On being an E-commerce Entrepreneur – or why now is a good time to start your e-commerce venture.

/ April 16, 2020/ Advice, business, digital, Strategy, Website Development/ 0 comments

Setting up an e-commerce site is now easier than ever. So why aren’t more local entrepreneurs doing it?

The world has turned a corner in the digital space, we should be seeing more e-commerce ventures. Covid 19 is wreaking havoc on the world’s economy, and as I have said, its time for the old way of doing business to change. Many other people have also been saying this for the last few years. Now is the time to starting an e-commerce website for your business. Its time to stop wondering if you should have an e-commerce site. This is the time start investing some thought in creating one.

When one thinks of “e-commerce” Amazon.com comes to mind. The retailer who started selling books, is now selling groceries. Amazon has become the template for many a seller. Allow me to inject some reality into your headspace. Amazon’s way of selling may not be your way of selling. Your service might be hyper focused or it might be broad, in the end your brand will dictate how you sell.

E-commerce why you need it.

Setting up any type of site to sell a product is easy. Setting up a basic website costs very little and its usually a DIY endeavour. Yet that can only get you so far. When most entrepreneurs start out, they usually start with selling out of their front room, their cars or through specialised delivery services. Then they jump to setting up a website to take orders, showcase product offerings and talk about their services. The scale up from doing sale “by hand” to website means increased activity, or none at all.

Let me explain.

Joe used to sell T-shirts from the back of his car. After hours he’d drive around on weekends to various mall car parks open up the trunk and sell “on the side.” He’d also deliver product himself from the same car. His overheads were small, and business started booming.

Someone told Joe to put his product online. So he did. Now he has a great website showing his products and people are calling him to order. He is also getting a mass amount of emails of people ordering. Yet, Joe is still driving around delivering and selling the shirts in the car park, his website has become just another channel. It hasn’t replaced his workflow.

Don’t be like Joe.

Joe added a layer of complexity. The website can easily be scaled to process orders and collect customer information. Instead of popping the trunk in a mall carpark, he can deliver direct. The e-commerce site is there to simplify the sales process. The secret, however, is that the sales push hasn’t changed. Joe still has to bring people to his website. This is where attention to a proper SEO optimised website is key. The right keywords in the right way, plus word of mouth, will bring people to the website. Eventually, though, Joe would have to start running ads. Ads are a necessary part of scaling up sales. It cannot be stressed enough that with good SEO and ads Joes’ t-shirt business will boom. All he needs is a well designed, robust and scalable e-commerce site.

E-Commerce behind the scenes

Any successful e-commerce site needs the following key items:

  1. Robust server to handle lots of internet traffic
  2. A scalable and reasonably priced CMS
  3. E-mail signups, pop ups and reminder triggers for abandoned carts
  4. Email blast system (like Mailchimp) to recapture lost sales
  5. regular content updates about your products so people find you during searches
  6. Security and backups

You can use an “out of the box” system like Shopify or similar. This is a good solution if you rather do it yourself. The trade off of course, is you have to pay more to Shopify for the privilege of having them manage your shop for you. Your overheads would be greater in this regard.

You can have someone to set up and manage it for you. This is a better solution in the long term. The service and support, updating and management becomes less your headache. Unlike Shopify you can budget and negotiate a good price with your supplier. Also you own the site you build. It’s not on someone else’s server, and subject to a EULA. If you chose this route, the standard, and most recommended system is Woocommerce.

Here is your checklist to do a proper e-commerce site. Keep in mind that one size does not fit all. Also it isn’t always that simple, and definitely not always cheap. In our territory the major pitfall is transactions and I will explain that later down.

  1. Product imagery that is clean and shot well (by a professional photographer) and high resolution
  2. Proper theme that is user friendly and utilises breadcrumb headers
  3. A well thought out categories and tags for easy search
  4. A proper search function that finds what people need
  5. Coupon codes and discounts
  6. A universal payment portal

The secret sauce is “frictionless conversion.” You need to remove barriers to buying. This involves finding, considering and eventual purchasing of a product in your store. Cart abandonment is also a monster that you must slay. This is easily handled by follow up emails and regular email postings.

