Building a successful online store isn’t easy.
Sure, you’ve heard incredible case studies–the product with $3 million in annual revenue just from YouTube.
The brand that made $80,000 in sales without spending a dime on advertising.
But behind all the glamour of these stories, each entrepreneur started off in the same place you are: without a store, without a success story, and with little or no experience.
But what set them apart from the thousands of business that fail each year wasn’t luck.
Not even close.
Yes, they made the right decisions again and again.
And yes, they did their homework and learned about their niche and industry.
But before all of that, they started their eCommerce store correctly.
They didn’t jump in before learning the basics of getting a store like their up and running without any hiccups.
And in this guide, you’ll learn exactly that.
We’ll cover the exact strategies you’ll need to learn in order to build and grow a profitable online store.
Sure, you can throw together a website in a few hours. But to make real money, you need to learn the inner game behind successful online stores.
This is that inner game.
Find a profitable niche
When you are sourcing for items to stock in your online store, one of the best ways to determine what will sell and what won’t is to look at the bestselling items within your niche.
For your own convenience, you should start by looking at the most popular and taking note. This gives you an overall idea of what sells well on online stores and the general type of content you should be going for.
However, these should not be the items you should stock. While the most popular items give an overall feel for the items to be stocked, they should generally be avoided.
This is because the market for them is already oversaturated and you’re likely to get overlooked due to all the more popular sellers already in the niche.
Instead, you should work on carving your own unique sub-niche within your own field. One way to do this is to look at the less popular items. These items should have fewer people stocking them and so when a search is made for the item, your store is more likely to stand out and not get buried.
Another option is to specifically stock items from lesser-known brands. For example, if your store specializes in cosmetics, you might want to stock products from lesser known brands.
These brands are likely not stocked by a lot of sellers and so getting in on their products early will help differentiate you from other stores and help you develop your very own following.
Again, you might want to stock lesser-known items altogether. These items should be close enough to the mainstream trends that users would want them, but unique enough that they help you stand out.
Your goal should be to establish your own self within a niche while giving buyers something unique.
If buyers tend to gravitate towards plastic phone cases, consider stocking silicone phone cases. That way, a buyer looking for phone cases can find your store but will be offered what they want in a version that is unique enough for you to stand out from all the other sellers.
Sub-niches also make it easier for you to develop a relationship with the brands themselves. Fewer stores currently stock their products and so there will be less competition for not only the attention of the buyers but the brand itself.
Learn what people are complaining about
In the digital age, few things influence what catches on and what doesn’t like social media. Many products and services owe their success to viral marketing campaigns and resonating with people over various social media platforms.
If you want to know what people are interested in and talking about, social media is a great place to take your search. Most products such as fidget spinners and contour kits that have gone on to sell out in the real world first found a remarkable online presence.
Regardless of your niche, social media can give you a good idea of what exactly is popular and is about to become popular, as well as what gaps there are in the market that you can fill.
One particularly helpful tactic is to visit forums and groups within your niche. For every niche, there are hundreds if not thousands of social media accounts that are dedicated to discussing and interacting with topics in that niche.
It would be helpful to get involved in those groups and visit them to know straight from the consumers what products they enjoy the most and what products they would like to see on the market.
You can speak to participants directly or pose questions to the community as a whole.
This has the benefit of familiarizing you with the community and becoming in touch with their needs. This means that when you do put out items in your store, you can be rest assured that they will be items that there is an actual demand for.
It also means that you can identify the hidden gaps in the market. A number of niche products aren’t stocked because of the market demand
for them isn’t well-known and is mostly only discussed within these small communities of consumers.
By interacting with them, you get to know first-hand what other sellers won’t know and you will be able to stock products that other sellers wouldn’t think of.
Beyond these, when you do put out your product, you should be able to capitalize on your relationship with the community and advertise your products to them.
This is a win on both sides as you get a dedicated client base and they get the products that they need.
This can form the basis of a long-term relationship that extends far beyond these online communities as you can get customer feedback directly and they will likely feel more compelled to share the word about your store with others online and beyond.
Identify the Products Your Customers Want to Buy
Are you unsure of what you want to sell? Before you start selling, you need to choose your products.
This is your very first step. Are you wanting to sell just one product or multiple products? Here is another question do you have one main product and then supporting products?
Once you identify what you want to sale you are set to start building your strategy.
Identifying how you want this done will drastically improve your focus and results. Map out your starting point and ending point for your clients who visit your store.
Sometimes the answer is right in front of us. I was once told to be a problem solver in order to have a profitable business.
Feedback surveys are a great way to discover what people need.
Begin to listen to what your friends grumble about? Become the solution that can be delivered through your product or service.
Their discontent with recent products or distributors is a sign that there is a need for something to be improved.
It is often a good idea to further investigate and have survey questions like. Offer a gift like a free eBook for them completing a survey.
