John Debrincat explains how starting small with your online store can lead to success
There are now over 1.87 million small to medium sized businesses in Australia and they are all thinking about ecommerce. These include tradespeople, small stores, small farm businesses and all types of businesses. However, even though total ecommerce revenues hit $45 billion in Australia in 2006 with online shopping revenues growing around 30 percent annually, Australia is falling behind the rest of the world in the ecommerce race. Less than nine percent sell products online today and less than 20 percent have a website. Small business is clamouring to get a slice of the ecommerce action.
There are many factors influencing this trend. Some are obvious and some not.
• Greater availability of broadband for home and business users.
• Faster and cheaper broadband
• More people are staying online longer
• Transport costs are higher so going shopping in the traditional way can be expensive
• Consumers have less time and want to shop around the clock
• Consumers want choice and do their comparison shopping online
Interestingly, a recent survey in the UK found that people over 55 spent more time online than those aged 16–35. This surprised many, but it is a result of the greater availability and the ease of shopping online. The same may be true for Australia with the median age now at 37 and ageing. Smart online shopping operators will not forget where the money is. The over-50 age group is growing more rapidly than any other age group in Australia so it is important to ensure that whatever you do online takes into account this important demographic.
An online business still requires a business plan
An online business is just like any other business. You need a business plan, capital, products or services and infrastructure. It is no secret that no one knows how big you really are on the web. But you need to be professional and run your online business like a ‘bricks and mortar’ business. Here are some tips:
Concentrate on what you know works. Many website developers or designers will tell you that success is all about the look and feel of the site. You will hear that you need to have great Search Engine Optimisation and Marketing (SEO and SEM). Some people believe that they need a unique product or service, while others believe it is just luck. While some of the above is true, the real secrets to success are to have a plan and not try to accomplish too much too soon.
A plan for your eCommerce business is very important. Every business needs a plan to keep the business on track and to measure results. Developing a plan helps you understand the intricacies of your business. Sharing the plan with others that you trust can ensure that you are not off with the fairies.
Don’t try to accomplish too much
The story that you hear sometimes goes like this: the business owner has a great business idea that could build to a good revenue generator. Typically they have another job and they might also be responsible for running the home and looking after the kids. So already they are putting in a 60+ hour week. Now they want a web store and they have hundreds, maybe thousands, of products to sell. They look around and evaluate a number of eCommerce providers and they do their homework. They might try a few out and they ask a lot of friends for advice. Finally they make a decision and make the plunge and sign up for an eCommerce web store. Six months later the store is only half finished.
They are not happy with the look and feel. They have been spending money and not making money. There is not enough time to get everything done and it all starts to get too hard. So what’s wrong?
Don’t try to do too much. Start with products that you know will sell and only start with a few products, maybe 10 or 20—whatever is easy to maintain. It is better to have a few products on the store well presented and with good images and descriptions than hundreds or thousands badly presented. If you know what will sell, then start there.
Bring buyers to your store and not just visitors. The success of an online shop is not how many visitors you get, it is how many buy, then come back and buy again. Once people buy from you and trust you, they will come back and buy again.
Publish a web catalogues. If you have a catalogue with hundreds or thousands of products, then publish it on your website so that it can be downloaded. That way people can see what else you have and can send a message and ask.
When someone buys from you, give them exceptional service. Make sure that you ship the products as soon as possible and make sure you give them a call or send an email to follow up. Personalisation makes people much more comfortable.
Start local and grow global. Get a flyer printed on a good quality colour printer or go to a fast print outlet. Get a few hundred flyers and take a walk around your local neighbourhood and stick them in the letterboxes. The flyer should have some information about you, pictures of some products and the URL of your website. Offer a promotional discount based on a coupon number on the flyer.
START SIMPLE AND THEN GROW COMFORTABLY.
SEO and SEM, Google Adwords, pay per click, all that stuff is important but it is easier to get it right with 20 products than with 2,000. So if you want to be successful online you have to start somewhere, but maybe think a little smaller if you have other demands in your day.
John Debrincat is the CEO of eCorner (www.ecorner.com.au), a provider of eBusiness solutions for small and medium enterprises.