Pulling off the first few sales on a new ecommerce website can be an exciting experience for anyone.
However, for some ecommerce startups, that is also where the excitement ends. To keep those orders coming and to grow the business into a large empire or at least a successful venture becomes a big challenge.
The most common reason is that the ecommerce business wasn’t set up properly. Some key elements are missing, which makes it difficult to both attract and retain customers over the long term. But it doesn’t have to be the end of the road.
You can bring the missing pieces together and get things going again.
Whether you’re still in the planning stages of starting an ecommerce store or want to evaluate why sales are slowing, you can use the points below as a checklist.
1. The right product
A lot of market research is required before you decide which product(s) to list on your ecommerce store. So, you shouldn’t just set up because someone has reported success in a particular niche or probably because you have something you want people to buy.
Selling what your target market wants to buy is always easier than selling what you want the market to buy.
The hottest products are those that already have a hungry audience, with relatively limited competition. Use resources such as Nichehacks or a keyword research tool to discover trends. Keywords Everywhere is a free Chrome and Firefox browser add-on that’s a good place to start. When you have the right products on your site, meaning that you’ve verified that there’s a real demand for them, everything else is easier.
Keep in mind that your inventory handling can have an impact on your operating costs and your cash flow. There are some costs associated with high inventory and low sales, and low inventory and high sales. You’ll want to try to strike a happy medium so you’re not wasting money.
2. A strong branding strategy
To set yourself apart in a marketplace dominated by giants like Amazon and eBay, spend some time on your branding. Branding includes basics like your store’s name and logo, and extends to your customer service philosophy. Think about what sets you apart from the competition. What do you want your customers to remember you for?
Do you offer 2-day shipping? If not, why should your customers wait for your product to arrive, rather than purchase with Amazon Prime?
If you’re selling on a few different platforms, like your own site, Amazon, eBay or others, remember that it is vital to keep branding materials consistent across platforms.
3. A fully-optimized website
If you haven’t yet chosen whether to build your own site or use an existing ecommerce platform, check out this guide.
If your site is already set up, it’s time to optimize it for sales. The best ecommerce websites feature easy navigation, readable texts, clear product images, easy to load cart, simple checkout process, compatibility across multiple devices and fast loading times.
The key here is to approach website optimization as something you’re always testing and refining, from the organization of your homepage, to your product pages and descriptions to the colors of the call to action buttons on your site. Check out this guide to testing and optimizing your website for growth. The customer’s journey through your site should be as frictionless as possible. Don’t make it hard for people to find what they’re looking for—and make it as easy as possible to make a purchase.
Beyond your site itself, make sure you understand the SEO, or search engine optimization basics, so you’re setting yourself up to be discoverable in Google search. From there, look at your paid ad campaign strategy. These days, you’ll notice that practically every page of search results is swimming in paid advertisements. Don’t be left out.
4. Easy signup/sign in and path to payment
On the topic of reducing friction on your site, avoid lengthy registration forms. Get their name, email address, and payment information—just the essentials. You’ll want their email address so you can reach out to them if they abandon their cart before they complete their transaction.
One way to make it super easy for customers to complete the purchase is to integrate sign-in options like Facebook or Google. Also, look at your payment options. Do you offer PayPal? What about Venmo? Can your customers securely save their credit card information on your site so they don’t have to physically pull out their credit card and type in their number for every transaction? Do everything you can to lower barriers between intent to buy and a completed purchase.
5. A referral or affiliate program
As long as there is some profit attached to the product or service you’re selling on your website, sharing these profits with affiliates in exchange for more sales is never a bad option.
The biggest ecommerce store, Amazon pays affiliates anywhere between 4.5 – 8% commission on sales, so you can decide what percentage of your earnings you will share with affiliates and set up such a system on your ecommerce site.
Your store will get more exposure this way, as affiliates help put your products in front of many people you might not have otherwise been exposed to.
6. Email marketing
Do you have email campaigns set up reach your customers about upcoming sales? Do you have a blog or other educational component to your website that you use to build trust and awareness? Build an email marketing strategy that (respectfully) reminds your customers that you exist, and thanks them for their loyalty.
Don’t be obnoxious or spammy or you’ll find yourself blocked from the privilege of ongoing communication with your customers.
7. A well-defined returns policy
A well-defined return policy that can be easily located on your website will save you time and headaches in the future. The last thing you want is for your customers to be left with a negative impression over return policy confusion.
Keep it clear, concise, and reasonable. Remember, you’re competing with free shipping and free returns enjoyed by the masses through Amazon Prime.
8. Great customer reviews
Great, visible reviews from satisfied customers can be a great trust and authority signal for new customers, considering purchasing from you. Even bad reviews are an opportunity to learn from your mistakes—and there’s evidence that having a perfect record just invites skepticism anyway.
First—ask for reviews. Through email, on receipts, on your “thank you” page after purchase. Make it easy for customers to share their experience, and thank them for their time, whether the review is glowing or not.
9. Reliable customer support
How do you handle unsatisfied customers or any potential buyer who has an inquiry about your business?
Make it easy for your customers to contact you. If you offer an email address or a contact form on our website, make sure to answer those emails quickly. If you offer phone support, clearly mark your hours and time zone on your site. Live chat integration for ecommerce websites is increasingly widespread because it allows customers to get help with any issue they encounter on your site without leaving.
You don’t have to offer every support method, but the key is to be consistent and timely in your responses.
Once you’ve implemented all the steps we mentioned above, my final advice would be to be consistent. When you test different aspects of your business for optimization, make sure you give those test enough time to yield data that helps you make good decisions.
There isn’t a single tried and true formula for growing an ecommerce business—each company is different, and the industry landscape is changing all the time. But if you start with this checklist, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to make the changes that keep your business growing and thriving.