At this point in the history of e-commerce, I have to force myself to remember that some are new to this venture. I decided to write what may be expanded into a series to provide some practical direction for new sellers. The good news is that you do not have to create everything from scratch. The challenge for many one-person operations is to realize and accept that you will need a consultant to help.
First: Secure Your Brand
You want to ensure that your messaging gets to the market you intend to sell to. Know who that market is and where you can reach them. Keep in mind that your market for customers may congregate in different spaces than your friends.
You can start the process of a website with a number of easy tools. The main questions are 1) how much are you ready to invest and 2) what are your pro-forma projections of profit? On the free end, you would do well to check out WordPress.com. You can have a site up and running in minutes with basic features, a cool design, and the ability to expand in both branding and design.
If you have $100 to invest, you can take wordpress to the next level with a custom URL (yourdomain.com), multiple sales options, and your own dedicated server. This is a standard package with a web hosting plan from GoDaddy.com. You can get discounted pricing on the site, a domain name, and support for a pre-paid contract.
Second: Connect Via the Web, and then Sell
Success with an online business is not as simple as launching a website. But, let us talk about how simple launching an e-commerce site can be. My top three options ordered by complexity and cost are: 1) Amazon.com , 2) Paypal.com , 3) Shopify.com .
Without going through the process of creating an actual website, you can rely on the power and reach of Amazon.com to list your product. This service is free except for a portion of the proceeds charge upon sale of your items. Amazon.com also has a $40 per month option that allows more flexibility in listing and selling your items.
Paypal is a winner if you have a website and want to add simple buttons through which to collect sales. The main drawback is that you cannot create a shopping cart to sell multiple items if you do not have programming expertise. The upside is that the button code is easy to post on your existing website.
Shopify is a full-featured solution, and comes with the full-featured pricing structure. You do not have to create the website or the payment solution. Shopify has all of that included along with inventory tracking.
The web site is only about convenience. You have to engage other, more traditional means of marketing and driving customers to the site. Facebook, Twitter, and word-of-mouth are important to driving people to your site. Do not forget the importance of developing your brand.
Third: Make Browsers into Buyers
Once they arrive at your site, you want to hook them into a relationship, not just a sale. Treat them as more than just a customer. Treat them as a repeat customer. Log their favorites, address them by name, and engage them off-site.
You have a number of tools available through which to accomplish this user personalization experience. As a programmer, I wrestle with the decision to utilize a plug-in, paid service, or custom program. Over the years, I have come to appreciate a customization of existing software approach. This combines features from “off-the-shelf” web services like PayPal or WordPress and customizes them by changing code and functions. To accomplish this, you may want to retain a web programmer to set up the system. Be sure that the system created can be managed by you with your skills set. If not, a paid service may be a better option for you.
Fourth: Confirm Your Shipping and Delivery Mechanism
Customers are more likely to return to you if you take care of their needs and inform them upfront about your process. Communicate swiftly when you cannot meet their expectations. Have your inventory linked to your site to avoid back orders and sold out excuses.
Little is more frustrating than receiving an order cancellation or back order email. Most paid services allow you to indicate inventory. They also decrease inventory automatically when purchases are made. If you have your shopping cart system custom-made, you will want to include this feature.
Fifth: Follow Up After the Purchase
Create a mechanism for customers to share their positive experiences with your company. A product rating, testimonial, or customer feedback system are among options. At least, post received customer testimonials on your website.
Connect with special offers, coupons, or new arrivals whenever possible. Nurture a relationship that feels exclusive to the individual customer. Creation of a frequent shopper club, rewards program, or member discount programs are among many options.
Sixth: Make Your Business Persona Accessible
I meet with many would-be entrepreneurs who mistakenly hold their privacy as dear. It is not a mistake to protect your identity, your personal information, and other data. But, you want people to know about the YOU that is the face and owner behind the business. Your customers want to know that they are buying from someone they can trust. Many buyers also want to feel that you could be a friend.
Some brands create logo and mascot images to achieve this connection with customers. My point is that you can give customers the YOU that runs the business without giving away your leisure schedule. A blog about your life as entrepreneur, a Facebook contest to name your puppy, a live twitter event from a trade show, and other options could engage customers while maintaining your privacy.