Starting an eCommerce site is a great way to expand an existing physical business or begin a new enterprise altogether. That’s because it’s relatively simple and affordable to start and the online market continues to grow and evolve at astronomical rates.
Online shopping continues to gain in popularity every year. Its convenience and modernity have caused it to grow much faster than overall sales. In fact, total sales for the second quarter of 2016 increased only 1.5% compared to the second quarter of 2015. However, online sales increased by nearly 16% for the same time period.
While online sales only make up around 8% of total sales, they have seen double digit growth every quarter over the last year. It doesn’t look like that growth will stop anytime soon as eCommerce is expected to continue its double-digit growth through 2020.
As more and more consumers and businesses turn to online stores to make their purchases, the opportunity for entrepreneurs will only increase. But with so many options available for consumers, how can new online business owners make their online store stand apart from the competition? What tools do new eCommerce sites need to succeed?
Here, we’ll cover how to start an online retail store and a few tips on how to make your site stand apart from the rest.
Find Your Niche
Let’s face it, there are millions of online stores available for customers, so why should they buy anything from you? You need to find out what makes your site, service, and products unique to ensure your online store is competitive.
Finding your niche means identifying what sets your eCommerce business apart from the rest. Once you identify what makes your site different from competitors, you will need to build your site, your brand, your product selection, and your promotion strategy around that quality.
Highlighting the qualities that demonstrate your authority and expertise in your area will help you attract a dedicated customer base.
Make a Great First Impression
It’s happened to all of us. You click a link and the page doesn’t load, or the site is too confusing to navigate, or you just don’t like the color scheme—regardless of the reason, you click away from the page never to visit it again.
The first impression you make with your prospective customer is often the most important and lasting. In fact, it takes visitors to your website about 50 milliseconds to form an opinion on whether they like your site or not and whether they’ll continue to look around or leave.
A well designed eCommerce site is not only visually appealing to prospective customers it’s also a necessity. In order to maximize customer retention your site should include the following:
- Easy to comprehend landing page
- Design and style in line with your brand image
- High quality copy and graphics
- Uncomplicated navigation that encourages exploration
- A thorough “About Us” section detailing your mission statement
- A blog where customers can educate themselves on topics relevant to your brand
- An easy to use shopping cart platform
- Simplistic but secure checkout process
Do Your Research
When learning how to start an online retail store you need to do your research. That’s because you need to understand the landscape of your prospective market. Is your desired market oversaturated or ripe for the picking?
Learning about your competition will help you understand what works, what doesn’t, and what avenues have been neglected. When you research your competition you’ll better understand the aspects of your business that you should nurture and those you should eliminate.
Understanding your competition will help you better understand how you should promote and market your online store, what kinds of content will help drive traffic to your site, and help you understand what elements of design you want to incorporate into your eCommerce site.
Manage Logistics and Shipping
One of the most important aspects of running an online store is providing exemplary service. Many consumers choose eCommerce over physical shopping due to its convenience and discretion. Customers are able to shop from the privacy of their home and trust that they will receive their product in a timely and discreet manner.
Knowing how to start your online store starts with knowing how your customers will receive their purchases. Will you manage shipping from your own physical facility or will you drop ship products from the supplier to the customer? Do you plan to operate pop up shops at farmers markets and trade shows?
Regardless of how your site will operate, you need to understand the logistics of your shipping model. Customers expect quick shipping turnaround and email updates on their packages. Providing top notch shipping and logistics to your customers will help you retain clients’ and grow your customer base.
Get a Head Start on Content
Focused, engaging content is incredibly important for your eCommerce site. That’s because visitors to your site are looking to make a purchase, do some research, or hopefully both. Your content should offer useful information, should represent the culture of your brand, and should gently persuade visitors to make purchases.
A great way to start thinking about content for your site is to examine the websites of your competition. Give careful consideration to their content—do they have a blog? Do their product descriptions answer all your questions? Are they creating a narrative and culture for their brand that appeals to a broad customers base?
Regardless, by examining the content of your competitors you’ll begin to understand what works and what doesn’t. This is a great way to begin planning your own content.
Content = Connection
Content and social media interactions allow your brand to make connections with prospective customers. When you create relevant content you naturally draw in a broader audience that will approach your eCommerce site with their interest already piqued.
Content doesn’t exist in a bubble. Read up on relevant industry trends on which you can provide commentary. For example, if you sell garden supplies you could examine the benefits or drawbacks of using organic soil. This kind of content fulfills any research goals your customers may have while demonstrating your expertise in the area.
Don’t simply post and walk away. Interact with your audience. Reach out to other influencers, bloggers, and content creators in your industry to see if there are any projects you could work on together.
Simply put—don’t skimp on content. It drives traffic to your site, encourages deeper engagement, allows for reposts and market penetration, and ultimately helps you create a brand that people will want to interact with and support.
