It’s 2017. If you haven’t been under a rock (which I’m going to go ahead and assume you haven’t), you know that the internet is dominating the world. In a philosophical sense, the internet has completely altered global culture forever.
Constant connectivity and the mind-blowing speed at which ideas are disseminated has changed forever the way in which nearly all populations think and communicate. More importantly, it has changed the way people shop. You can buy just about anything online. From books and movies to the milk, the eggs and the fabric softener that will be delivered to your door. If the McAllisters left Kevin home alone in 2017, they would’ve jumped on Amazon or Walmart and ordered him the necessities to arrive ASAP. That is if they didn't Uber him to the airport to use the ticket they bought on their Southwest app to get him to their Airbnb the next morning but that’s beside the point. The point is, people know they can buy anything online. That means, now more than ever, any company that sells anything needs an online presence. An eMarketer study estimates just shy of 2 TRILLION DOLLARS was spent in online stores in 2016. They predict double-digit percentage growth every year at least through 2020 meaning that we should hit over $4 trillion. That should be evidence enough to convince even the most tech-averse that there is no longer an excuse to avoid an online store. That being said, the money doesn't just show up in the account of any store with a web page.
The hour grows later and later in the e-commerce space. These numbers have been growing for some time now and people are jumping on board in a big way. The big question for the business owner, how do I carve out my place? How do I make money over, or in addition to, my competitors? The answer, as it turns out, has created entirely new industries on by itself. I’ll break this down into a few of the major points you need to focus on.
This is your starting point. There are many options to choose from, but in most cases there does exist right and wrong answers. When considering a platform, you need to look at your budget, your timeline, the competitiveness of your market, and the complexity of your offerings.
- Budget - There are 2 main categories here. Can you afford to hire a developer or not. If you can’t, there are some free or very cheap options to manage your online store. The reason most people choose to hire a developer is simple. Quality and Reliability. A developer (any developer worth their salt) will be able to build you a better looking site with a better user experience and more functionality that will have far fewer issues than any free or self-managed platform will offer. You hear this saying often with tattoos and it holds true for websites. Good ones aren't cheap and cheap ones aren't good.
- Timeline - If, for some reason, you need your site up yesterday, some of the free options discussed in the previous point will allow you to launch your site today. This presents the same drawbacks as with your budget and again good ones aren't fast and fast ones aren't good.
- Market Competition - This is simple and is quite the same as considering this competition for any other reason. The more competitive the market, the better your offering needs to be. The more you need to invest in yourself.
- Complexity of your offering - This one can be challenging if you’re not particularly tech savvy. I’ve often worked with clients that say “oh we only sell 2 products” only to find out they offer 16 customization categories with 50 options each resulting in a massively complex offering. Think about the actual number of unique products your customers can really purchase from you. The higher that number, the better the platform you will need.
With all these points considered, you are ready to choose a platform. The offerings are diverse and there are entire articles devoted to this endeavor. Below are a few of the top platforms:
- Custom - This is the most expensive but, obviously, an infinitely customizable option. This is really only practical if you fall into one of 2 categories. First, if you are the type of person or company that simply requires the best or the most elegant. In that case, go for it. Spend the extra money and get something completely unique to you and your company. Second, if you are Amazon. You’re probably not.
- Magento - The titan of e-commerce platforms. If you can afford it, this is the most powerful offering. There is a Community Edition that is free but it is not something that would really be simple for someone not familiar with tech. For a large, high-income business, there is an enterprise edition that offers a staggering amount of functionality but it comes at a cost. Depending on your revenue, it runs between $22k and $75k.
- Shoppify, BigCommerce, OpenCart - These are probably the best beginner offerings. They can be set up and managed without a developer and come at a very reasonable cost.
- Big Cartel - Designed to target artists and small-scale home-based businesses run by individuals. Very easy to setup and offers comprehensive help.
This is something that gets overlooked far too often. You are unique. Your business is unique. Your user experience should be as well. That doesn't mean it needs to be one-of-a-kind. That just means that it needs to fit your customers behavior and needs. Look at ChromeIndustries.com and helmade.com if you want to see examples of outstanding understanding of customers. Both sites have unique shopping experiences that drive customers to purchase and do so simply.
Marketing & SEO
Having a great store is a great start. However, if no one ever gets there, it’s kind of a big ‘ol waste of time isn’t it? You need to be seen. That’s where your marketing and SEO come in. You want people to find you when they look for products in your market.
SEO is an extremely complex beast that runs similar to the website in that, you can do it yourself but paying an expert will yield drastically better results. SEO programs will significantly increase your search ranking and, in turn, your visibility to your customers.
Marketing is the key to driving your organic traffic. If people simply go looking for YOU and not searching for your industry, you skip the part where they could potentially see your competitors as well. Great SEO programs can’t get you top rankings and people will almost always pick one of the top few results, but direct traffic skips the “top few” part and sends them straight to you. Illustrating what is becoming a recurring theme here, you can do this yourself, but paying an expert is a highly advised investment in your company. There are so many creative minds in the marketing world that can increase your presence and significantly increase your revenue.
Now if you feel like you've learned a lot only to feel less intelligent, don't fret. Everyone is in your shoes at some point. As I said at the beginning, there is an entire industry dedicated to this. You should not feel bad when you've just stepped into. There is a lot of good info out there for you to soak up and use in your decision making process. If you decide to make the investment in yourself and your business and want to work with the best, contact Pulse Marketing and be amazed at just how much we can offer you. You won’t regret it.