The world of commerce has diversified. Those wishing to make money by selling products are no longer limited by their location or storage facilities, only their willingness to connect with customers and embrace technology. This is a great time for budding entrepreneurs to put their talents to ecommerce. Getting set up is easier than ever and the results can be very rewarding (if you approach it in the right way). Here’s how to give your new business the best chance of success.

Put your users first

User-experience is crucial for healthy online businesses; in 2017 you need to offer a great user-experience across a variety of channels – from your website to your mobile app and beyond. Implement a dynamic user-experience that goes beyond just functionality (how can I make a sale?) to a positive brand experience. Delve deep into your online copy, visuals, and design; and be rigorous with technical testing.

  • Conduct in-depth user research and develop detailed buyer personas to ensure that your design, content and products appeal to your target market. Think about how each buyer persona will impact key UX and UI decisions like how to run your search function, group your product categories, and lay out your images. Don’t neglect a key buyer demographic – try to cater to them all.
  • Map out a thoughtful customer journey, but remember that users are now multichannel and will switch between locations and formats fast. Keep up with them by accurately capturing and storing customer data to help make their purchase process smoother.
  • It’s always worth investigating customer browsing behavior using analytics and testing. This allows you to identify problem areas or pages that could be putting customers off as you monitor their decisions in real time.
  • UX design doesn’t have to be expensive – use remote usability testing to cut down on testing costs. Nowadays, UX is built into many modern ecommerce platforms – it’s up to you to customize and pick and choose the elements that will work for your customers.

Don’t go it alone – build partnerships

We could all use a hand-up every now and again. It can take a long time to build up an online audience – especially for a newbie. Build promotional and content partnerships with influencers, bloggers and key industry voices to growth hack your influencer network. Having the support of a partnerships is a lot more valuable than impersonal ads or soulless sponsored content.

  • Form strategic partnerships with companies that already have a strong presence in the marketplace to help to elevate your brand.
  • Work with bloggers and influencers, but take the time to engage with them and be open to their suggestions on how to best work with their readers. Engaging with people on social media is often a lot faster and more effective than email, so join key influencer networks and interact before going in with your pitch. If they recognise you – they are more likely to work with you.
  • Community work can be a great way to make a difference and get some promotional kudos on the side. Why not run a pop up shop for charity for the day? Can you donate the sales of a particular product to a cause that’s close to your heart? Building up your brand reputation as a well-rounded and holistic venture is worthwhile.

Embrace social

Social media is an amazing tool for ecommerce entrepreneurs. It offers an insight into what your customers are looking for, as well as being a great platform for sharing and gathering feedback. Use social media for research, brand building, and customer service – just make sure you’ve got a strategy that caters for all three!

  • So many brands are killing it on social media – local bars, food retailers, community groups – there are literally thousands of compelling online voices out there. UK food brand Innocent’s Twitter feed is legendary thanks to its sarcastic humor, whereas Nike’s Facebook page is packed with innovative video stories. Choose a channel, tone of voice, and posting frequency that works for your brand, and don’t feel compelled to be on all channels at once.
  • Use GIFs, video, humor – think outside the box with your social media. Just posting about offers, products, or latest deals gets boring fast and it won’t help you grow your network.
  • Remember that customers are likely to complain via social media channels. Have a response strategy ready – don’t be forced to think on your feet the first time someone makes a public complaint, as you are likely to panic. Be gracious and apologize publicly for any shortcomings, but be careful about accepting blame.
  • It’s totally fine to outsource your social media, but get sign-off on a broad content calendar and define a tone of voice. At it alone at first? Use tools like Hootsuite and Buffer to help you scale fast.

Find your niche & own it

It’s tempting to opt for a wide range of potential products, but studies show that aiming too broad actually damages rather than improves your chances of success. You are better off becoming an expert at selling within your specific niche. Do plenty of market research and think about your products thematically – what other products and brands would fit in? How can you make your store feel more coherent?

  • Your following may be smaller, but they will be more loyal – and loyalty is what pays. ThinkGeek is a good example of an ecommerce venture who have carefully carved out their niche and are doing very well as a result. Remember, you are going to put loyal customers off if you start selling off-brand; if you do decide to diversify later on – plan it out carefully.
  • Use wholesale research tools to find suitable niche suppliers to choose from.

Go for a high-performance web solution

You need a fast web environment that you can update and put your own stamp on. Put plenty of time into researching what ecommerce solution works for you and whether you need a hosted platform or a custom built store. Your chosen solution must fully cater for mobile commerce – that’s non-negotiable in 2017.

  • Factor in maintenance fees, upkeep, theme design, customization, and your store’s ability to grow and develop within your current platform. Most web projects aren’t just ‘one-off’ costs and you might need to invest in extra plugins and functionalities.
  • Even as an absolute web beginner, you can go for the readymade solution and build a professional online store in minutes using customizable templates – there is really no excuse for a poorly presented shopfront. Don’t try to do things on your own if you don’t know what you’re doing – be smart with outsourcing.
  • Remember to factor in commissioning SEO audits – you are going to need expert help in order to ensure your store is as competitive in search results as it can be.

Have a content strategy

One of the best methods of driving organic traffic to your store is through a solid content strategy. Though it costs to produce regular, high quality content, consider it an investment – the payoff is worth it.

  • Start off with a blog where you publish regular articles and insights, and be sure to share them regularly on social media. Set out a seasonal calendar to help you manage your content requirements.
  • Through strategic guest blogging you can often gain a link back to your site through your author bio, which will help with your SEO efforts. It pays to create a compelling personal brand so that you can go out and promote your store as yourself. Offer value with your content – no one likes spam.
  • If writing isn’t your strong point, consider hiring a freelance copywriter to do some of the legwork for you. Be sure to brief them effectively to get the results you are after.
  • As well as optimizing every page for keywords, on-site ecommerce content should be persuasive, engaging, and in keeping with the tone of your brand. Include compelling category pages, help guides, and resource booklets to help your customers really get to grips with your product offering.

Hopefully this article has given you some useful pointers to take away. Are you an ecommerce business owner? What additional lessons have you learned? Let us know in the comments.

Written by EcommerceTips
Patrick Foster, ecommerce coach & entrepreneur.