Over the past decade, retail has gone from sleepy brick and mortar, with the seasonal catalog on the side, to instant gratification. You see it, you want it, click, and it’s yours. You can get just about anything online, from shoes to steaks, and cars to houses.
More and more retailers are choosing e-commerce over, or in conjunction with, the more traditional form of retail we all grew up with. So what goes into establishing an online store? What do you need to know? We asked Susan Brandt, CMO of Voomerang, a new “deal-a-day” website, for some insider tips. Here’s what she told us.
1. Study and learn what others are doing
Ecommerce is constantly changing and it is important as a new merchant when you enter this field that you learn as much learn as much as possible and keep up to speed with the changes. Fortunately, there are many great resources available online — all you need to do is find the time to read them all! One great place to start is CNET– You don’t need to be a technical expert to run a successful online store, but you do need to have a little understanding of how online stores work. CNET also carries the latest technology news.
Also, look at other online stores so when you select a vendor you can tell them some of your favorite stores and what you like and don’t like about how they work.
2. Plan carefully and be realistic
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when starting out is to assume that on the Internet, normal business rules do not apply. You need to have a business and marketing plan. You need to be realistic about the time and money it will take to build your business. You need to determine the number of visits you think you will receive, and the percentage of visitors who will make purchases. Always remember to focus on your customer.
3. Choose your shopping cart carefully
Another mistake people make is to choose a shopping cart that only meets their current needs, not their future ones. If you create a plan that defines plans for now and in the future, you need to incorporate this into your shopping cart. Of course the technology changes frequently so you need to be realistic in planning for 18 to 24 month ahead.
4. Selecting a vendor to build your store
There are a lot of vendors out there who say they can build and promote your store for you. This is why it is important to do some research ahead of time to have some technical understanding and you are not overwhelmed by the vendor. If you know other people who have an online store, ask for a recommendation. If you see a website you like contact them and ask who has built the site for them. If you find a vendor you like on your own make sure you check their references. You want to make sure this person gets the work done on time and is available if there is a problem. You need to determine if this person is going to host the site for you or do you need to find your own hosting company. If you want to update products on your store by yourself you need to make sure you can learn to do it easily. Check to see if maintenance is included in your fees. Many of these vendors have packages, but you need to determine what is included in the package.
5. Make sure your site is designed well and has good functionality
The principles of web design are just as important for an online store as other websites. Keep the site simple and the graphics small. The fundamentals for web design include having good, clear navigation. The navigation should either be on the top of the page or on the left hand side of the page. An important thing to remember is that people might enter your store from many directions (not just your homepage) so make sure all of the pages have the navigation or links to the homepage. Look at other e-commerce sites for the locations on the shopping cart and other vital information. Users are accustomed to having these elements in the same location so it is a good idea to keep them there.
6. Accept credit cards
While there are many methods of paying online, the main one is credit cards. It is vital to accept credit cards on your site if you want to maximize sales. Remember, from your customer’s point of view, the most important issues are privacy and security.
7. Having postage information upfront
The longer you wait in the order processing, the more anxious potential customer get. The more anxious they get the more they are likely to abandon their shopping cart and the sale. Try to have this information upfront so there are no surprises before checkout.
8. Promote your store
There are many ways to attract visitors to your site, some are free and some cost money. Some free ways to promote your online store are submitting to search engines, soliciting links from other sites, and posting information to bloggers and other newsgroups. Some paid methods include search engine advertising (keywords), banner ads, doing public relations and advertising in other paid media. Make sure you know your customers and figure out the best way to reach them. Your website vendor might also offer some services which you might want to review.
9. Listen to your customers
The most important data you will receive is feedback from your customers. You must reply to inquiries, complaints, etc. in a timely manner. Your response will determine if people will come back to your site.
10. Analyze your data
It can’t be stressed how important it is to have an analytics package as part of your store. The Internet is great because you can take so much information but you need to have analytics package so you can get to this information quickly and easily. You need to and analyze the data, make required changes, and test the changes. Some of the data you should look at are the path customers are taking through your store and the pages they are buying from. You also want to know how they come to your site. If it’s from a search engine, what keyword or phrases did they use to get to you?
Susan Brant is was formerly VP of Marketing for Shopzilla and has over 15 years of internet marketing experience. Susan received her MBA from The College of William and Mary, and earned her BA in Interdisciplinary Studies from Long Island University .
Are you going to Los Angeles? Check out www.Voomerang.com before you go to find some great deals on restaurants an entertainment.
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Article by Liz Riley, Editor
“The Resource For All Things Fashionable”