You must be able to evaluate results or facts, to project costs and profits, to make go/no-go decisions… often on the basis of only partial results.
  13. Do you have knowledge of business management, or any special aspects of it, such as accounting, control, systems analysis or data processing?

Total Points:

A score of 0 does not destine you for success in the ecommerce business. A score of 39 means you are a natural genius and should get started immediately. That leaves those of us in between:

  • Score 1 to 10. Your chances of success are not good right now. A high score on at least two of the first three questions indicates you can try to take courses or other instruction to improve yourself in the more “technical” areas.
  • Score 11 to 20. You are borderline. Again, if you scored well on the first three questions – important because they express your inherent personality traits – you could, with reasonable effort, improve your “score”, your ability to succeed, on points 4, 5 and 7. Proceed with caution. If you feel confident, start to acquire points where you struck out.
  • Score 21 to 30. Your chances of success are quite good. You probably did well on 1, 2, and 3 and you must have at least three or four areas of technical strength. Exploit your abilities and get competent outside help for those areas in which you need assistance. Examine your situation carefully, work out your business plans, and take the jump.
  • Score 31 to 38. You must be a natural. Start immediately. Obviously, you have many strengths to build on and many talents to exploit. Work out your business plan with care, because you may be too smart, too savvy and, therefore, overconfident. You could be tempted to jump in where others, less talented, might tread more carefully.

Remember, a questionnaire brackets you, but it is far from an accurate tool. You can have a low score and become a roaring success – and you can score in the top 10 percent and lose your shirt.

But the person who graduated in the top ten of his medical class is more likely to become a top surgeon than the one who graduated at the bottom, right?

If your score indicates that you lack the personal traits shown in the first three questions, proceed with caution even if your overall score is high. A good manager with strong personal qualities can always hire tech people and specialists.

The ability to forge ahead in spite of adversity and to be organized are indispensable traits for success and cannot be hired or bought easily.

Seven Ideas for Successful Ecommerce Marketing

Here are some tips to help you plan and launch a successful ecommerce site if you are a beginner or to keep you on track if you are a seasoned (but possibly jaded) ecommerce marketer.

  1. Do not use tiny font for your ecommerce site and order form. Statistical data tell us that about half of the people in the U.S. wear glasses. In one survey a few years ago it was reported that 12 million Americans over 40 have some trouble seeing with one or both eyes – even while wearing glasses. I cannot believe how many ecommerce sites use the small font and do not allow their visitors to change its size. The message is clear: you could easily lose the attention of prospects or customers if they have to struggle to read your 6 point copy.
  2. Give advice in your body copy. Sprinkle your ecommerce copy with advice in the form of side bars that offer tips, techniques, and ideas. When tested, one such ecommerce promotion got almost 50 percent better response than a merely product-oriented promotion. The technique also works with single-product landing pages. Test the idea!
  3. Be specific with your limited-time offers. As a powerful lead and sales stimulator, there is a nothing like a “limited-time offer” to elicit a response from your prospect. But you have a better chance of success if you give a specific cut-off or deadline date. Instead of saying, “Your order must be received within 10 days” say “… by July 1st.” As a rule, people need specific rather than general goals. The more specific the offer, the better.
  4. Project an image of authority. Create a feeling of authority in your ecommerce copy. Your objective is to make your promotion sound like it is the only one of its kind. So pack your copy with authoritative statements and ideas. Testimonials, endorsements, pertinent facts, even statistics can give your presentation an image of authority.
  5. Do not be different just to be different. A non-direct response art director creates an offbeat layout to make the ad or you online shop look different. A copywriter “bends” the copy in a new direction because of weariness with the tried-and-true style the company has always used. A telemarketing representative forgets about proven upselling techniques and tries to close a sale in a cute and clever way. And so on. Innovation should be based on tested and proven methods, not on being different just to be different. Just about any performance marketing or ecommerce specialist proficient in direct response techniques will tell you that you build upon your successes, not upon the unusual ideas.
  6. Write copy promoting benefits. To get more conversions or orders, you must push your prospect’s “action button.” Here is an example: If you are selling a man’s suit, you can explain the many product advantages of the suit – year-round weight wool, durable cross-stitched buttons and a long-lasting hand-sewn collar and armholes. But selling its ultimate advantages is far more persuasive: the suit makes the customer look smart, handsome, appealing, exclusive, elegant, professional and assured. Plan and develop your copy with the accent on benefits.
  7. Show the product in use. This is especially important for new products. If you are selling a weed cutter for the backyard, your photos could show a woman cutting weeds around a tree, a man trimming weeds in a hard-to-reach spot, a woman hanging the cutter up in the garage on its handy storage rack, a man cleaning the cutter with its convenient 3-in-1 cleaning kit and a small child touching the cutter safely because of the cutter’s protective casing. Do not just show your prospect your product. Show it in use. This adds clarity and impact to your story.

The Twelve Most Important Features of Successful Ecommerce Sites

There are all kinds of ecommerce websites, but the goal of every single one is sales. There are online sites that sell a general range of merchandise to the consumer, and vertical ecommerce sites that specialize in a single line.