All of these things cost. If you are using Woocommerce in a wordpress CMS, the base for setting up is free. The plugins to initiate these extended items cost between US$5 to US$50 a year. I cannot stress enough the importance of a budget that extends your integrations.

Reporting in an e-commerce set up

Finally to track your data, you need to be able to visualise it. I set up a shared Google Data Studio sheet for my client so we can track user purchase paths and conversions. We also track the best sellers as well as where most of her sales are coming from. You can see a sample of the data below.

e-commerce reporting dashboard sample.

If we go through the data we can see that at a glance we know on a monthly basis most of her traffic comes from a mobile (no surprise there). Secondary traffic is tablets, which is quite interesting. And you can see the reality of the the path to purchase. An e-commerce site can get thousands of visits. Out of the thousand, you get 10 cart adds and one purchase. Starting an e-commerce site, doing all the advertising, pushing it to everyone, isn’t going to magically get you sales. You need to manage your abandon carts.

I spoke about abandoning carts in a previous article. If you figure out why people aren’t going through with the purchase, then you can fix it. It could simply be that people prefer paying with cash. If could mean they found a better price elsewhere. Until you know where the abandon cart happens and why, you will be wasting money and time.

Also reporting helps you figure out which products are doing well and which aren’t. You can use this data to push those products to others by listing them on the site as “Our top ten products of June”, for example. The more data you have, the more ammunition to make informed decisions.

Payment portals or how to actually make money from online

An e-commerce site without a payment portal is a fancy catalogue. You need a means for paying for a product or service. Here are the top five ways of receiving money online. Please note, that most of these require you to have a credit card.

FreePaidSafeEasy to set up
PayPal
WiPay
Direct Money Transfer
Cash on Delivery
First Atlantic Commerce
There are some caveats of course. For example WiPay takes a percentage of the sale. As does Paypal. So far most of these still require going to physical location to pay for the product.

The matrix above is a summary of what you can and cannot do with each of these. Paypal is the best and only solution for small business entrepreneurs who are starting out. You can use multiple platforms, however, and you can scale up. I do not recommend the cash on delivery, but it has been successful for some with specific delivery set ups (i.e in a physical store.

I can go into more detail about each one of these, but suffice to say do your research. If you have the budget, First Atlantic Commerce is the best more robust local system that I recommend. However, you do need to hire a developer, like me, to help set it up. Once up and running you can be sure your site will get better hits in search, since it is more secure and verified.

E-commerce in the foreseeable future

While the world is reeling from the impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic, business will change. Businesses are moving to a web based model. Web based business locales will be able to capitalise on this. Adoption of new tactics to the new environment we find ourselves in is necessary. Businesses should consider retaining investment in their analytics, online marketing and online content. This is so they can remain competitive and meet the needs of shoppers.

In these uncertain times, there are still opportunities. It takes a different mindset and approach, and above all a positive attitude.When we look at it from a long haul point of view, the Coronavirus has changed the way we do business. In the next decade we will see a difference in how we compete. E-commerce developers and website designers will find business very lucrative as a result of all these changes. The ones who won’t adapt, may not survive. If you own a business it stands to reason that you need to have a dedicated space to sell product. Whatever you are doing you need a website. I hope that after reading this you get some insight into how easy it is to start your own business online. Using actual real data shows you how successful it can be to run a well designed e-commerce site. Mind you, you don’t need to rebuild Amazon. You don’t even need to sell a physical product, but in these times it makes sense to at least start selling online.

Ian Reid is the manager and CEO of ReidDesigns.pro. He’s been building websites and doing digital marketing from the time the internet was born. If you need to talk to him about this article or doing business in this time of uncertainty, then leave a comment below.

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