Ask them what are the things you’d like to buy online right now? What are their biggest trials at the moment ?
Is there something you can buy that will help you out in your situation? What are the toughest products for you to order and why?
The responses to these questions could provide you with a solid foundation of what people are looking to buy. What are people complaining about on social media channels?
Review posts and ask others on Facebook & LinkedIn groups, Google+ communities, Reddit, Quora, Forums, etc.
Social media for small business is a powerful tool.
Your end goal here must be to find out the biggest problem people have in your niche, so you’ll know what to offer them.
Obtaining your Product
Now that you have a solid understanding of your store’s plan, it’s time to develop your products.
Learning about your targeted customers is the best way to do this, which is why it’s such a critical part to understand before working on developing your product list.
But understanding your customers isn’t quite enough. You now need to dive deep into the technical side of your online store.
We’ll be looking where to find your products, how to set a price point that provides hefty profits (without scaring away customers), and how to find the value of what you’re selling.
Where to Acquire Your Products
Now that you have discovered your product begins the search for where you will get your product. Researching for your business is how to stay ahead in your market.
When it comes to acquiring your products, you do have options. Research what your disadvantages and advantage are so you are fully prepared.
Will you be making the product or using a manufacturer? Will you be using wholesale or drop shipment? Discover and investigate which method is accurate for you.
The method you choose to sell under will moderately define and shape your total business moving forward.
It’s significant to recognize the advantages, as well as the disadvantages of each individual method so you can make the precise choice for your business.
Here is a brief overview of the various methods. Making your product is great if you have jewelry or another form of a craft for sale.
Keep in mind though as your customer base grows will you be able to keep up with product demand.
Manufacturing your product is a decent idea for the business owners that have a unique concept or distinction of a current product that doesn’t exist currently.
Createspace.com manufactured their products to meet customers demands.
Wholesale is when you buy your inventory directly from the manufacturer at a discounted rate and you resell it at a higher price. You actually see this a lot with MLM’s.
Drop shipping offers a large assortment of product inventory without purchasing inventory in advance.
What works for your business?
Research & Prepare
Before you take the first step to build your online store, you need to create a bulletproof strategy that will guarantee your success.
Most people who start online stores jump ahead and skip this step. They throw time and money into the exciting part of building the store but ignore the strategy behind it.
As a result, they find themselves months later with zero customers, a garage full of dead inventory, and a website ghost town.
But you’re not going to be like most people. Because we’re going to start off the right way: by developing a strategy for success.
Study Your Competition
Identifying your competitors will help a tremendous deal when making your decision. See what they are doing and maybe do the opposite.
You’ll want to understand which competitors rank the maximum in Google for keywords specific to your industry. Make a list of the top keywords that bring you traffic, and enter them into Google and see where you stack up.
Approach their sites and store as if you were a potential customer of theirs and see what they are doing that works and does not work. Take notes.
Do you see any difference between their store and yours? How is your pricing different from their pricing? What is the quality of their marketing photography? How are their products identified?
Take a notice to their shipping options and pricing? What are they offering their customers? Is it simple or could you simplify a process for your customers?
Where is their call to actions? Is their call to action leading to a sales funnel and if so how?
What are the social media platforms they are using? Are they interacting with customers and is it in a timely manner?
Gather information using various tools. One of the tools is Alexa. Alexa can be used mostly for free which is great when just starting out. You type in your competitor’s URL and Alexa provides global traffic rank along with a number of sites linking in.
You can also view their search analytics, audience insight, and so much more. This is a wealth of information available at your fingertips.
Google offers an abundance of resources for tracking results.
Google Alerts is another free service available. Google Alerts, provides you with email updates of the latest relevant Google results (web, news, etc.) based on your inquiries.
You should already have Google Alerts set up for your online store name. Alerts for key industry terms allows for easily monitoring the broader market.
Begin analyzing your own eCommerce store to see where your company is. Objectively look at your online store and see how it can be enhanced.
Use all the tactics you used in your competition and be as critical as possible. It’s also important to bring an unbiased set of eyes in to give their opinion.
Another useful aspect of competitor research is defining which website are linking back to them. You can do this by using a tool like
Moz’s Open Site Explorer which allows you to explore backlinks for a particular URL. Doing so will allow you to recognize link-building and content marketing opportunities.
For example, if you’re selling custom-made floral arrangements, then you might find that a bunch of home and garden blogs is linking to your competitors. Armed with that info, you might consider reaching out to those same blogs and see if they could link to your site as well.
Moz’s Open Site Explorer allows you to explore backlinks for a particular URL.
Writing your business plan
Before you can start selling, you need to have a deep understanding of how you’re planning on building and growing your store.
Writing a business plan is the best way to do that.
You’ll include all the market factors based on your research, plus projections and cost-benefit analysis.
Analyze the market opportunity
Even when your niche is decided upon, there is still the task of looking for products from which to select your items.
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