Creating your first online store – tips for success

Everywhere we turn at the moment there seems to be economic doom and gloom. It’s almost impossible to open a newspaper without reading how the high street is fighting for survival and retail is a fast track to the breadline. However, even with the current downturn there is one area of retail that’s booming - ecommerce.Despite many predictions of a slowdown, ecommerce is still showing double-digit year-on-year growth. Online sales for December 2008 were in the region of £5bn, this was up 15% on the previous year with many analysts believing the December 2009 figure to be closer to £7bn, despite a struggling economy.So what are the key considerations in developing and managing a good and successful ecommerce site?There are three important parts to selling on the web:Getting people to your siteMaking it easy and compelling for them to buyProviding great customer service.It’s important to realise ecommerce is not about the technology, it’s about having the right product and the gumption to sell it. It’s exactly the same as with bricks and mortar stores.Successful ecommerce sites tend to have two things in common; they are well marketed and they sell from the moment you arrive. How you market and merchandise your ecommerce site must be foremost in your mind. This means knowing who your customers are and understanding their needs. You need to know which hot buttons to press in order to get people interested. This must be the entire objective of your site design.Good designResearch shows that website visitors make their mind up about a store in three seconds or less. In those precious moments your site needs to make a great impression, establish your brand and build trust. It's a tall order, and the only way to do this is through the design of your site. If you are setting up a new ecommerce store it’s worth choosing software that works well out of the box. You can also invest time into understanding design principles or just hire a competent designer.Prototype and test your design, spend time with friends, family and (if you’re feeling brave) customers, and get some input. The question you should be asking is ‘How would you approach buying from this store? The question is not ‘What do you think of the design?’.MarketingIf your store is going to be a success, people have to know about it. You need to find out how people search on the internet. What are the key words that they use for your type of product? What other ways do they look online? Talk to lots of people and try to understand a bit more about it all.A great place to start is the Google Adwords keyword tool which gives you a great insight into search engine trends. You can also find lots of useful information at,, and (look under 'Ecommerce' and 'The Marketing World').There are lots of other ways of promoting your web site. The most basic is to make sure that your site address appears on every piece of paper that your business produces. If your web site offers an improved service to existing customers, you must tell them about it.Ironically, there is a certain amount of evidence that traditional marketing (advertising, PR etc.) is more effective at generating online sales than internet-based methods. Certainly it’s crucial to integrate the promotion of your web site with everything that your business does offline.Multi-channelIn our own research at Actinic we found more than two-thirds of small online retailers take orders via mail, catalogues and the telephone and more than half of them process more than 50 per cent of their orders this way. It could also be the case you have a traditional bricks and mortar store too. If you fall into these categories then whatever solution you adopt for your online store should be integrated across all of the sales channels.The largest retail operations very often have very similar requirements to smaller business. It’s just a question of scale, and a great example is Argos. With Argos a customer can order online, in store or via the telephone and then choose a method of delivery, or opt to collect in person. Argos has developed the concept of multi-channel retailing to such an extent that it is now becoming a widespread expectation.Getting your channels into synch with each other is not an easy task. If you are selling in more than one place any ecommerce solution really should have multi-channel capability. If you are coming into ecommerce from the traditional retail world the irony is your online store could be the catalyst your business needs to search harder for a competitive advantage.Up-sellingAs with a physical retail store there are various merchandising techniques available to maximise shopper revenue and encourage customers to keep coming back.One approach is to offer more for slightly more money. Offer a great deal if they buy something else at the same time. 'Buy two and get one free' or 'Buy X and get Y half price' are a great way of increasing the overall order value and benefiting the customer without eroding your margins.Provide the ability to buy associated products. Make sure customers buy additional accessories from you by making it easy for them to buy everything together.Keeping in touchUse opt-in email. Offer a newsletter with exclusive offers and useful extra information for regular customers. This can build a sense of community and strengthen the relationship between you and your customers. You can use special links in the email to trigger special prices for products on offer. It’s also a great idea to invest time and effort with social networks. There you can find and talk to your customers directly.The single most important things, as with any type of business, is to always be adaptable. Explore new ways of selling products and find the tangibles, the items you can measure your success or failure by.So while it’s looking decisively chilly out on the high street, ecommerce is still providing retailers something to be smiling about. What are you waiting for?