Start your week with information and advice on starting your business! This column runs on Mondays every other week.
Online sales make up an increasingly larger piece of the U.S. retail market, and small business owners need to be online to get in on the action. A smart-looking website is a great start, but using the right store solution for your needs – maximizing searchability, mobile readiness, payment processing and advertising – will help push your small business to the next level.
To seize the opportunity and figure out how to sell online, start by creating a must-have list of what your online store needs – and make a wish list, too – then choose a store solution based on those items, says John Lawson, CEO of e-commerce educator ColderICE and author of “Kick Ass Social Commerce for E-Preneurs.” You may need strong display with oversize magnification, shopping carts with size and color selection, multiple payment options, or the ability to tie in with your legacy accounting system so inventory data automatically updates with each sale.
BigCommerce, Shopify and Miva Merchant are the big store solution players. Each has strengths and weaknesses, so choose a service that best aligns with the must-haves on your list. Expect to pay $20-200 per month, depending on volume, or upwards of $7,000 for advanced custom design. (If you’ve got a business website already there’s no need to start from scratch; you can add a shopping cart plug-in, or integrate with a store solution.)
9 Tips on How to Sell Online:
Be Mobile Ready – Your m-commerce-friendly site should have a “great design that removes friction” for smartphone and tablet users, Lawson advises. Keep it simple so customers can easily add to the cart and pay.
Flesh Out Every Product Page – Customers can’t touch and feel your product or service, so tell a compelling story with superbly written copy and multiple photos. “Your landing page is the sales page and the gateway to your brand and your stores,” Lawson says, since most people find you through search and may never see your homepage. Everything a customer needs to make informed decisions about purchasing should be on each product page.
Keep the “Buy Now” Button Above the Fold – “Don’t make me scroll for that button,” Lawson says. To bolster conversion rates an “add to the cart” button should clearly stand out on the page.
Utilize Site Search – Nothing’s more frustrating than bad search. Visit sites hosted by the same store solution to see how well it works before committing to a service. Your search bar should always be at the top right corner of the page, where people instinctively look for it.
Provide Great Customer Service – Most cart solutions include order tracking, a must-have for all shipments. Offer a good return policy and free shipping, or at least free after a certain price point. Lawson advises setting that bar 10-15% over the average cart total to really see a sales lift.
Build on Your Wish List – Add-ons to consider include alternative delivery methods, ranked search, auto-completion within search, advertising on search results, and determining what shows up when there are no search results.
Curate and Personalize – With another plug-in, make product suggestions based on past customer purchases or search items, particularly as customers add items to their cart. “Just don’t try to up-sell me once I’m already in the cart and ready to pay,” Lawson cautions. “When I press the “checkout now” button the next thing I need to see is the checkout page.”
Be Secure – Set up a merchant account and payment gateway (with Authorize.net, for example), or go through a third-party payment processor like PayPal, to accept credit cards. An SSL certificate encrypts the personal information of your website users, preventing scammers from accessing sensitive data like credit card numbers.
Advertise Effectively – “‘If you build it they will come’ is so far from the reality of things,” Lawson says. “You are responsible for driving your own traffic, and the best way is to pay for it.” Don’t let social sites like Facebook and Pinterest be your whole strategy because “it’s hard to scale up no matter how good it is,” he adds. It’s much easier to increase your budget and reproduce good advertising. Before spending big bucks on Google ads test out conversion rates on cheaper search engines like Bing. It will actually cost you less if you target the advertising based on key words, demographics, geographic location, age range and time of day. Facebook analytics can help you zone in on your target market.