Steer Clear of Logistical Missteps
Many seemingly "smart" solutions become far less attractive once one thinks through the logistics involved.
You might, for example, decide to rent a table at a regional craft fair thinking it can help boost awareness of your store and offload some inventory, only get a few extra views to your online shop, sell a small number of products, spend hundreds of dollars in fees and travel, and expend an indecent number of hours packing, traveling, setting up, tearing down, and unpacking.
You may decide that customization will boost interest in your shop, then become obligated to customize products in a manner that takes up an exorbitant amount of time and results in every customized product sale being a net financial loss.
Or perhaps you choose to sell through a particular online venue because it is well-known and popular, only to find that its fees are quite steep and nobody goes to that site looking for the types off products you sell.
Each of these approaches could be very useful in the right circumstances. Many online merchants have benefitted immensely by maintaining a presence at popular craft fairs, offering customizable products, and selling through popular online marketplaces. That said, these tactics are only useful in some cases. Before making a decision about your online store or products, carefully think through the logistics involved. How will this decision affect your earnings? What concrete facts or precedents lead you to believe that a marketing effort will increase profits? What additional time investments will be required should you adopt a particular tactic? How might your decision backfire?
Many customers see coupon codes as a slap in the face. Think about it- you are about to check out through an online storefront and see a field for discount codes. This indicates that someone else is getting a better deal than you. It's not fair. It makes you feel like you're not being treated with respect.
Researchers have found that online promotion codes may have negative effects on perceptions of price fairness, satisfaction, and purchase completion, and that comparisons of prices given to other people have a significant effect on customers' perceptions of fairness of purchases- as well as their overall satisfaction.
Even in the real world, many shoppers will leave a store without making a purchase because they knew they left a coupon at home.
Promotion codes might be appropriate for your shop, but think very carefully before implementing them, and try to implement them in a manner that does not leave customers feeling cheated (e.g. hide the potentiality of discounts from everyone save those who have been given discounts).
Don't Assume All Marketplaces Function the Same Way
Context has astounding influence. The frame of mind a customer might have when she comes across your products or brand will play a significant role in her interest in making a purchase. Keep this in mind when choosing venues and selecting products for those venues.
Some products that sell well through brick-and-mortar stores will perform dismally online. Certain items that are a hit on Etsy might not get much attention at all through Storenvy. People go to different online venues with different goals in mind- the more you are mindful of this (and tweak your messaging, framing, and product curation accordingly), the more likely you are to launch stores that thrive rather than flop.
Particularly important factors to consider when contemplating a sales channel include:
- The manner in which people will find products through that sales channel
- The goals people have in mind when approaching that sales channel (e.g. browsing for fun, finding a deal, solving a problem, etc.)
- The role tags, keywords, and categorization plays in how your products might be found (are shoppers searching by color, price, keyword, category, or material?)
- The role reviews play in product rankings (are highly-reviewed products given an advantage in search results?)
If people will find your products via search results, make sure their titles and summaries are clear and descriptive. If people browse through a particular sales channel looking for solutions to problems, be sure to frame your products as clear solutions. If people browse a particular site by color or material, make sure your products are always properly tagged. If reviews can give you a competitive advantage, follow up with sellers and politely ask them to review your items, honestly explaining what a huge difference it can make for your store.
Don't Let Your Store Ruin Your Personal Life
Many people open online stores thinking they can be a fun side hobby, then have to shut everything down after discovering they have lost their social lives, can no longer support their families, and have become obsessed with constantly checking and filling new orders.
When you decide to launch an online store, do so with the knowledge that it will be a serious responsibility. Treat it like a job. Set boundaries and stay within them. If you know that it is important for you to have nights and weekends free for time with friends and family, make it clear through your online storefront that you only fill orders and respond to queries during business hours.
Don't Waste Your Time on Work that Does Not Add Value
As an online merchant, it is essential that your time is spent creating value, not spinning your wheels.
