In an era where plenty of old, formerly stable, brick and mortar stores are closing, the reigning power of ecommerce is growing stronger by the second.
It seems everyone is opting to stay home, and scroll through products on their tablets, or smartphones, rather than put on shoes and drive to physical locations.
And the statistics prove it: Sears has been around since 1892, but filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October 2018, resulting in several locations being closed. Of course, a mere six months before that, beloved toy store Toys “R” Us closed its doors entirely.
Meanwhile, 42% of shoppers prefer to research products online, and potentially purchase them, if they find what they’re looking for at a reasonable price, with reasonable shipping times.
Only 14% research online and purchase items in-store. Why?
Well, predominantly because Americans are obsessed with saving money, and with good reason: the cost of living has skyrocketed 14% over the past 3 years alone. And yet, consumer prices climbed 2.9% in July 2018 compared to 2017, indicating that Americans are earning less than a year ago.
Online sales allow consumers to use more discounts, more stackable coupons, and get access to helpful customer service reps, all without having to spend more gas money to just wind up paying more at a physical location.
All of which amounts to one solid fact: if you’re running an online shop, now is your time to shine. It’s the era of tech and ecommerce, and your duty as an entrepreneur is to meet customer demands, even when they refuse to come to you.
In this guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know in order to sell your stuff online, regardless of your industry. It’s more than helpful tips though: we’ll dissect the ins and outs of online sales, the do’s and don’ts, and the planning that can make a massive difference.
Enter the Executive Summary
You may know the executive summary by know. It’s usually a tool used when creating a marketing plan, both in the beginning and the end. All it does is catalog and combine all the sections in your document, essentially giving you an overall look at what is being talked about in the next 3 pages.
So, why is this important?
Because not only will it make it easy for you and your team, or investors, to get all the necessary relevant information upfront, it will also give you a solid starting point to draw from. This is planning 101.
The steps are as follows:
Introduce your company in 4 main points:
Describe your business
Describe your products and services
And include your goals, objectives, mission statement, and value proposition
Bring attention to your target customers, including the markets you are serving.
It helps to add demographics and details on the buyer's journey
Summarize your product distribution channels, the landscape you’re working with (competition), and the current financial conditions.
Bonus points for any details on external forces.
Always conclude with your financial projections.
Whether you want to create a market, or dominate an existing one, surely there are some goals you want to accomplish. Maybe you want to launch some new products, or expand distribution online, for instance.
Whatever your goals are, make sure to define them with real numbers. What exactly does success look like? This will guarantee that you have a measurable goal. It’s not enough to say “I want to grow my revenue this year.” Instead, try something along the lines of “Revenue growth by 20% every quarter of this year.”
When you get to the end of each quarter, you can pull up your numbers, and know whether you’re falling short of your goal, or crushing it.
Note, this step isn’t about figuring out the how behind the goal. It’s just about creating something to aim for. As you go on with your ecommerce success planning, everything will fall into place.
If you need some insight on what to aim for, or just want to better keep track of your numbers, remember Google Analytics is an amazing tool.
Mission Statement And Value Proposition
What’s the difference? This is a common question, but think about it this way: a mission statement is more about a company’s objectives, while the value proposition is more about why those are objectives in the first place, and how the audience benefits from them.
For instance, maybe a company’s mission statement is to help them achieve a healthy lifestyle. That includes good eating habits, healthy relationships with food, clear exercise regimens, and a total rehaul of negative self-image tendencies.
What would this company’s value proposition be?
To relate to others seeking to change their lifestyles for the better, because it was probably founded by someone who went through the same struggles. They probably enjoy a fruitful, positive outlook on things like self-image and nutrition that they now want to share with those willing to listen in a world that tells them they’re not enough.
They probably promote things like tenacity, self-love and care, self-awareness, ambition, and accountability (you are solely responsible for eating a balanced diet, practicing moderation, and staying positive when there’s setbacks).
And through these ideas being promoted, through these reasons for being in business, value is given to the customers. In this case, this company’s audience is given access to resources that help them love themselves, and become more aware of themselves. These people are given access to items and services that help them achieve a healthier lifestyle. And that is valuable.
If you’re having issues developing your own mission statement and value proposition, think of your answers to the following questions:
Why are you in business? What motivated the idea behind this?
Why is your target audience even your target? Why them?
What does the company want to be known for?
What products and services does the company sell?
