5 Tips to Kickstart Your Online Store

Whether you’re opening an online store for the first time, or migrating from an existing website, searching for the right ecommerce software can be a tedious and overwhelming task. You’ll probably find so many options, a variety of opinions, and expensive & unreliable assistance. Nonetheless, with global ecommerce revenue set to tip $2 trillion over the next 12 months and growing, it goes without saying that if you sell products and you wish to increase sales, you should be focusing a serious amount of effort on ecommerce in your business plan.

With global ecommerce growing at a rate of approximately 10% per year for the foreseeable future, you can only expect to see results if you plan, execute, and manage the right way. Here’s 5 simple tips to get you started:

1.  Prepare
plan

One of the most common mistakes business owners make when establishing their ecommerce presence is forcing or rushing the launch. As tempting as it is to succumb to the excitement, you only get one shot at launching your online store so you can’t mess it up. While it’s okay to purchase your domain name and throw up a “Coming Soon” page (preferably with contact information), you should avoid the big reveal until you’ve laid some substantial groundwork. This typically involves:

  • Preparing your product catalogue with categories, images, codes, descriptions, attributes, and prices.

  • Decide which payment methods you will accept, and organise 3rd party requirements if necessary (e.g. Merchant account, payment gateway etc).

  • Plan your website’s content pages. Write the copy, source the images, and put this into a digital document.

  • Do you plan to engage with customers via social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram? If so, research and find out which platforms are most appropriate for your business. Where are your competitors engaging socially, and what content is working for them? The only way to gain market share is to get in the way of your competitors and face the market. Register your social accounts and write a content strategy suitable for each platform.

  • Figure out a marketing budget and create your strategy—don’t forget this needs to include both offline and online initiatives.

Every solution needs to overcome the two most popular confidence shortfalls in ecommerce—information security and the inability to let customers touch, feel, and smell products before making a decision. Some of the best ways to compensate for these deficiencies is to use high quality product photos (and more than 1 where possible), apply appropriate pricing, offer free shipping, and make the checkout process as minimal and intuitive as possible.

If you’re not a web designer, or not feeling adventurous enough to give DIY a go, then this will also be the stage in which you’ll source a web designer to handle the creative side of your online store.

2. Configure
configure

Now that the hardest part is over, the second step is to implement everything you’ve prepared in the first stage. You’ll want to configure your store in the shopping cart admin interface by uploading your logo and entering your business contact information. Then setup your preferred payment methods, shipping options, currency, and taxes if applicable. At this point, you’ll be working very closely with your web designer to ensure you’re aligned.

Once you’ve completed the initial configuration and design, you can begin uploading your product data. Depending on the number of products (and how much time you have available), you will either upload them manually, or import via a spreadsheet. I won’t go into the technical details of this process right now as that’s another discussion entirely.

Here are a few quick suggestions on how to prepare your product data:

  • Save images into a single directory and filename them according to their sku. E.g. sku1234.jpg. If you have multiple images for one product, append an underscore and number, e.g. sku1234_1.jpg, sky1234_2.jpg etc.

  • Keep your product names short but include essential details if necessary, e.g. Apple iPhone 6 – 32Gb Black.

  • Ensure your product descriptions are detailed and include keywords that customers are using when searching for your type of product. It’s a good idea to use Google’s Keyword Planner to research popular search terms for your industry and products.

3. Social, Content, and SEO
seo

Social media is still a heavily underutilised medium for sharing content and engaging with your target market. It gives you an uninterrupted glance into the lives of your customers and competitors, and the industry activity. While it’s perfectly fine to have a social-media manager, it’s pertinent that you’re involved with it too. As per step 1, a social media strategy should already be included in your marketing plan, but now is the time to start executing. Your audience will include existing and potential customers who are looking for advice and knowledge. To be successful in the social media world, you’ll need to become an authority within your industry by knowing the facts and educating the market.

Content is generated directly through your own research and learning within your industry. The more involved you are, the more valuable the content you generate will be. That is to say that a significant amount of critical thinking will be required when sourcing information and learning. This is essentially one of the key differentiators between yourself and your competitors.

Finally, as the ecommerce economy experiences rapid growth, more and more competitors will be entering this increasingly crowded space.

Therefore, keeping on top of SEO is integral to the success of your content strategy, in order to stand out from the competition. Remember that SEO is an ever-changing environment, and you’ll need to research regularly to ensure you’re always up-to-date on how your target market is searching for the products you sell.

4. Analyse
analyse

Analysing the performance of your ecommerce strategy is a daily effort at minimum. Any addition, update, or subtraction from your website should be monitored and reviewed to ensure that the result justifies the effort. While you’re setting up your storefront, create a Google Analytics account and apply the necessary tracking script to your website’s HTML. Using Merchium, this can easily be achieved using the Google Analytics add-on. If you’re unfamiliar with how to use Google Analytics, I strongly advise that you spend time watching tutorial videos and reading the support documentation so that you can learn how to properly analyse your website’s performance.

Once you’ve completed the last 3 steps and tested thoroughly, you’re ready to set a launch date.

5. Optimise
optimise

Lastly, remember that your ecommerce solution will NEVER be finished, just like a business is never finished. Technology, trends and customer demands will change, and so must you if you hope to succeed in such a variable market.

Many business owners believe that maintenance is limited to ensuring that everything is still functional and vaguely up-to-date. In reality, it’s far more involved. You will need to continue monitoring your competitors’ ecommerce websites and as much of their strategy as you have visibility to. Stay up-to-date with industry and technological trends, and improve your website according to your analytics data. That way you’ll always be ahead in the game.