If you’re moving your business online for the first time, no doubt there’ll be a learning curve getting your head around the basics of website building and design, digital marketing, offline logistics and strategy.
In 2014 I took my beauty startup STYLE STORY, which specialises in Korean beauty products, online for the first time. Even though the products had a market and natural ability to sell themselves, there were plenty of things I know now that I wish I knew back then.
Having run a successful online business for five years, here are some of the key lessons I’ve learnt along the way:
It’s all About a Visual Journey
Unlike a bricks-and-mortar store, online is all visual. People can’t smell, feel or try the products on before they buy them. This means you need to take them on a visual journey to learn everything they want to know about the product before they buy it.
Everyone has had an online shopping fail where the product they purchased turns out looking nothing like what they thought they were buying – that’s a recipe for disaster and not a strategy to grow a business. To prevent these sorts of “fails”, you need to bridge the gap between the product in your warehouse and letting the customer know what they’re buying. You need to make them comfortable enough to part with their hard-earned money.
This is where content creation comes in – social media, YouTube and blogging are all great ways to take people on a journey with the product so they feel like they know exactly what they’re buying.
Don’t ignore offline strategies either, as there are plenty of practical ways to get products into people’s hands, through pop-ups, sampling, meetups and the like.
Digital Marketing is King
One of the biggest mistakes many new website owners make is thinking that it’s as simple as creating a website and people will buy from them. These days every man and his dog has a website. It’s getting people to find you among the sea of other sites online that’s the tricky part.
There is so much work that goes on behind the scenes to run and market a digital store. You need to bridge the gap to find your customers, let them know what you’ve got to offer and entice them to actually make a sale.
While there is still a place for traditional PR in the digital age, you need to become familiar with new and constantly changing digital marketing technologies and algorithms like Google Analytics, Facebook analytics and more.
Shop Your Website Like a Customer
Once your website is up and running, it’s important to regularly check both the front and back ends to make sure the experience of shopping on your site is as seamless as possible – shop your website like a customer.
Pay attention to things like site speed, ease of adding products to the cart and ease of checking out. Anything that makes the ultimate purchase more difficult will lose you customers and mean your marketing spend just flew out the door.
Partner With the Right People
As an online business, there will be parts of your day to day operations that are out of your hands – things like delivering the actual product to the customer and potentially even receiving money from sales if you’re using a third party payment gateway.
Despite your best efforts, it can all fall apart if your chosen partner doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain.
This is why it’s so important to choose the right people to partner with, particularly on the courier and logistics side. No one is perfect, but if your chosen carrier is leaving parcels out where they can get stolen, not delivering them to the correct address or taking weeks to do so, this will all soon become your problem and will result in unhappy, potentially angry customers who will often blame you.
Factor in the costs of these delays, have a strategy in place to deal with them and if your chosen courier company is not holding up their end of the bargain, ditch them no matter how much of a cost saving they may appear to offer at first glance.
Ditto for payment gateways – make sure you’re partnering with a brand that is trustworthy, reliable and that has solid software in place. They’re handling your money and your customer’s money so if they’re patchy, slow or plain dodgy they’re not the company for you.
Traditional Business Rules Still Apply
It might seem obvious, but just because your business is online doesn’t mean you can throw out the simple rules of business – you still need to have a market, be filling a demand, have your pricing worked out, a marketing plan and a strategy in place. If you have an ill-thought-out plan, a bad idea or simply no idea how to run a business, moving the operation online won’t solve your problems.