How have those products and services evolved since the start?
What sets you apart from the competition?
And what are you good at, as a company?
It also helps to think about yourself in terms of your business. Think about your brand. How does it reflect who you are as a person? And how does that relate to your audience? Or in other words, what do you have in common with the people you serve?
Target the Right People
This is where you detail as much as you can about your audience, and figure out if you’re reaching the right type of people in the first place. Start by thinking about your target audience’s age range, gender, geographical location, income, family status, and typical hangout spots.
What are they most interested in? And how do you fit within that picture?
Think about the books they read, the movies they watch, the TV shows on their Netflix queue. Think about the websites they frequent, or other stores they shop at. This will give you a clearer perspective of why they are how they are. And that will make it easier to not only relate to them, but help them, which is the whole point of business.
Speaking of which, if you find that you’re not relating to them, then you probably have the wrong audience on your hands. And when you’re too busy talking to the wrong group of people, a few things happen:
Your business never really grows
Your conversion rate is awful
Your social media is plagued by unfollows
The group you actually should be targeting is either unaware of you altogether, or aware of you, but suspicious as to why you’re catering to another audience
If you’re having trouble figuring out your audience, ask yourself how you fit into the picture in the first place. What problems are you looking to solve, and what type of people tend to have this problem? Who uses your products and why? When do they use these products?
More importantly, figure out which of your resources are the most popular. What platforms are they on?
For instance, maybe your book on developing a healthy relationship with food has been selling like hotcakes. Maybe it’s being sold on your website, exclusively. That tells you that whoever is buying this book is making an effort to go to your website.
But how did they hear about it?
Maybe you’re promoting it on Instagram, a place where food, nutrition, and fitness is “all the rage.” That means your Instagram ads are shaping up to be a good idea, and your target audience likes to frequent Instagram.
That also means that they want to know something very specific: how to solve their problem (relationship with food), using knowledge from someone who’s been in their shoes.
Analyze the Situation
Consider this the point of origin, the present. This is where your business stands right now, as you read this sentence. That includes all the levels of your business, your market, how you’re doing financially, and how your competition is doing by comparison.
What is working and what isn’t? All of that and more is carefully detailed in this step.
And it makes sense. In order to know how far you’ve come, you have to look back at where you started. Even if you’ve been in business for a while now, unless you’ve already done ecommerce business planning before, this is still applicable to you. This is your starting point.
Some of the key things to note are as follows:
Features of the product and benefits when compared to your competition.
Pricing, including any incentives and discounts.
How distribution is handled (shipping, order processing, channels used, etc).
What services you offer at all points of the buying process: before, during, and after a sale.
How much money you’re making, after fees and other charges, per channel, per product, and per region.
Make a note of any external forces, whether they are negative or positive. Think trends, season, political influences, social and cultural factors, and more.
Price Yourself to Sell
This step seems pretty simple, right? You decide how much you want your items to retail for, assuming you take costs of production, distribution, and marketing into account, while still turning a profit that will support your business.
But you also have to decide where you want to be categorized within your industry, because pricing is directly correlated.
For instance, IKEA is known as the king of fast furniture. It turns a lofty profit each year, and caters to everyone from new college students looking for dorm furniture, to newly wed couples who are moving into their first home together. The prices are on the lower-end, as is the overall quality of their items, but it gets the job done.
In order to not sell completely cheapened items, however, it has customers assemble furniture themselves. All IKEA does is provide a manual on how to do it, and offer their own delivery and assembly service for an additional fee. This approach allows the company to pass on the savings to the customer, who doesn’t need to pay as much for finished pieces.
But within their same industry, are companies like Crate & Barrel, Restoration Hardware, and Pottery Barn. These three home decor giants sell higher-priced, higher-quality furniture and decor items. It’s all assembled, no instruction manual required.
And their target audience? Mid-to-high paid adults, ideally between their late 30’s or older, who are financially stable, and probably have a mortgage, rather than a monthly rent. No college students or 20-something’s here.
Does that mean younger people don’t shop at these stores? Not exactly. A good sale is a good sale anywhere. If there’s a cheese board set priced at a low $20 when it’s originally $180, it’s going to get attention. But that $3,599 bed frame, mattress not included? Probably not.
So, how does this all relate to you?
You have to decide whether to be a high-end, or lower-end store. Will you offer exclusive product lines with specific distributors? Will there be items that are only available when customers order direct? And will you sell for a significant amount less than your most popular competitor?
