In my role as the network launch manager, I spend my day-to-day looking at different businesses ranging from start-ups to internet retailer top sites. As such, for anybody looking to start their own online store, I wanted to share a few of the essential building blocks of any e-commerce site: Differentiation, Shopping Cart, and Analytics.
With the rise of the low cost shopping cart solutions and decreasing cost of shared distribution centers, the barrier to entry for starting an online store is lower than ever. Almost anyone can setup an online store. This opening of the internet for mom and pop online storefronts has stiffened the competition for traffic between storefronts.
In this new world, it is important to specifically figure out how your e-commerce business differs from the competition in order to structure a value proposition to customers and partners. It’s important that you avoid pitfalls in this process and look for defined differentiators. As an example, I’ve heard many small businesses tout customer service as a differentiator or price as a differentiator; however, often times doing a comparison shopping search for a store’s products will reveal that someone is offering a lower price. Customer service, while definitely an important skill, is not one that could be considered unique given the number of customer service representatives employed throughout the world.
Come up with or innovate a list of differentiators. Not all differentiators need to be grand innovations. For example, one company that started out selling shoes online is known for randomly upgrading the shipping to 2nd day air for customers and signing all their emails “with love”. Of course, having a grand innovation to business or a product doesn’t generally hurt the bottom line either!
Your shopping cart will be the primary gateway for your online store. Like locating the right real estate for your physical store, your shopping cart will make and shape your business.
I see many first time merchants build their websites out of buy now buttons. While testing out the waters with a buy now button is fine, these are ultimately limiting as payment processors. The companies that produce buy now buttons make them easy to setup, so that the buttons can be created with almost no technical skill, but those same companies all have paid solutions that they are ultimately selling and there is no investment in the buy now buttons. When engaging in online marketing, tracking, or reporting; buy now buttons don’t have any features to help advance your business. A full shopping cart, on the other hand, will save time by providing integrated features ranging from marketing, inventory management, reporting, and business analytics.
When selecting a shopping cart, there are a lot of things to consider. I recommend specifically evaluating the access to support you can get from the cart, the price, features, and whether or not the shopping cart has a plugin forum. Often times, shopping carts with plugin forums will have a pool of out sourced developers that may help you to customize your site or marketing efforts at a lower cost than hiring an outsource developer.
Analytics will track visitors on your website. From traffic sources to conversion, Analytics are your ultimate guide to how users are interacting with your site.
Analytics can reveal important information on the success of your products or of various marketing campaigns. Analytics packages can calculate the percentage of traffic that visits your site and then immediately backs out – indicating that your site was not what traffic expected to see. This can be useful when evaluating a marketing campaign. If traffic from that single marketing campaign has a higher back out or bounce rate that could be indicative of the advertisement’s text being misplaced or not contextualized. Analytics can be used to evaluate the success of products. For example, if a product has a lower ranking on your product search page than other products, but still obtains a higher click rate, you could give that product better real estate or ranking on your web page in order to make it easier for traffic to find.
In summation, the three building blocks to an online store are differentiation, shopping cart, and Analytics. Making a strong selection on these three areas will have a big impact on your online business.