HARD WORK MATTER
Many people think building a successful online shop, or any other online business, is less hard-work than any traditional businesses.They are wrong. The same amount of effort and dedication will be required online, it is just a different medium.
The most successful online merchants are those who come more often to their website, use crisp, clear and eye-catching photos, write their own full product description and better promote online and off-line their online store. In sum they work harder.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT MARKET
There are two billion people with Internet access. It's a huge and fast-growing market but, unfortunately, you cannot address it all.
On the Internet, it really doesn't matter if you are physically located one km away of live in the other side of the world. It always boils down to the product itself. Your customers will be able to find and quickly buy something they are keen on but cannot purchase close to their geographical location. But as quick as they can find you, they can also visit other websites doing the same business and buy there instead. That's way you need to dominate your "niche" market.
With such a big audience there is much bigger prospective clients for "niche" products, products which are unique and compete in its superior quality, design and functionality than you can possible have by serving you local market.
It's always easier trying to be "Vintage Port Wine" online retail leader than trying to make a dent on the "All Type of Wines" market. There's is just too much competition, both online and offline. What the benefit for any person on buying a simple table red wine online and wait for it to arrive if he can just buy it on his local super-market on the way home?
The good news are that starting a full online business requires much less investment than a traditional one. You will be able to successfully launch it with a few hundred Euros instead of several thousands.
BET BIG ON BRANDING
Your product's perceived value to the customer is very attached to the quality of the branding and image of your website. This also holds truth for the your entire company. People will consider a lousy online shop just as reflection of a lousy business.
Having a good company name and a matching Internet domain (like vintageport.com) is the first step of many others. Starting your online business by focusing on online shopping cart software instead of your core business is very likely a mistake, especially considering the many turn-key solutions available, like ours. This will set you free of heavily invest in server hardware, expensive technicians and web-design boutiques to take your business out of the ground.
Once again, the most important asset in your online store are the products, and the bigger selling point on them are its images. They should transmit as much as possible information to your clients and be crispy and clear. To have decent images you won't need to have a last-generation camera, any 150 Eur range camera will do, if you take care about setting a proper product background scenery, avoid light reflection and shades in our items and have proper contrast between your online shop background and your product's images background. White background product images against white background online shops works best.
BE REAL & LOYAL
An online store brings disadvantages to the brick-an-mortar ones. You can never know how "real" a shop is. You cannot just feel it as you do when you enter one of your neighbourhood shops. This is way you should try, as much as possible, to share facts, opinions, testimonials, images of your team, building and a brief history of you company with your online customers. This will help your customers feel more related to you and assured they are dealing with an authentic company and not some teenager shipping boxes from his bedroom.
Be loyal to your customers by sending them promotional coupons, reward them with with a small gift on each item purchased and confirm after every sale they are happy with your products. This will raise up your customer loyality and turn each of your customer into a fan.
QUALITY SERVICE, ALWAYS
Not everybody purchases on the Internet. Those who do are used to a superior quality of service. They'll make you life easier by buying from you without a printed product catalog, discard shop assistants and provide you their credit card details so you can process their orders more easily and faster.
Treat them accordingly. This are modern times and there are dozens of international shipping carriers, so, do not make them wait two weeks for their items. Three days is more than enough.
If possible include shipping costs on the total price and provide several payment methods.
Email them answers to their questions within one day. A great part of business are lost due to the merchants' unresponsiveness. Have a sales phone number posted in your website. People will want to contact you directly, with inquiries, complains or more sales. It will also build more confidence in them about you.
A person who is adventurous enough to grant you their credit card details and buy products they have never seen or touched should be gratified with a great quality. From all your clients they will be those more likely to tell all their friends about how great it was to buy from you, saying things like "can you guys imagine I bough a 2003 Vintage Port from a website and got it delivered next day even with a cork-opened included". That will mean more new customers and sales for you.
Surprise your online customers one day, they will surprise you next day.
SPREADING THE WORD
The first question our customers raise to us is "how do I get my store to show up in Google". Seems a trivial question but it is not. Being indexed by Google normally takes 1-3 weeks. Ranking high on Google can take a lifetime, depending on how specialised your online store content (product description texts, categories, etc) is.
