A lot of people call in telling us that they’ve decided to go e-commerce. That they have the right product and they’re just looking to go online and sell stuff. While it’s heartening to see so many inspired by the vast potential of the internet and e-commerce, I have to admit that some of the optimism is misplaced on erroneous assumptions. In this post, I am going to shed some light on the things you need to consider so that you have a realistic view of your impending e-commerce foray.
1. Business Model
Whatever products or service you are hoping to sell online should work within the dynamics of the online market. The way I see it currently, there are two broad business models flourishing in the online space in India. There’s one wave of businesses breaking ground and radically changing pre-existing industry and shifting consumer behaviour to the online sphere (read: Flipkart, Ola, Uber etc.). The other is the shift of offline businesses trying to figure out their transition to the online sphere given the optimism and potential of that space.
With the big boys of the internet occupying a disproportionate amount of the mind-space regarding business online, there’s often an unrealistic bias created for businesses who are in other offline businesses to go online; irrespective of whether there’s a viable business model for it or not.
For instance, you may be a wholesale seller of grain, but if your customer and related ecosystem is not online yet, it might not be the most diligent idea to take your business online. Clay Christensen, one of the world’s foremost researchers on business models, suggests that a business model should consist of four elements: a customer value proposition, a profit formula, key resources, and key processes. This may seem like a rigid framework to work within if you’re talking about large scale startups like AirBnb (changing hospitality), Uber (changing transportation) or Slack (replacing email for organizations and teams). Those businesses have no precedents and are evolving their business model as they go along. But for the most part, this kind of a framework can help you grow.
The online customer has also matured to the point where niche players can make significant strides in the online space.
This is one aspect that a surprisingly large number of people miss accounting for completely. Creating a professional looking catalog of all your products is essential for getting your site noticed and for interest converting into buyers. It may in fact be one of the most important aspects of your website along with the rest of your communication design and branding.
Therefore treating your catalog as an after-thought can hamper your chances of making a successful e-commerce foray. Creating a consistent catalog requires focused thought and creative direction: neither of which are easy. Be sure to factor in a friend or agency (and their cost) that would help you develop this for your products which should include the shoot, final photographs and post-editing help.
Depending on whether you go for a monthly SAAS (Software-as-a-Service) model e-commerce platform provider or a customer built platform (Magento, Woo-commerce), you’re going to have to consider your marketing budget as a recurring activity as opposed to doing it in phases or chunks.
The nature of social media and e-commerce is such that you are interacting with your customers on a daily basis through ad communication and social media. Your reputation and brand online is built over time, just as it is offline. But the key difference between offline and online is the level of two-way interaction between the customer and you, as well as the frequency with which you have roll out content.
I’d venture to provide the following framework to think of your marketing spends over Year 1 of your online venture.
- Content: Consider this analogous to the blood that runs through all your inbound marketing activities. Most of the content that you create in some form or shape can (and should) be used across different channels.
Blog posts, photo shoots and other online/offline branding collaterals. Not many people realize it, but if you’re starting from scratch, the quality and frequency of your content are going to be deciding factors in the success of your e-commerce venture.
- Paid Ads: Google and Facebook have made it very easy to start a campaign and taste blood with getting customers who are looking for you onto your website. But the real value is created only when you get your hands dirty in constructing tight ad sets that bring relevant and high-converting traffic to your website at the right cost.
Google’s Adword Panel can be particularly intimidating at first sight but a good place to get yourself acclimatized to it all would be some start videos on youtube. Facebook’s ad planner is relatively easier. Tools like the power editor in Facebook’s panel only come into play if you’re running a large number of ads that change on a regular basis.
Similar ad panels exist other large social media channels such as Twitter & Linkedin; channels that can also be extremely valuable depending on the business that you’re in. Pinterest and Instagram haven’t opened up their ad platforms to Indians yet, but are likely to do so in the near future.
- Social Media: The idea is to establish a certain voice, lay down creative elements, branding & communication. The deliverable from this activity is to appeal, reach out and build a relevant community for your product or service on Facebook and/or other social media channels. This will form the inner circle of people that become your service or product’s evangelists online and offline. In fact, in the online space, they are telling your friends about you by just interacting with you.
- PR: Similar to it’s offline namesake except for the people that you have to reach out to. I would definitely allocate a budget per quarter to reach out to influential blogs and websites to feature your store to their communities. Not only does this bring a significant amount of SEO juice, you’re also likely to reach a relevant target audience.
Pro tip: when judging the blogger you want to go with, be sure to have a glimpse of their blog’s Page Rank and Authority over and above all of the vanity metrics such as number of likes on Facebook and number of followers on Twitter.
- SEO: SEO is far from dead. It is in the nature of search (and therefore Search Engine Optimization Services) to keep evolving with time. And so the more accurate statement would be that SEO as we knew it even 5 years back is dead. The amount of long term value your store will generate from a strong organic audience will be extremely valuable in the long run.
It involves a series of technical optimizations that will give a structure to your site that you will be thankful for when the ball starts rolling. It is till today the foundation of your site, and I strongly recommend digging a little deep here to avoid instant gratification and dive into the nitty gritty of this one.
Once your e-commerce site is up and running, there are still a number of things that you will have to be careful of in the day-to-day running of your store that may require a resource. Transactional emails may stop going off, content might move, you might get a few malicious folders and much more can happen no matter how robust and secure you make your site.
Account for someone taking care of this for you on a monthly basis – or who can be on call as and when required.
5. Logistics Tie-ups
Tying up with the right logistics partners is key. But that’s obvious and not worth writing about in a blog. The specific things you want to figure out is whether they will offer you a series of AWB numbers upfront, whether they integrate with your platform’s tracking API so that you can offer your customers real-time shipment tracking, what happens in the case of lost or damaged goods, what is their payment cycle as regards to the cash they collect on your behalf on COD orders etc.
These small things can make a big impact on the customer experience and ought to reduced to a minimum.
Do you have any more points to add to this? Something you experience in your e-commerce journey that you weren’t expecting before it happened? Drop me a comment – I want to hear from you!