Many questions when it comes to pricing. It’s not as simple as it seems.
This is where you figure out how you’re customers are going to buy your products. How and where, to be exact.
Will they purchase them from you directly? Or will you provide an inventory share to other retailers to help with distribution? How about the up and coming pop-up shops, which weren’t taken seriously once upon a time, but are now super trendy?
Even in person sales still count, especially if you’re in certain industries, like jewelry making, and other artsy business models. Think handmade soaps, candles, etc, which can be sold at fairs and conventions.
Of course, if you’re working on a global scale, then you should be organizing your distribution in terms of regions. This can get a little complicated, depending on where it is you’re selling your items, as you’ll have to figure out taxation laws, shipping, and general business practices within those locations.
Evaluate existing channels, and any new channels you’d like to try using. For instance, maybe you’ve already been managing a business Instagram account, but you still don’t have a Twitter, and would love to give it a try.
It helps to make a list, organized by existing vs. future, so you can better highlight the positive and negative outcomes of each.
Here’s an example: maybe you have your own clothing line, and want to manage a Twitter account for it. On one hand, it’s a nice addition to your social media channels. It’s a popular platform that could give you plenty of exposure. It’s another place to add some links to, and connect with the world.
But then again, Twitter isn’t very visual, is it? It’s all about witty commentary, really. That poses a problem with your brand, which is focused on the visual. You’re selling clothing, after all. Unless you can find a way to share witty commentary that’s related to your brand, and gets people to click onto your product links, you’re kind of… wasting time on Twitter.
Other factors to consider are monetary and time costs. How long will it take you to manage all of your social media accounts, and do you realistically think you can manage them all on your own? If you hire outside help, such as a freelancer, or hire someone onto your team full-time, will you have the budget for it? How about hiring a marketing consultant to help figure it all out, especially if you’re limited on time?
But these are all just basic considerations. You may want to give yourself plenty of time to figure out the rest of the details for this step, such as SEO, referrals, affiliates, magazine and print promotions, radio ads, blogs (backlinks), physical storefronts, any partnerships, etc.
No, not your physical inventory count, although that’s also important, and certainly something you should be mindful of as well. But in this case, we’re talking about marketing assets. Being aware of what it is you have, resource wise, allows you to brainstorm what else you could be doing to better market your business.
For example, maybe you have photography skills, some design talent, and a website. That’s a solid start, and allows you to use original photography on your website, and on client sites, if that’s a service that you’re selling.
If you’re selling physical goods, you can photograph them, lay them out as you would want, or even hire models, if applicable. With design talent, you can make it all come together in a neat layout, with eye-popping graphics or fonts that draw people’s attention to sales or exclusive items.
Listing out what you have in terms of marketing assets also helps you pinpoint any holes. Maybe you realize you don’t have business cards, but you actually attend several conventions where they would come in handy?
The Conversion Strategy
Improving sales copy, testimonials, and high-quality photography, are all fine examples of elements that make up a conversion strategy. But don’t stop there, if you can help it. Think far beyond that with iterative testing, improving your value proposition and your product features lists.
Of course, this will largely depend on one thing: do you own the website? If you do, you can experiment with all types of things. But otherwise, you’ll be limited to a select few, which you’ll have to be very mindful of. Either way, it’s not impossible, it’s just something to keep in mind.
Another way to go about it is to consider what your customers like. What gets them to spend more, and more frequently, at that?
Maybe you notice that every time you have a buy one, get one sale, your conversion rate spikes up. Or maybe you notice that you can’t seem to keep a certain pair of shoes in stock for long. Clearly that tells you something. You could have more of these sales, and you should be producing more of those shoes in particular. Better yet, you could use this as inspiration for a new shoe line. Let your audience’s reactions inspire you.
Find A Way to Increase Orders
Entice people with free shipping, which is actually almost mandatory in this day and age. If you’re not convinced, or feel like you can’t afford to do that, opt for one of these two solutions:
Raise the prices by a few cents to a dollar on your items, so that it winds up covering shipping costs.
Or simply settle on a spending requirement to qualify for free shipping (e.g. spend $25 to get free shipping).
If you feel a little unsettled by this, consider this: most everyone has a spending requirement on their site. Check out Amazon, or Target, two of the biggest stores out there. This ensures that customers by a certain minimum amount, granting you more sales, and it basically covers shipping assuming your items are priced accordingly (cost includes production, distribution, shipping, and profit).
