Read this before you start selling online
Posted on December 30, 2020 by Chris B
This post is not going to be about WooCommerce, even though I am a WooCommerce specialist. I’m not going to bash Magento, Shopify, or Big Commerce. The goal of this post is to make you think. I want you to take a few things in consideration before you start selling online.
Throughout my career, I have encountered clients that meant very well when they approached me about building their online store whom I ended up declining to take on their project. It was never anything personal, but rather a recognition that they were off on the wrong foot when it came to e-commerce.
Often, a web developer would simply just be happy with building an online store with the client’s desired functionality. I mean, it is just a matter of income in that regard. However, I hold a firm belief that I do not take a client’s money until they completely understand what they are getting into with online retail.
Therefore, I wanted to write this post as a way to explain the very basics of what you, the client, you should take into consideration before you open your first online store. While a couple of these are obvious, there is one that I am pretty sure you probably didn’t think about.
Learn what your customer wants, not what you think they want.
In my previous life, I was a salesman. One of the things I learned during my various hours of sales training is that the “customer will always tell you how to close them”. In other words, if a salesperson successfully demonstrates to a customer how a product meets their needs, there is a greater likelihood that customer ends up buying what is being offered.
It isn’t any different with selling online. After you decide on the product(s) you are going to off, you must commit to providing an online shopping experience that delivers customer really wants. Hopefully in the planning process, you gained an understanding of what customers are looking for by analyzing consumer habits in your market segment.
Customers enjoy the convenience of shopping online. As an online shopper, customers are looking for clear, concise product details that will help them make an informed buying decision. Your product presentation—product name, product image(s), and product description—must not only inform, but demonstrate that you have what the customer wants. Your carefully crafted brand story, which you can pepper into the product presentation where appropriate, will be what helps the buyer choose you as their seller.
Factor into the consumer’s buying process
If you’re not familiar with the buying decision process, you shouldn’t be selling online. Hell, you shouldn’t be selling anything, period. Developed by John Dewey in the early 20th century and expanded on in further research ever since, the buyer decision process is a five-stage cost-benefit analysis.
The buying process is as follows:
- Problem/Need Recognition—the customer identifies as need triggered by a problem that the consumer wishes to resolve. This could be as simple as pain relief for a headache or wanting to order take out because they’re hungry; or it could be more external, such as being inspired by actions of a neighbor or colleague.
- Information Search—Consumers want to gather information on what will best solve their problem. This can be anything, from browsing different restaurants near by to choose from to doing intense research on electronic devices.
- Evaluation of Alternatives—In some circles, this is known as evaluation of options. In any event, this is where a customer decides on the options they learned about during the research stage. Consumers want to reassure themselves that their money is going to go towards the best possible solution to their problem.
- Buying Decision—This is where the consumer makes the final buying decision. They have settled on a choice; and barring any disruptions or unforeseen circumstances, the customer will pay the seller for the solution to their problem.
- Post-Purchase Behavior—Arguably, this is the most important part because 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers. Is the consumer satisfied? Is the consumer dissatisfied? Will the consumer leave a positive or negative review? Will the consumer return to your store to make an additional purchase? The process does not stop when the sale is made.
Let’s think about things a little further
As a new store owner, you have to tailor your online presence based upon the buying process. I cannot stress this enough. If you are an owner selling a single line of self-branded products, then it’s important that every bit of your online presence aligns with the customer’s buying process.
- Problem/Need Recognition? “I know you have this problem, and I have the solution to your problem.”
- Information Search? “Here’s how my product(s) can help solve your problem”
- Evaluation of Alternatives? “This is why my product(s) is (are) a better fit for you than others in the market.“
- Buying Decision? “This is what it will cost for you to have your problem resolved by what I have to offer.”
- Post-Purchase Behavior “I want you to feel good about your purchase from me and I will follow up with you.”
Yes, your website design matters—but not in the way that you think
Yes, this really happened
A few years ago, I had a client that wanted to present himself as a big deal. They wanted to compete against the biggest stores in the city and wanted a presentation gave the impression that they too were up and coming big shots.
I tried advising the client against this for two reasons. One, the client was in no position to legitimately compete with them. The client lacked the capital, the logistics, the inventory, and the footprint to do so. Secondly, the client didn’t have a lot of money to advertise. In other words, the operation didn’t justify the presentation. I suggested to the client, who also wanted to meet face-to-face with clients in an appointment setting, to have a more personalized feel to their site.
In roughly six months I was proven right. Since then, I’ve always advised clients that the presentation of their site matters. It has to be reflective of who they are and what they can do in their marketplace.
Expectations matter when selling online
If you’re a retailer that can make a million dollars in sales with product line of nearly 100 unique branded items and have a willingness to spend thousands of dollars in advertising, then I can absolutely put together a site that presents you as a serious, big time outlet.
However, if you are a one-person show with little experience in online retail, then I am going to advise you against putting up a site with thousands of items in your store. It will foster an expectation among visiting consumers that (a) you’re not in any position to meet, and (b) could cause you unnecessary growing pains.
This doesn’t mean that you don’t have to sacrifice design and/or development quality. You can have a small number of products and a beautiful site. These elements are not mutually exclusive. Nonetheless, the presentation of your site must be reflective of the experience that you can legitimately give a consumer.
Don’t get ahead of yourself selling online
This may sound dumb, but it’s too important. One of the things you should ask yourself is if you can “walk the walk” with your online store? That means, do you have all of the elements in place that are necessary to provide a good experience to the consumer?
I’m not just talking about the website; that part is immaterial at this juncture. I’m talking about the process of managing your inventory and fulfilling orders. Do you have a process in place that will allow you to consistently (and smoothly) get inventory in, show that you have inventory in stock on your website, and send out sold goods to the customers that paid? I actually require all of my clients to have this in place before I even write a single line of code for their site.
I cannot stress enough that you have to have all of your ducks in row—all i’s dotted and all t’s crossed—before you open your online store. As an online shopper yourself, you know that consumers operate at a different wavelength as compared to the customer that shows up in a brick-and-mortar store.
The bottom line
If you’re ready to sell online, then great—I can help you build a powerful online presence with WordPress and WooCommerce. However, before you contact myself or any developer, make sure you have a comprehensive selling (and marketing, which is a separate issue) plan in place. Customers have high expectations (for better or for worse) when shopping online, and as a prospective online retailer, you have to prepare yourself to meet those expectations.