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The 5 Biggest Mistakes Small Businesses Make When Starting an Ecommerce Website

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After lengthy discussions with my support team, who work actively with over 500 new ecommerce businesses, we have unanimously agreed that these are the 5 biggest mistakes individuals and small businesses make when opening an ecommerce store. More importantly though, I am including here how to avoid these pitfalls so you can learn from everyone else's mistakes.

1. Underestimating the work involved.

A lot of people enter into the ecommerce field with the intention of easy or fast money, and the idea that all you will have to do is take orders and ship product. While ecommerce businesses do live in the etheric world of cyber space, they still require a significant amount of attention, learning and physical effort to execute, grow and maintain.

You may consider outsourcing certain elements of the business, however being able to have as much control and visibility as possible in-house is often the most cost-effective solution, especially in the early stages. You need to understand and get into the mindset that you are setting up a business just like any other, and this one just happens to be online. Your chances of success are going to be much greater if you, or a key member of your team, are intimately involved. For a more detailed account of what is involved in setting up an online store this ecommerce website checklist is a great resource.

2. No business plan.

I am not talking about one of those detailed 54-page documents here that tries to preempt and solve every possible issue before it happens. I am simply talking about contemplating and addressing the following issues.
  • Know what you're selling and the market you're selling to.
  • Know your target customer.
  • Know what their problem is and know how your offering is a solution.
  • Understand who your key competitors are. What are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • Can you capitalize on your competitors weaknesses?
  • Are you going to be competitive based on price or position?
  • Ensure that your online presence emphasizes your point of difference.

Addressing these key questions can help form the foundation and initial strategy for any new business venture.

3. No marketing strategy.

Unfortunately the "build it and they will come" idea doesn't apply to ecommerce. Getting an ecommerce website live is only the beginning. You need to ensure you have a plan in place for how you will actually get website visitors and generate ongoing traffic

Here are a few broad strokes to consider as you venture into the online marketing:

  • You need to put in place at the very least a basic ecommerce analytics/tracking system, such as Google Analytics.
  • You need to know the difference between SEO and PPC
  • You must understand the importance of social media
  • You should research affiliate marketing and selling through established, third-party platforms such as eBay.
While overwhelming at first, online marketing strategies are well-documented online -- take advantage of others' research and learn what works, (and doesn't work) for your business and industry. There is a lot to online marketing and it is important that you have a good understanding of it all; however there are areas that you will want to outsource to experienced professionals, especially in the areas of SEO and PPC.

4. Choosing the wrong ecommerce platform.

When it comes to successfully running your online business the ecommerce software that your website is built on can either be a supportive ally or a tormenting obstacle. If you make the wrong choice it can make the whole experience incredibly frustrating.

Generally, a wrong choice would be an ecommerce platform that is unsuitable for your needs, outdated, underdeveloped, unnecessarily customized, not professionally supported, or put together by a-friend-of-your cousin's-boyfriend.

You need to establish what functionality you will require, both for the visitor and for the back-end management area, and what resources you will have on-hand to support the ongoing management of the website. This will help you to determine what solution is right for you.

There are two primary solutions you will likely be choosing between:

  • A hosted ecommerce solution like Shopify.com or Esty.com
  • Or a custom installation of a popular ecommerce software program like Magento, WooCommerce or Cs-cart

Popularity and reputability usually indicate that a platform has been well-tested and is regularly updated. Also, be aware of your own technical ability when considering the scope of support that is available for the platform. It is often worth paying a higher ongoing fee to have prompt support when you need it.

Also, ensure that your website will be able to provide an optimal user experience from the home page right through to checkout. This user path is one of the most important aspects of your website.

5. Poorly showcasing products.

Ecommerce businesses often don't objectively put themselves in the shoes of their website visitors, and perceiving how your products or services are presented to the visitor is a critical area that is often neglected.

You need to understand that your website is your only storefront and salesperson. Make sure you include high-quality, good-sized photos for all the products you stock, and you must include good, if not excellent, product descriptions that include essential information such as measurements, size, color and anything else that may help a potential customer to make a purchase. Engaging product information heightens the experience of shoppers and strongly increases your chances of a sale.

You get one chance to present your product to the visitor, take the time to create stunning and inviting product pages. Once they are setup the page will keep selling for you over and over again. This is the place to put in the sweat equity.

Ecommerce is a great way for bricks and mortar stores to expand their customer base, as well as a great platform for dreamers to start great businesses, after all Amazon.com was a little ecommerce store once. So it is definitely worth the time to setup an online store methodically, do your research and be prepared to build it deliberately and effectively.