7 Tips for Selling Online in 2020

Written on June 9, 2020
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Opening an online store is an exciting and potentially lucrative endeavour. But as you might imagine, starting and running an ecommerce business takes time, effort, resources, patience, and dedication. 

Even after you’ve gone through all the steps to create, launch, and market your store, you’ll find that running an ecommerce business is a constant learning process. Therefore, whether you’re just getting started or have been operating for a while, it’s always helpful to consult fellow business owners to learn about their online selling tips and insights. 

This guide is here to help you do just that. We talked to a number of ecommerce entrepreneurs and industry experts to compile this list of the best tips for selling online—including everything from the importance of customer service to creating unique value for your customers.

7 of the Best Tips for Selling Online

With the growth of the ecommerce industry in recent years, competition in the space has grown as well—which means learning how to sell online is now more than just choosing products and creating a website. In order to find the greatest success from your online store, you’ll want to constantly be looking for ways to improve, grow, and change your processes.

The ecommerce business owners we talked to offered a range of tricks and suggestions, but we boiled their insight down to these seven concise online selling tips:

1. Customer service is essential.

Is this tip surprising? Although, by nature, ecommerce separates the buyer and seller, customer service is an extremely important part of selling online—perhaps even more significant than it is for a brick-and-mortar operation.

By far, the importance of customer service was the most consistent theme we found across all of the tips we received from business owners.

For example, Erico Franco, a marketing expert at Agencia de Marketing Digital, offered this unique tip with regard to ecommerce customer service:

“Our big success in ecommerce was when we decided to use SMS integration to better communicate with buying customers… SMS automation [allows you] to connect with customers during the purchase process, so you can send messages like payment confirmation, delivery confirmation, and more. It’s also important to use SMS [to gain customer loyalty], like sending a satisfaction survey after each sale.”

In addition to providing customer service through SMS notifications, we found business owners suggested that ecommerce sellers:

  • Offer reliable and efficient shipping
  • Make themselves available to their customers—whether through live chat, email, or another channel
  • Engage prospective customers on social media and answer any questions they have
  • Provide thorough and up-to-date information about all of their products and services

As another specific example, Kim Hawkins, owner of Events Wholesale, told us that she asks her customer service representatives to maintain a running list of FAQs about each product. 

“This helps us make sure we are providing everything our customers need to make their purchase,” she says.

2. Optimize everything about your ecommerce process and experience.

Just as business owners emphasized the importance of excellent customer service, they also mentioned the significance of optimization. Although “optimize” may make you think specifically about search engine optimization (SEO), search is only one piece of your online shopping experience.

When it comes down to it, everything about your process—photos, site speed, shipping, payment processing, even customer service—can be optimized to best serve the needs of your customers.

According to Nancy Baker, managing editor of ChildMode, your ecommerce website should always be a work in progress. She says: 

“A lot of older ecommerce websites die out because they fail to keep up with modern standards. Having lackluster designs and bad SEO is a surefire way of losing money. So I advise website owners to keep working on their website and improve it little by little and update its content and design from time to time. By doing this, Google will rank your website higher in its search engine simply because they know that it can be trusted because of its activity.”

Similarly, many entrepreneurs mentioned different ways you can improve your ecommerce SEO strategy including: 

  • Building backlinks
  • Investing in content marketing and blogging related to your products and store
  • Integrate your social media across your own website
  • Use unique images and descriptions, don’t just copy them from somewhere else
  • Improving your site speed and page load time

Overall, implementing optimization strategies is not only important for search, but for user experience as well. You’ll want to ensure that your customers can find your store, and when they do, they find what they’re looking for and can quickly and easily complete the purchase process.

To this end, you want to ensure that part of your thought process around optimization includes a “human element.” 

As Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls tells Fundera:

“Authentic relationships beat marketing automation. Make sure you offer several ways to talk with[your customer} and get to know them. Algorithms can only tell you so much about a customer; transactions are driven by relationships. Use automation where you can but do not ignore the power of the personal touch.”

3. Use video to inform and appeal to customers.

Although “video marketing” may have you thinking about large companies with production studios and big budgets, there are easy and affordable ways small business owners can use video as a tool for their ecommerce operations. 

