What makes one e-commerce web site a raging success, while another similar one barely gets a visitor much less sells anything? Ask any small business owner and you’re likely to get a range of answers from “Cool technology” to “A really sexy web site”, and more likely than not: “Being Number One on the Search Engines”.
Important some of these things may be, they’re not actually the core elements for success! And it’s for this reason that most people go wrong when they go online. In fact, the main factors, or decisions, that make a web site successful or not, take place long before a line of code is written, or a graphic designed or anyone puts finger to keyboard to write any copy. We list below, in order of importance, the ten things you should concentrate on if you want your e-commerce web site to be a rip-roaring success:
1. Do Your Research
The first thing that you must remember (and this is the bit that everyone seemed to forget in Internet “Gold Rush” of 1999) is that the same business principles apply to your internet business as any other. You must: a) Have a product/service with a solid perceived need; b) you must be able to sell it at a price that is profitable and provides good value to the purchaser and; c) you must be able to reach a sufficient number of potential purchasers (and convince them to buy) to generate enough revenue to make your business viable. And to find out that, you need to research your market. Thoroughly.
The first and most obvious thing you need to find out is the “need” factor. Note I said “perceived” need, perhaps better described as a “want”. We buy lots of things we don’t need, because mainly we think we need them. So, will people benefit from your product or service? Do you genuinely believe you can convince people they need it? To find that out, you have to ask them! But we’re not there yet: it’s one thing having a product that people do actually need, but if there are already lots of people supplying it, then you might have a problem with part b. You are only going to be able to sell your product/service at a profit AND and a price people think represents good value if 1) Not many other people provide it or 2) yours is better (and/or cheaper – but for reasons explained later, this is not usually a good route to take). Again, you must do your research and find out before you do anything else. And finally, can you reach this market cost-efficiently and find enough people to buy from you? This is the one great strength of the Internet and e-commerce: it’s much cheaper, it’s faster and has a much wider reach that any other communications channel so far invented! But it still costs time and money, and you have to be realistic, so you need to research your market and work out if you have the time and money to reach it.
2. Work on your Strategy
OK, so now you know, hopefully, that there is a need for your product or service, that not many people offer it at the price/profit/value level that you can, and you know that thousands of people who use the internet a lot and who you know from your research can and do buy online, will want to buy it from you. So now you work on your strategy. This is key. You cannot simply say “Hey, we’ve got a great product and a big market, let’s slap up a web site and we’ll get rich!” You need to sit down and carefully work on how you’re going to do all of this. You need to know what your goals are. If your goal is to “sell lots” you’ll sell nothing! I Guarantee it. You need to work out where your want to be in 1, 3 and 5 years time at a minimum and then work back from there. If you start with that and work back, then a lot of the pieces will fall into place. Your strategy should apply to all your business, and your web site or Internet bits will only be a part of it (a big part, perhaps…). For example, if you have a product with a big ticket price, and you only sell 5 a year, then you don’t want to start planning in a shopping basket system and credit card payments! Selling on that scale will need lots of relationship building and face-to-face interaction, so you need to work out how your Internet/e-commerce strategy will enhance and benefit that. A good web site to that will impress people who pay £50,000 for your product? A newsletter system to help keep in touch during the long sales cycle? It’s a completely different approach to selling £20 watches….