There are a set of things you should do to bring traffic to your website and ultimately rank better on Google:
Content is the most important factor for any search engine like Google, this dictates how well your website will be ranked and against what searched keywords it will be listed. An "Wedding Favors" online store should have content not only about "Wedding Favors" but also about how to create you own wedding favours, history on wedding favors; so that anyone searching the internet on "how to create home-made favors" will be pointed by Google to the "Wedding Favors" online store.
A backlink is any normal link, from any third website pointing back to your website. Google keeps track on the backlinks pointing to you. You ranking will depend on how many backlinks you have and how important they are (as more important the site pointing to you the better for you)
To get your first backlinks you can manually submit your site to website directories, like Yahoo Directory. Later, and more importantly, you should have related websites, with similar content to your online store, linking to you. e.g the "Wedding Favor" online store could benefit from a "Wedding Dresses" website's backlink. You can also propose link exchange deals by also backlinking to the "Wedding Dresses" website.
Buying advertising is the typical way of getting traffic to your site, with the difference that in the Internet you are very sure the ads you buy hit the right type of person and what percentage of your investment on advertisement is converted into sales. The leader in targeted advertising is Google AdWords, displaying ads accordingly the keywords people are searching. For example, if a person searches for "Sweet Chocolate Bars" on Google it is very likely you'll see ads to companies in the chocolate industry. That is because these companies have bid on keyword sentences like "chocolate bar" so that people searching for them will also be tempted to buy some of their Chocolate Bars.
You should firstly identify the keywords more related to your business and then bid on those you predict to have a better conversion rate on sales. If you company sells Cereal Bars you are better off betting on the "cereal chocolate bar" than on the more general "chocolate bar" keyword sentence. In the latter you'll be competing against all chocolate bar industry. Also, I bet people searching for "cereal chocolate bars" are more likely to buy you a cereal bar than those search for "chocolate bars".
If you own a brick-and-mortar business you should think about our online store as an extension of your existing business. A 24/7 store front permanently running, converting web-surfers to your clients. Print your store URL in all you business cards and company merchandise and every time you invest in traditional advertising do not forget to mention your website.
Last but not least, efforts on spreading the word about your online store will firstly translate in more people visiting your website but that does not imply any sale. You should ultimately focus primarily converting visitors to clients and not only traffic.
LOWER PRICES, STOCK OUT AND LAUNCH YOUR PRODUCTS
As said before, the cost on running an online business is substantially lower than the traditional ones, so one good way to increase your profit and get new customers is to reflect those lower costs in your products' price. It is also a very smart and effective marketing approach, in comparison with buying ads. This way you are avoiding spending money on people who check your ads but do ultimately do not convert to buyers. By lowering prices as a marketing strategy you're only "spending" money when a sale takes place. In short, you are focusing in investing on customers not general public.
On your brick-and-mortar store you are most of the times confined to your local, regional or national market, sometimes saturated with competitors in the same market (like selling Premium Champagne in France or flowers in Holand) and selling out big stocks can be hard. This fact holds no truth in the online market and your online store can be a good way of stocking out your inventory in lower prices and this way getting more new customers who wouldn't bought with the original prices.
Your online customers are the your best customers and one way to appeal to them and make them feel more special is to launch new products firstly/only at your online store. Like a new line of products in a higher segment or a limited edition. In return they'll spread the love and share the word among their peers.
How do you estimate how much sales your store will have this week? Here is a question for you: how much time have you spent working on your store? There is tight relation between the continuous effort from a merchant and the performance of his store.
Online stores which are constantly updated, with new products and new articles tend to sell more. Customers will feel when someone is taking good care of a store or just leaving it to abandonment. Having a Twitter or Facebook feed displaying your last messages on this social networks is a great way to build trust on your customers.
BUILD, WAIT, MONITOR AND IMPROVE
Patience is also necessary in this business. Even if there's cases of over-night success most of the cases things start slowly and keep improving along the time.
Amazon, the biggest online book retailer, took several years before even reaching profitability, and the same happen with most successful business in the Internet.
Focus in building a smart online store, in line with your business image, upload your first products and make your first attempt in online marketing. Then analyze the results you achieve, in terms of visitors, customer and sales conversion and improve this cycle by buying a premium template or hiring a professional web-designer to build it, improve your products description and quality of your images by e.g. buying a "light box" and select more effective keyword and better target the audience of you marketing campaigns. By iterating this cycle your online business will grow steadily representing very week a bigger and bigger share of your entire business revenue.
All good things take time