For example, we talked to Chris Chalk, co-founder of Jungle Straws, who shared how video (and other visuals) was useful for sharing the stories behind his sustainable products. He explains: 

“We pack as much personality and information into every corner of our ecom store as possible. We create videos that show how our products are made in Vietnam. We write behind-the-scenes blogs, inspire our customers with healthy recipes, and make them feel like they are part of our tribe. We promote our products through the visual platforms of Pinterest and Instagram and let them do the talking themselves.”

In short, this principle can be applied to a variety of different products. You might film a short tutorial video of how to put together furniture you’re selling online—or, you might simply film a 360-version of your product to give buyers a better idea of what it looks like. 

tips for selling online

Here you can see Jungle Straws informational videos on their YouTube channel. Image source: YouTube

Overall, you don’t need to be a video expert with a professional-grade camera to film videos for your business. Instead, simply filming an informational or testimonial video with an iPhone and including it on your ecommerce website can make a huge impact for your brand. 

4. Diversify your focus across desktop and mobile.

There’s no doubt that online shopping using a mobile device has become more and more popular in recent years. To this end, one of the most frequent tips we received for selling online was to focus on mobile.

Shari Smith, founder of Shari Sells, tells us:

“Most customers are using their smartphones to make online purchases so it’s best to build an app or a website that caters to smartphone users where they can easily see and click on the products they want to buy.”

However, being “mobile-friendly” goes beyond ensuring that the theme of your ecommerce website is optimized for mobile. You’ll also want to make sure that your checkout, shopping cart, customer support, and even marketing are optimized for mobile as well.

Mobile-friendliness is particularly important if you’re going to be advertising or selling on Facebook, Instagram, or other social media platforms. As most people use these social media platforms on their mobile devices, you’ll want to ensure they have a seamless experience when they click from your social media page through to your website. If it’s difficult for these users to complete their purchase using your mobile interface, you may risk losing those sales.

Of course, it’s up to you to decide where to focus the majority of your efforts—and much of this will depend on your sales strategy and audience. However, even if you do implement a focus on mobile commerce, you shouldn’t do so to the exclusion of your desktop customers.

As Jack Wang, CEO of Amazing Beauty Hair says: “Be available across all platforms. Yes, being mobile-friendly is a plus, but don’t alienate the desktop users. Have your website working well on all platforms to give your customers the full experience.”

Finding an ecommerce platform that automatically optimizes your website for mobile and desktop is key to reach your audience however they visit your site.

5. Ensure that your ecommerce website is secure. 

Although security may be an overlooked (and frankly, less exciting) element of ecommerce, it’s nevertheless important to customers, and therefore, to the success of your business.

First and foremost, you’ll want to ensure that your site is secure—which can be done by acquiring an SSL certificate and working with your software or web hosting provider to implement any and all security measures. An SSL certificate encrypts the personal information of your website users, preventing scammers from accessing sensitive data like credit card numbers—and therefore, is particularly important for your payment pages. It’s worth noting here that all-in-one ecommerce platforms will automatically include and manage your website’s security, while open-source platforms will require manual implementation and continuous upkeep.

Along these lines, you’ll also want to make sure that you work with a reliable payment processor or payment gateway provider and utilize any security tools that they offer—especially when it comes to PCI compliance.

Of course, the security of your online store extends beyond your website itself. You’ll want to think about “the security” of your brand as well—in other words, how do you show customers that your store is legitimate and can be trusted?

To this point, Bill Joseph, founder of Frontier Blades, offered three different tips:

  • Display trust badges on each product page to address security concerns or validate the product by providing guarantee satisfaction.
  • Incorporate user reviews within product pages to promote authenticity and transparency.
  • Include details pertaining to delivery times within product pages to establish integrity and ensure transparency with customers.

tips for selling online

Under the quantity box, you can see the trust badge and guarantee on this Frontier Blades product page. Image source: Frontier Blades

Overall, you’ll want to put in the time and effort necessary not only to ensure that your ecommerce website and operations are secure, but also that you show customers that you’ve taken that initiative, thereby solidifying their trust and confidence in your brand.

6. Use retargeting in your advertising and marketing efforts.

Retargeting may seem like a complex advertising term, but when it comes down to it, it simply refers to advertising or marketing that you’ve targeted specifically to customers based on their previous online behavior.

If, for example, a customer buys a pair of sneakers from you, you might later retarget them by sending an email with similar or related products. Retargeting can be more complex, but nevertheless, it’s a particularly worthwhile ecommerce marketing strategy.

