My First Lesson
My dad used to run a retail store which was one of his many businesses before he settled down as a restaurateur. One of the strategies he used to sell was to pick up the best tie off the rack and wear it at work. Customers would come in and would see this handsome young man wearing a cool tie. They would ask him where he got it from and he would very politely pull one from behind the counter and he would make a sale. What I learned from that story was that “personal endorsements” count. If you believe in your own products, believe in their quality and can wear them and use them yourself, it will be that much easier to sell the products to your customers.
I belong to the age of high street retail when the concept of online didn’t exist. Moving on from high street retail, the dominating era of online retail has literally developed in front of me. However, it is my belief that the core principles of retail, selling and marketing have not changed. They remain the same whether you sell on the high street or online. What’s different is the channels through which people are buying and advertising. Some People who do not have the experience of high street retail may develop some misconceptions about online retail. I have seen that happen to a lot of people who see the online success stories; new brands developing and doing well online; they see their friends doing well; their colleagues selling online and they want a piece of that too. The goal could be to develop a second source of income or to enjoy the freedom that comes with being your own boss. However, the online boom has led to the development of a number of misconceptions which can seriously jeopardise the chances of success for your online business. Listed below are some of the misconceptions.
Common Misconceptions About Selling Online
Ecommerce means easy money
Somehow a lot of people carry this misconception that ecommerce is easy money. They will just setup an online store, put some stock in it and it will start to make money. This leads to a lot of frustration when you don’t get the results.
Dropship and it will sell
Wholesalers and distributors have also caught on to the online trends and are pushing new budding retailers to showcase their stock and sell online. This creates a serious misconception that anyone with minimal investment can start selling online. Unfortunately, low entry level can also lead to low commitment level which is a serious threat to any business.
Build the store and customers will come
I just need to create a store on Shopify and customers will start buying from me. There is a lot more to running and making your business a success. Some of the fundamentals we will go through in this article.
Marketing – what for?
Oh yeah! Marketing, that is for big companies. Why do I need to worry about it? With so many freelancers available and a plethora of online articles, people end up taking a haphazard approach to marketing or they completely switch off to the noise.
Why do I need a logo, branding, its expensive. Save the money.
Yep, believe it or not, most people don’t understand the importance of branding or even what it is. They pick up a cheap logo offline or even ditch that in view of keeping the costs low.
Make the money and then I will worry about presentation
Somehow this misconception has developed that we are going to develop an online business with the short change. What has happened to the very basics of investing in line with the output (revenue) you want from the business.
Online customers are easy
The customers certainly will not agree to this and will be extremely offended by it if they were to find out that merchants think they are easy. Where has this misconception come from? Again by seeing so many businesses doing well online, most newbie’s don’t get to see the commitment, time, effort and money successful online companies are putting behind building their brands.
Customer service is not important
This is for the high street. What customer service can we provide online? In fact, we don’t even want to mention our phone or email so no one can contact us. We don’t need customer service.
Brick & Mortar Vs Online Stores
I find it easy to draw parallels between the brick and mortar high street stores and online store. It’s easier to see the misconceptions in line with these parallels.
Imagine your store looked like this..
If you come across this store on your high street, would you like to go in this store to buy something? The window display, graffiti and the entire facade is not very inviting is it? In fact, it’s almost threatening. What do you expect to find inside? Imagine if this is what your online store looked like! Would you expect your customers to walk in?
Let’s walk in to that store now…
Huh! That is some selection. If you walk into this store, what are the chances of you picking up the last item on the shelf. On the contrary, think about what you would expect in a high street retail store. You would expect to see shelfs full of stock, hustle bustle of customers, promotions goings on, staff there to help and answer your questions and then you will be interested in dispensing with your hard-earned cash. Now imagine if this is what your store looks like on the inside. Do you seriously expect your customers to come in and buy?
How efficient is your customer service?
Checkout the extremely friendly staff in this store, their expressions are so inviting that you would probably see yourself walking in the opposite direction. The chances of these lot finding a job with M&S or John Lewis are rather slim, don’t you think so? Well, that is what your store’s customer service may look like to your visitors. Oh, yes, there is still a concept of customer service in online retail. That is why the good stores provide a size chart so customers can check their sizes. That is why some stores have online chat so they can answer technical questions that customers may have. Think about what customer service your customers may need!
Marketing budget £50!!
I talk to a lot of people who have invested all their funds in setting up the business, buying the stock and setting up an online store but when it comes to marketing, they have exhausted all their money. Then they would expect someone to help them get to the top 3 search results in Google for a budget of £50. Really!!
Do you want to know what I feel like when I come across this situation?
