Your first (free) online store: best practices for beginners.
With the maturation of the computer age, we’ve seen a massive shift in consumer spending habits and the retail industry. Every year, more and more dollars are spent online compared to in brick-and-mortar businesses. The result is that, whether you’re used to selling products in person or online, a functional eCommerce solution is a necessity, not at option.
But despite the ubiquitous promises of ease and simplicity made by eCommerce platforms and site-builders, actually getting your store up and running is no small task. According to a recent article from web development agency NewFangled, the average build time for a functional eCommerce website can run anywhere from 4 months to a full year. And that’s coming from the pros!
So what’s a poor boy to do? If you’re new to eCommerce, or trying to bring your physical business online, you may not have the money to hire a professional design agency; or the time to wait a year. Luckily, there are a growing number of drag-and-drop solutions that let you create a handsome, functional, and productive online store all by yourself. But now that you have the power to create your own store, what factors do you need to consider before you take the plunge?
Mobile devices have exploded in the past five years. In developed markets, smartphones have become a regular part of daily life. In emerging markets, consumers are leapfrogging over desktops and laptops and skipping straight ahead to large format smartphones and tablets. And the shifting tide of internet access has had pronounced effects on shopping trends. According to a study conducted by Shopify, as of the middle of 2014, over 50% of traffic on eCommerce websites was coming from mobile devices.
Now, this particular study only surveyed sites built on Shopify’s own platform. And other data indicates that conversion rates on mobile devices are significantly lower than those for desktop shoppers. But the results are still staggering. Even if shoppers aren’t finalizing a purchase through their smartphone, mobile devices have become the leading method for online browsing and discovery.
What’s this mean for you? When choosing the tools you’ll use for your eCommerce store, mobile responsiveness is a must. You need to know that your store will look great, no matter how your customers find you. For example, my company, POWr Plugins, offers a completely responsive eCommerce Plugin, designed with responsive items and layout, and vertical stacking on smaller screens. With so many shoppers relying on mobile devices to find and purchase products, you can’t afford to ignore mobile. Make sure your store looks consistent and professional on all modern devices.
Be Available Everywhere
In the early days of online retail, a few major players provided the main points of access for finding and buying products. And while Amazon and eBay continue to play a dominant role in online shopping, consumers have become more accustomed to buying products directly through vendor websites.
You can take advantage of this by making your entire store available across all of your online channels. This includes your website itself, but also your blog, and even your company Facebook Page. A passable solution is to simply link back to your full online store. A better solution is to find an eCommerce tool that allows you to embed your complete store right into another web page, like your blog or Facebook page. Most of the top-tier eCommerce solutions will provide some version of these options. For a quick reference, these tutorials show you how to add your POWr eCommerce Plugin to a Blogger site, a Tumblr Blog, or directly into your company’s Facebook Page.
Words Speak. Images Shout
Images are vital to building interest in your products. And as online retail has become big business, the proper use of images has been codified by some of the giants in the industry. Since 2013, both Amazon and eBay have added strict image requirements to their respective platforms to ensure that sellers display their products accurately and attractively. They’ve even introduced penalties on vendors who do not incorporate quality images, resulting in lower search ranking and decreased surfacing of products.
Although Amazon probably won’t have control over how you design and manage your own eCommerce store, there’s good reason to build these best practices into your plan. Products with images receive dramatically more clicks and eventual conversions than those without. Be sure to include well lit, aesthetically pleasing, and physically accurate images for every product you sell. Don’t include add-ons or optional features in your images, as this can lead to customer dissatisfaction and returns. And whenever possible, include multiple images showcasing different angles, features, or versions of a product. In the best case scenario, shoppers should be able to zoom in on photos to get a detailed view of exactly what they’re buying. Most of these features come standard on the pay-to-play eCommerce site builders. And all are included in the free version of POWr eCommerce. In the digital age, it’s become a truism that shoppers no longer read descriptions and product specs. But everyone loves a pretty picture.
Surprise Free Pricing
This might seem obvious, but you need to be upfront and honest with your pricing. Shoppers don’t like surprises, and there’s strong evidence to suggest that inaccurate or hidden price changes play a major roll in cart abandonment, aka, people stopping shy of completing a purchase. According to a recent Statista study of online shopping trends, over 50% of cart abandonment can be attributed to unexpected or hidden charges at the end of the checkout process. These charges can come from a variety of things, like shipping, tax, or optional features that are not reflected in the price of an item until just before a payment is made.
The reason sellers do this is obvious. A cheaper product seems like an easier sell. But the reaction of shoppers tells the real story. Surprises kill sales. Don’t let yourself fall into this trap. Quality eCommerce solutions will allow you to add dynamic price differentiators based on options selected by your shoppers, with the adjusted price displayed before your user goes to checkout. That way, there are no surprises waiting to derail your sale at the finish line.
The road to a successful and profitable eCommerce business is paved with false starts, mishaps, and hiccups. But don’t let that dissuade you. People can and do succeed as online retailers everyday. And with the right tools and practices, you can too. Let us know what lessons you’ve learned from your experiences as an online seller. Or as an online buyer. And check out POWr eCommerce, and the dozens of other free plugins available at POWr.io.