And the first option isn’t a bad idea either. This tells the customers that everything they purchase is available for free shipping. Because they’re not having to pay for that, they usually wind up buying more items from your shop. And because everything is raised in price, you wind up saving on shipping costs anyway. Think of it as psychology.
Other ways to increase orders include:
Exclusive product releases
Loyalty programs (e.g. Starbucks Rewards)
And even product bundling (e.g. Costco buy in bulk)
Here’s the thing about partnerships: it’s just a really good business practice. Think about it. You’re tapping into someone else’s audience, you’re addressing your own, and you’re probably working in conjunction with a business that maybe has more experience, or exposure.
All good things.
It’s no wonder we see them everywhere. We have McDonalds and Coca-Cola, there’s Apple who’s partnered up with both Nike and Hermés, with their special bands for the Apple Watch, the activity tracker darling, FitBit, was born out of partnerships with the likes of Dexcom and Walgreens, etc. When it comes to partnerships, name a big brand, and you will likely find a handful of partnerships, if not more.
The best advice here is to be super selective about who you work with. You want to appeal to more people after all, so working with someone with 25 Instagram followers won’t exactly be worth your time. Likewise, working with a business with a bad reputation, or currently engaged in some bad publicity, is never a bright idea.
Try to select partners with a good reputation who can teach you something. Aside from exposure, just making connections within your industry who can teach you the ropes on something you’ve been struggling with is valuable enough. It can open other doors, helping you run your business in a way that speaks to more people.
Get Those Referrals
You tweet out links to your latest blog posts, you design your advertisements, you’re constantly worried about things being on brand so that your audience feels understood and celebrated. You may think you’re your own best cheerleader, but you have more: your recurring buyers.
That’s right, people who keep coming back to your website to buy things are your fans. They love your business, they love what you offer and the whole brand look. That’s why they keep coming back.
And see, you could keep holding all the marketing weight on your shoulders, sure. But what is better than that? Being able to set up a referral strategy that allows your fans to spread the word about you. Not only does this allow you to tap into what is essentially a resource, but also reward those fans of yours.
A good referral program is run on a rewards system. Maybe a discount code for their audience if they purchase X amount of items from your shop. That gives them a way to give back to their audience, and appeal to more people. And then each time the code is used, your fan gets a certain percentage of the sale. You’ve probably seen this type of business practice all over Instagram, where it’s the most popular.
Other referral programs are run on material rewards, like bracelets for getting x amount of people to sign up to a newsletter, or purchase a specific product.
Whatever type you choose, remember to plan carefully. This isn’t just you conducting a business decision. This is you trying to figure out how to best work with other people. Anytime you involve others, you have to make absolutely sure that nothing will blow up in your face.
Don’t opt for rewards that no one wants in the first place, and please, don’t start a referral program without giving your fans a nice “starter guide,” of sorts. This will allow them to better understand how your program works, so they can decide for themselves if it’s worth the effort.
If you’re serious about starting a referral program, plan everything out, and then feel free to reach out to people. Start with your recurring buyers. Maybe reach out directly, but another option is to post an announcement on social media, letting people know that you’re looking for people to join your new program. Always provide a link, preferably to a landing page that further explains everything in detail, and ends with a CTA (the “join now!” button).
Ecommerce is the way of the future. Although brick and mortar stores still conduct ample business, online shopping scales with each passing year. It’s convenient, it’s efficient, and best of all, it’s far easier to score a sale that’s worth getting excited about.
That means if you’re running your own business, selling physical goods, you should be selling products online. Otherwise, you’re leaving money on the table, and hurting your marketing value.
But ecommerce doesn’t have to be as difficult as people think. With a few tips and tricks, you can use social media as promotion, or even partner up with other entrepreneur for exclusive lines and access to a wider audience. You can also solidify your brand image through cross-channel promotion.
All it takes is a little planning beforehand. Even if it takes longer than you ideally want to spend on it, every detail you figure out now will save you time later. So go ahead, take some time to think about your business goals. Consider your mission statement and value proposition. Figure out those distribution details. In time, when you’re managing all these areas of your business, you’ll know exactly what to do thanks to all your planning.
So, which of these steps are you most excited about tackling, and why?
Let me know in the comments below, I love hearing from you all!