Don't Invest Time in Worthless Customers
While it is important to maintain a basic level of courtesy and attention with every customers, it would be unwise to bend over backwards for customers who are not, and never will be, valuable assets. Avoid making special modifications to low-margin products that are requested by non-repeat customers. Do not get caught up in long communication threads with one-off customers who just want to chat.
Focus instead on going above and beyond for the 20% of customers who bring in 80% of your profits- the people who return to your shop again and again, refer friends, and buy high-margin products. They are well worth your extra attention.
Don't Fuss Over Orders
Some merchants, especially in their early days, spend so much time making sure orders are perfectly packed and ensuring that customers are truly happy that, once a product it shipped, they have lost more money (in time) than they have gained.
Establish an efficient system for filling orders and answering queries, and stick to it. Let the system ensure that customers get a great experience so that you don't have to worry about them on a case-by-case basis. For example, you might set up a series of stock responses to common questions and establish an organized packaging station in your home so that you do not waste time crafting an entirely new message for each new customer and run frantically around the house looking for tape, card stock, and ribbon every time you need to fill an order.
Be mindful of the prices you set for products and the amount of time (in labor) you factor into those prices. Do not put more time into a product than it is worth.
Don't Fall Down the Social Media Rabbit Hole
It is very easy to equate engagement with customers over social media channels with productive time, and within reasonable bounds, social media time can be fruitful. That said, you must establish boundaries. If you like to poke around social media channels to do market research, set aside an hour to do that every other day- and don't let those social media channels distract you during non-designated time intervals. If you communicate with customers via Facebook, Google+, and Twitter, check in with those accounts three times a day (or at whatever interval is appropriate), but don't leave those channels open- they can be a constant source of distraction.
There is no such thing as multitasking. There is only doing a crappy job with multiple tasks in fast succession. Don't let social media distract you and detract from your business.
Don't Carelessly Waste Your Money on Costly Comforts
There are plenty of things an online merchant can pay for that may impart a feeling of security without actually granting it. Common culprits include:
- Online ad campaigns
- Extra inventory
Online ad campaigns are not appropriate for all products and target markets. When they are appropriate, they still require careful development, monitoring, and tweaking. Should you, for example, want to create awareness about your USB gadget store, it is not sufficient to plonk down $100 on Google AdWords and list a carelessly-worded text ad for keywords related to USB gadgets. You will need to allot a significant amount of time to contemplate your options (e.g. search ads versus display ads on targeted sites), research keywords (using the Google AdWords Keyword Tool), craft optimal messaging, tweak messaging and placement based on performance, and monitor the allocation of your budget over time. In short, you cannot just throw money toward an ad platform and expect results.
Consultants are only going to help you if they are competent, experienced with your target market, familiar with your products and desired sales channels, and the types of people you will actually heed. Consultants typically evaluate your situation, then give you advice. It is up to you to determine whether that advice is worth taking to heart, and it is also up to you to take action. In short, consultants won't make your problems go away.
It can be tempting to buy large amounts of inventory to make sure you never run out of stock, but doing so could leave you with little space, extra storage expenses, and a bunch of unsold products or materials. It is far better to think through your needs, establish systems that help you determine when you need to order more goods, and keep your inventory relatively light and agile. In short, keeping a huge inventory does not reduce risk.
Avoid Impeding Your Store's Growth
Many incredibly popular online sellers with promising brands and products have yet to make a significant profit from their stores because they fail to scale up.
Common means by which online merchants impede their own progress include:
- Focusing on small-margin products even after introducing high-margin products that sell well
- Spending significant time and resources on new product development when existing products can barely be kept in stock and need to be produced and shipped in higher volumes
- Sticking with a limited online storefront instead of expanding to a more scalable venue
- Failing to hire support staff or outsource certain functions should demand warrant it and one's personal limitations prevent one from selling more products independently
By keeping careful tabs on bottlenecks and growing demand, and by hiring additional help when you need it, you will be far more likely to successfully scale up and capitalize on growth opportunities as they roll in.
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