As Yaniv Masjedi, CMO at Nextiva tells Fundera: “Retargeting is by far the most lucrative form of advertising, and nothing else comes close. If you are retargeting cart abandonment for example, you could see anything up to 80% conversion.”

This being said, in order to take advantage of this advertising strategy, you’ll want to utilize web analytics tools and tracking methods—like Google Analytics, Mailchimp, Facebook Ads, etc. Essentially, any ecommerce tool that gives you insight into your customers, their preferences, and their behaviors, can be used for retargeting.

To this point, advertising tools, like Google and Facebook Ads, are particularly useful for this purpose. 

As an example, Will Craig, managing director of LeaseFetcher told us how they used retargeting through Facebook Ads to engage and draw in more customers:

We have been running Facebook Ads for approximately a year, and are now in a position where we know what works for our business and what doesn’t. We serve our initial ad to our large target audience to identify engaged individuals who watch more than 75% of the ad. From there, we then retarget these individuals with adverts explaining more about our service in detail, which greatly reduces our wasted ad spend and allows us to build custom audiences based upon Facebook’s powerful datasets. With a relatively small budget, this has allowed us to increase conversions by up to 15%.” 

Admittedly, retargeting and other similar advertising strategies within some of these platforms can become technical, but overall, the methodology behind this type of business advertising can be useful to engage (or reengage) customers, hopefully resulting in more sales.

7. Offer value and focus on brand-building.

When you first launched your online store, you likely spent a significant amount of time researching your ecommerce business idea, investigating competitors, learning about your prospective audience, and choosing a niche and product. 

Through this process, you were determining whether or not your idea would offer value to your customers, and then figuring out what kind of brand you needed to create to get your product in the hands of the right customers.

Once your store is launched, you may feel like your brand has been built and can be left alone; however, there is still plenty of work to do. In fact, we received a number of tips from entrepreneurs discussing the creative and successful ways that they’ve provided value to customers and built their brands after the initial launch of their businesses.

For example, Ty Stewart, CEO and president of Simple Life Insure, explained how his company’s content marketing strategy is wholly reliant on the way they offer value to their customers. He says: 

“My best tip for selling online is always to earn prospects’ trust through educational content—that’s it. None of my industry’s typical savior complex-type marketing that promises to cover you no matter X, Y, or Z then hounds you until you feel guilted into purchasing their policy. Just feed prospects tons of high-value info via well-formatted, readable content.”

Through their content, Stewart explains, Simple Life receives organic inquiries that lead to coverage opportunities. Of course, this value proposition is very specific to insurance; however, the same concept can be applied regardless of industry.

If you can show your customers in a natural and approachable way the value of your product and service, you’re much more likely to gain their business.

Similarly, we talked to Jessica Rose, CEO of Copper H2O, who told us about her company’s dedication to giving back to the community. 

“We have long maintained a good karma program whereby we donate 15% of our profits to nonprofit groups that work to supply clean drinking water in developing countries,” she explains.

As Rose mentions, these efforts are not only “the right thing to do,” but they also show their customers that they care about the community and much more than the bottom line—thereby offering a unique value proposition, as well as contributing to her company’s brand.

tips for selling online

Copper H2O has a “good karma” page on their website dedicated to explaining their nonprofit initiatives. Image source: Copper H2O

Ultimately, as these entrepreneurs have shown, you can extend your business branding and value prop efforts beyond the initial creation of your business in order to engage customers and grow your operations. Plus, although these are very unique and creative examples, you can even start with smaller steps, such as including branded stickers with each package you ship or running a social media-based competition or giveaway. 

Bottom Line

At the end of the day, one of the biggest benefits of running an ecommerce business is the community you’re a part of. As you’ve seen throughout our list of the best tips for selling online, ecommerce entrepreneurs and industry experts are more than willing to share their insights and tricks.

Therefore, as you go along in your endeavour, you shouldn’t be afraid to reach out to other business owners, spark up conversation, and even offer your own advice based on your experiences.

Randa Kriss

Randa Kriss is a staff writer at Fundera, where she specializes in reviewing small business products, software, and services. Randa has written hundreds of reviews across a wide swath of business topics including ecommerce, merchant services, accounting, credit cards, bank accounts, loan products, and payroll and human resources solutions. She has also written for PeopleKeep, Zoho, KNF&T Staffing, and Planted. Randa has a bachelor’s degree in English and Spanish from Iona College. Email: randa@fundera.com.
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