Set Up a Reliable Payment Gateway
As a dedicated merchant services provider that specializes in payment gateways, we know that there are many moving parts to any business. With that in mind, we know that secure payment gateways are some of the most critical, yet often overlooked, elements you need to consider when researching how to start an online retail store.
While the primary function of a payment gateway is the facilitation of payment between the bank, client, and service provider it also serves a wide range of ancillary functions that are just as relevant to the success of your eCommerce site.
Your payment gateway should provide security features that encrypt and protect your clients sensitive financial information. When researching payment gateway options ensure that they offer PCI DSS compliance as well as other security features.
When clients trust the security of your payment portal they are more likely to complete a purchase on your site. In fact, 18% of shopping cart abandonments are caused because the customer didn’t trust the website with their credit card information.
Your payment gateway can offer services beyond financial transactions and security. A good payment gateway provider should offer other services like flexible payment structure options, customer data management, support services, tracking interfaces, software integration, and the ability to accept a wide range of global currencies and payment methods.
Your choice in payment gateway isn’t just about how to start your online store, it’s about how to make it successful. The tools your gateway provider offers will help you make more sales by minimizing shopping cart abandonment.
Minimize Shopping Cart Abandonment
Most shopping cart abandonment is due to customers researching product and window shopping. However, online shoppers report that the payment process is a major cause of shopping cart abandonment.
Indeed, 27% of shopping cart abandonments are caused by a complicated or lengthy checkout process, another 22% claim that website errors caused their abandonment, while 8% abandon their cart due to limited payment options.
This means that nearly half of all non-research shopping cart abandonments are caused by payment gateway issues.
Your choice of payment gateway provider can have serious implications on your ability to successfully run your eCommerce site. Therefore, when you research payment gateway options you need to consider every aspect of service they provide. Do they offer customer database management, multiple payment options, top-notch security features, and more?
There are options available that satisfy the needs of online stores of all sizes and shapes. Allied Wallet is a payment gateway provider that offers state of the art security, customisable data management options, around the clock customer support, and global payment options.
Invest in Marketing and SEO
When you’re doing your research on how to start an online retail store, you’ll find that there are many options available for shoppers you need to make sure your eCommerce site demands notice. The most effective way to drive traffic to your site is to invest in online marketing and SEO (search engine optimization).
As you know, most people find desired products and online stores by conducting search engine queries. When customers type relevant keywords into search engines they get the results they’re looking for. That’s why you need your site to rank high enough to get noticed.
Think about this—when you search for something online do you click any links listed on the third or fourth page? Or do you click on the links listed near the top of the first page?
If you’re like most people, you don’t do much exploring after the first few results on the first page. In fact, 75% of users don’t scroll past the first page of results. Obviously, it’s important that prospective clients can find you and your services.
Effective marketing and SEO drive traffic to your site and increase the visibility of your online store in search engine results.
If you’re like most business owners, search engine optimization and online marketing are not your specialties. It is recommended that you seek out a marketing or SEO agency to partner with your business to develop a marketing strategy.
Professionals will help you understand how to start your online store the right way—getting noticed by the right audience. The agency you choose will consult with you to determine which course of action is best suited for your situation.
An SEO agency can help you drive traffic through favorable focus on key ranking factors. This may include:
- Creating Quality Content
- Site Architecture
- HTML Code
- Link Building
- Creating Authority and Trust
- Avoiding Spam or Other Violations
- Developing a Solid Social Media Presence
- PPC Campaigns
- And More…
Creating organic content, building solid backlinks, and managing domain authority can help drive traffic to your site. Don’t overlook this vital step when opening and advertising your eCommerce site.
Robust Reporting and Analytics
Collecting data on your customers offers many benefits for your business. In fact, one of the most advantageous elements of running an eCommerce site is the ability to track customer engagement with your product and brand.
Analytics can help you improve the efficacy of your site by showing you how customers found your store and demonstrating which marketing campaigns are providing the best return on investment.
Analytics can also help you optimize your site architecture to better funnel customers toward desired outcomes. When you understand which pathways are most effective you can better develop those funnels to maximize checkout rates.
Investing in reporting and analytics is an often overlooked aspect when learning how to start an online retail store. Businesses that utilize robust reporting and analytics are able to focus on the avenues of their business that work, streamline their sales and logistical processes, optimize their content to better target key customers, and identify areas that need improvement. In other words, analytics will help you run a more successful eCommerce site.
Always Look Ahead
Finally, never stop planning, researching, investing, and adapting your business. One of the things that makes eCommerce so dynamic is its flexibility and malleability. When you follow the strategies here and continue to research other strategies you give your site a better chance at success.
Opening an eCommerce site is an amazing opportunity to start or expand your business. If you’d like some more insight on how you can set up your online store’s infrastructure and payment gateway, we’re always available to assist you.
To learn more about our services or a specific type of merchant account, please call us today in the U.S. at (888) 255-1137, in the U.K. at +44 203 318 8334, or contact us online. We look forward to hearing from you and learning about your strategies for success.