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Give your Online Store Some Bite!

Starting an eCommerce business is becoming easier by the day. More business owners are looking to expand their online efforts to include eCommerce and build a true online business. Unfortunately, this presents a large set of challenges, not least of which is the threat of larger, better funded competitors online.

Thankfully, the key to successful eCommerce isn’t complicated. By planning ahead and considering your goals and your audience you will greatly increase your chances of success. Here’s three simple ways to make your online shop stand out from the crowd.

Step 1) Focus on Your Best Products

Selling your entire inventory online is unnecessary and often a mistake. Instead, sell a small sub-set of your products that you think may sell well online. For each product, provide a high level of detail describing the product. Follow up with some solid advice on how to choose the correct product for you, or provide expertise and background on the origins of the product.

This way, instead of building an impersonal warehouse-style shop online, you’re providing more of a boutique, – a personal experience that actually engages the customer and answers more of their questions than other shops do. Think of a supermarket versus a boutique fashion store – one simply fulfills their function, the other assists you to make the right buying choice with passion, knowledge and a personal connection.

Make a conscious decision to be the boutique; supermarket-style online stores are everywhere. Most products can already be found online, but there’s often a lack of detail and advice regarding the product. This can become an important and trust-building point of differentiation between you and your competitors.

This approach also has the added benefit of increasing your chance of ranking in search engines for the products you sell. Because you have plenty of content and information about the products in question, search engines will see you as an authority on that product. Search engine optimization is a whole other article but to put it simply: the more content you have that’s useful and relevant about the products you sell, the higher the chance your shop will rank in search engines when people search for the products on your site.

Here’s a quick to-do list to help you gain focus in your product lines.

Once you’ve chosen your product line and your online inventory, it’s time to turn your attention to your potential audience. Online shoppers are a fickle bunch who will do a lot of research as they compare your offerings to others. But rather than be threatened by the comparison shopper, embrace them and use their research mindset to your advantage.

Step 2) Embrace the Comparison Shopper

Comparison shopping is the norm online; Google is probably the biggest price comparison service around! Not only do online store owners need to accept the comparison shopper mentality, savvy web merchants can leverage this mindset to great effect.

In most cases, however, you cannot (and should not) compete solely on price. Usually this is because you are not the cheapest option out there… and you don’t want to be. Your point of differentiation probably lies elsewhere, such as service, quality, or those little added extras that only you provide. In this case, you should engage in a simple type of proactive comparison rebuttal.

Doing so is quite easy. Simply tell your customers why you are different. Openly and honestly compare your offering with your competitors, either specifically by name (i.e “Bob’s Sweets offers…”) or generally (i.e “our competition offers…”). There are two options in presenting this sort of comparison.

So, how do you choose your approach? Simple: the first approach is a winner if your benefits are clear cut, logical and if your audience is primarily motivated by facts and figures rather than emotions. This varies from industry to industry, but generally you can lean on your intuition about your customers and what they’re going to be attracted to. Think about what ‘feels’ right for your product mix and your branding. For example, if you’re selling tools, computer parts and electronics, or if your branding is no-nonsense and direct, I’d suggest that the checklist approach probably ‘feels’ right.

The second approach will suit if your product or service’s advantages are more intangible, emotional or based on a ‘prestige’ mindset. This is because The Pitch approach is deliberately emotional. It avoids a logical break down of facts and uses testimonials to provide social proof. It should be convincingly eloquent – in many cases, you may want to hire a professional copywriter. It must appeal to the desires, perceptions, and even the social status that your product or service may bring. Again, this approach will feel right or wrong depending on your branding, your products and your services. If your point of differentiation revolves around emotional connections, good service, or a strong sense of heritage, then this is the choice for you.

Whatever your choice on how to do it, by openly and directly featuring why you are different you’re providing the comparison shopper with some food for thought. Most shoppers ostensibly compare prices, but they won’t always buy the cheapest option. The design of the store, the ‘feeling’ your website imparts and the overall delivery of your products or services does matter, and can make all the difference.

After embracing and then converting our comparison shoppers, it’s time to turn our attention inward to the most important part of any online business: you.

Step 3) Online Businesses, Not Websites

Many online merchants still think of their online store as a website that sells products. And yet, how many times have you heard business owners complain that their website and online shop were a waste of money – no-one visits and no-one buys? The truth is, their lack of success is due to a failure to see their website as something more than a brochure that one creates and then leaves online for customers to find.

The harsh reality is that there are billions of websites out there – how many of them are actually being seen by their intended audience? Building a website is simply the first important step towards growing an online business.

A store owner with this mindset treats the launch of their website as they would the opening of a new branch or office. Just like their bricks and mortar store, their online store is an ongoing business that needs attention.

Here’s a checklist to help you treat your online store as a business.

It’s Worth the Effort!

In 2009, more and more business owners will take their sales online – but how many of them will succeed, and how many will be wasting their money in a fruitless exercise? Ultimately, the key to success lie in careful thought, preparation and planning. There are no get-rich-quick schemes – committing to an online business is a significant undertaking that requires on-going effort from its owner.

However, it really is worth the effort. An online store is the most scalable, efficient and effective way to grow your business, and the opportunities, exposure and profits that it can bring to your business are significant. But remember, as with most things, a little effort and preparation goes a long way.

Main photo: The Rocketeer

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