Some ecommerce businesses sell retail to businesses. Others sell wholesale.

Most of these sites are geared to generate sales directly, and usually immediately. But the scope of ecommerce is much broader than just generating immediate orders.

Some ecommerce ventures support the retail trade by building store traffic. Some allow a retailer to broaden the inventory he can show to his customers. Some sell a service as well as a product. Still others, especially in B2B, use ecommerce shops as catalogs for their prospects to browse through but 99% of sales is done by sales representatives.

Almost any product or service can benefit directly or indirectly from an ecommerce presence. And every successful ecom website has the following features in common:

  1. Unified overall appearance
  2. Company credibility
  3. Logical arrangement of products
  4. Clarity of artwork
  5. Clear copy description
  6. Readability and legibility
  7. Product credibility
  8. Adequate web design job
  9. Appropriate tech work
  10. Ease of understanding
  11. Ease of ordering
  12. Satisfaction guaranteed

All of these are upfront incentives to generate the desire to purchase. Successful ecommerce sites have other areas that directly affect the consumer at the backend: prompt fulfillment, quality products, customer service, quality packaging, and so forth.

A problem in any of these areas can destroy the long-term effectiveness -sometimes the entire business – of even the most superbly produced creative instrument.

To have a successful ecommerce, you must carefully consider every one of these features. Though a good ecom seems to be a very simple vehicle, it is easy to see that the scope of features that demand attention is broad and varied.

For creative aspects alone you need artists, copywriters, photographers, layout designers, a graphics/web development supervisor, and a coordinator who will make sure that art and copy approaches blend with each other and with the overall concept of the ecommerce site.

These people must be talented, logical, organized, able to function under deadlines and pressure, and intelligent enough to know when they should check with an expert.

These are not simple qualities to find, and they are one of the reasons why people oriented toward the ecommerce field are becoming more valuable each day.

Six Tested Ways to Put More Oomph into Your Ecommerce Site

Here are some tried-and-true ways to give your ecommerce that extra boost by making it inviting and convenient for the customer. Most ecommerce marketers are aware of these methods but that knowledge is not always evident in their finished product.

Read this list over, take it to heart and consider whether your online store could afford to incorporate one, two or all of these points. The difference will show itself in your bottom line.

  1. Start selling on the front page and in the header. First of all, in three seconds your prospect decides whether to browse your site or close it. You do not want to waste your most valuable time and space with just a pretty picture. Second, showing merchandise in the most visible places lets your prospect know what you are selling, and it directs them inside your online store.
  2. It pays to look good. More attractive layouts increased one ecom’s sales by nearly 20 percent. The improvements included better videos and photos and proper UX with color-coded bars running across the top of each page to divide each section.
  3. Write personal letters. Most ecommerce marketers use graphic email promos but few know the value of a personal “Letter from the President”, text-only promotions, especially from niche ecom stores. But make sure that letter does not sound like the “President’s Message” in an annual corporate report. It should talk to the customer, give solid reasons to buy, and, like the merchandise on the front page or header, direct the buyer to specific product, promotion or category pages.
  4. Make it easy to read. Stick to simple, clear style. Use simple words and short sentences. Chopped up blocks of text are more readable than one long, block of text. The main thing is not to distract the customer with complicated layouts, hard-to-read, artsy fonts, or reverse type. Every lost reader is a lost sale.
  5. Make an offer. You have to start with good merchandise at the right price. But that is not enough. The heart of performance marketing is the right offer. Not everyone can afford a sweepstakes or deep discounts, but you can always offer a free gift or bonus for “early bird” orders, or a special discount for large orders. Some ecommerce sites are finding gold in “frequent buyer programs”.
  6. Put service before sales. The best ecommerce marketers know they are in a service business. People buy from online stores for one main reason: convenience. They will even pay more for the privilege of not having to look for parking, put up with rude sales staff and stand in line. So you must make it convenient to shop and order from your ecom. That means everything from free shipping, credit card or local payments ordering to quick order fulfillment and easy return policies. Of course do not offer services you cannot afford to provide. Your customers will love you, but they might put you out of business. Just be a friend to customers and they will return the favor.

See you soon in the next part of this ecommerce article series!

If you like this blog post and want more expert advice on performance marketing, direct marketing, direct response advertising, please share it. Thank you!

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1 comment

  1. […] This is part two of the “Ecommerce Series” started with the article Starting Your Niche Ecommerce Site. […]

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The expert's thoughts on direct response - growth hacking - performance-based marketing activities - DIRECT MARKETING

About Me, Rafal Lipnicki.

the direct / performance marketing consultant with a strange sounding name

Who.

Not your usual "guru" but a real-world performance marketing & innovation consultant based in Europe and an experienced senior executive at leading multinational companies.

What and Where.

I am a consultant for hire, working remotely and on-site all over the world (but Europe is always preferred). See my consulting services page for details.

How.

Contrarian advice most of the time. Document-based audits, workshops, one-off projects, mentoring programs, and more.

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