Brick & Mortar Vs Online Store
Here is a comparison of brick & mortar stores versus online stores:
|Brick & Mortar||Online Store|
|Rent & Rates||Low entry level|
|Inventory costs||Dropship vs inventory|
|Staff costs||Run it from your garage|
|Limited floor space||Scalable|
|Limited Growth||Exponential growth|
|Location Location Location||Marketing Marketing Marketing|
The good news is that there is a lot you can do to run a successful business. The first thing to do is to change your approach towards the online business and think of it as a real high street business. A high street store has a lot of financial overheads like rents & rates, staffing costs, inventory costs, utility bills, and all other kind of costs which raises the game for the owner and their commitment level. You have to put yourself in the shoes of a high street retailer and think like one. The different areas listed in the diagram above will help you draw your focus.
Most online businesses starting out never go through the effort of putting a business plan together. The common misconception is that the business plan is only for large businesses. Wrong, if you are serious about getting the most out of your investment and protecting your hard earned cash then consider creating a business plan, a one page business plan. I will not push you towards creating a 40 page business plan as that will be a waste of your time unless you have experience with this or you are working with a business consultant.
You will be surprised at how effective a one page business plan will be. A no-nonsense one page business plan will tell you the facts that you need to know.
Here are a few questions that you should be asking yourself:
- What are you selling?
- Who are the customers?
- How will your business help others?
- What are the product prices?
- How will customers learn about you?
- What is your target revenue?
- Who are the competitors?
- What are the challenges to my business?
- Shopify store design
- Theme Selection
- Payment Gateway
If you don’t have a store yet and thinking of starting out, try Shopify for free and create your online store today. Just click on the button below to get started:
Marketing is perhaps one of the most important areas for a business to succeed online. 99% of the new online businesses do not have any idea as to what their marketing budget should be. They start off by spending the least they can or what they can afford which leads to frustration as that does not generate the numbers they are looking for. There is a need to change the perception and look at the marketing budget from a different perspective. If you are a new business, you should be spending 7% to 8% of your gross revenue on marketing. If you are just starting out, do a forecast of the revenue you want to generate from your business and then calculate the 8% marketing budget from it. On the other hand, if you are running an established business turnover less than £5M, you should be looking at spending 10% to 12% on your marketing.
Below is a list of marketing areas to work on:
- Marketing Research
- Competitor Analysis
- Pricing Structure
- Demand Forecast
- Customers & Demographics
- USP – Unique Selling Points
Procuring the goods from the right suppliers could decide the fate of your online business. In fact, this should go right along with your business strategy. People who have experience in a particular industry sector find it easy to source from the right suppliers because they know who to go to, who will give the best deal, who can support in the long run, who can exchange products without extra charges and so on. Others find out the hard way, they launch a business and then find out from bitter experience that the Chinese supplier they were counting on has let them down. Find the right suppliers for your business is key.
Do your homework on suppliers keeping in mind the following points:
- Local vs overseas suppliers
- Import duties and custom tax on goods
- Dropship versus inventory
- Fulfilment model
- Quality control
- Manufacturing your own products
Finance and Accounting
This is not an area that is outsourced to an accountant. As a small business owner, you could be wearing many hats and one of them could be that of a Financial Managers. People who know their numbers can be really successful in running an online business. As we have all heard, “look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves”.
Some of the points to consider:
- COGS – Cost of Goods Sold
- Import duties
- Book keeping
- Financial Forecast
- Profit and Loss
Shopify has some fantastic integrations which can make your job easy, provide key numbers on your finger tips and bring down your accounting costs. Some of these applications are:
Inventory Management and ERP
Every online business needs to manage their stock effectively so they can dispatch the orders in time and get more stock in before your inventory runs out. Shopify has built in inventory management which is good enough for most businesses starting out but if your business is growing, you have multiple stores, warehouses, offshore fulfilment centres and so on , you will need a more advanced inventory management or a ERP system to help manage your business.
Below are some of the system which are directly integrated with Shopify or we can provide custom integration with an ERP of your choice based on your requirements.
- Trade Gecko
- Microsoft Dynamics
High street stores are blessed with footfall provided they are in the right location. Online stores on the other hand have no footfall. Customers don’t know that you exist and it’s like having a house without a post code. How will customers find you? The answer is advertising. You have to advertise your business to get customers to your store.
Which channels to advertise on? That depends on your products and industry sector. The tip I will give is to not try and spread yourself thin by going for every single channel that exists out there. Pick the channels that work for your sector and have worked for your competitors. Specialise in those channels, understand how they work and you will be able to interact with your customers through those channels and create a buzz.
Some of the most common channels are:
This is not a text book guide but lessons learned from my clients and from my experiences in developing brands, designing Shopify stores and running marketing campaigns. I am an optimist and believe that anyone can start and run a successful online business which can provide a second source of income or grow into an international brand. It’s up to you how far you want to take it and whether you are committed to put the effort and energy required to create a successful business. I hope my experience and this article will help you think of the areas you may not have thought of, avoid the pitfalls and encouraged you to keep pursuing your dreams.
Please give your comments below and share your experiences with the rest of us.