When you’re starting a business, you need to know how to get it online. But what should be your priority? Stuart Maclaren, MD at Your Print Partner has first-hand experience to share.
Online sales now comprise over 17% of all purchases in the UK and there’s no sign of that growth stopping anytime soon. Setting up a successful online business, however, is fraught with challenges and it’s easier to get it wrong than right.
Having grown Your Print Partner (YPP) from a £40k investment to become one of the UK’s biggest fabric print providers with sales over £3m a year, I’ve learnt a thing or two about creating a successful online business along the way. Here are some of my top tips:
Make sure your site is user-friendly
It may sound painfully obvious, but so many ecommerce sites are difficult and frustrating to use. They seem to focus on design, branding and ‘cool’ functionality, rather than focusing on what’s important and useful for the customer.
The problem gets worse when you consider that most shopping is now completed on a mobile device. Resource-intensive plugins and a clunky user interface can make ordering products slow and difficult while hogging data.
Top Tip: Develop a mobile-first website using lightweight plugins or native interfaces to provide a smooth, user-centric platform.
Know who your target market is
Knowing and understanding your target market is useful for more than just web development. Making the most of your marketing and advertising spend relies heavily on well-defined target markets. For example, we used targeted advertising on Facebook across all of our target segments to understand which group had the most interest in actually buying. We then transferred the majority of our ad spend onto the best performing ads to maximise our ROI.
Top Tip: Use available research to develop your customer segments and then test using digital advertising to quickly gain granular detail about each group.
Make sure ads are clear
There’s a lot to separate good ads from bad. Online advertising can be expensive, especially in the run-up to key shopping seasons such as Christmas, so it’s important to maximise your ROI.
You need to start with clear ad copy and imagery. Stock photography and vague text will be quickly dismissed and your investment wasted.
Copy and imagery need to work together to quickly inform the customer: what the product is, who it’s for, and the price. Of course, the product also needs to be in stock, so it’s important to link your ads to live stock info.
Top Tip: Take time to understand the possibilities around online ads. Each platform has different rules and options – the best ROI can be achieved by developing the right combination of settings, targeting, copy and video/imagery.
Photography and layout has to be good
Getting photography right is just as important for your actual website. A lot of websites use images of products on a white background. While this makes it clear what the product is and what’s included, it doesn’t help sell the product.
Take the Christmas shopping season: would you be more inspired by images of a gift against a white background, or of kids playing with the product in front of the Christmas tree? Lifestyle shots activate the imagination and stir-up emotions. Customers are then better able to make the choice to purchase based on both rational and emotional reasoning.
Top Tip: Lifestyle shots sell the dream; white backgrounds can help sell the product. Use a combination of both for best effect, but always lead with the lifestyle shots.
Run competitions to drive traffic
Another great way of driving traffic to your new website is by running regular competitions, especially on social media.
Knowing your target audience and which segment you want to entice to your website is particularly useful when selecting a prize. The prize needs to be relevant to people who have already purchased your products, but also attract those who haven’t used your website before. Alternatively, you could offer a voucher as the prize, attracting all of your target segments at once.
Top Tip: Make your competitions relevant and specific to the platform where it will run. Photos and videos work well on Facebook and Instagram, for example, whereas Twitter entries could be more text-based.
Developing solid partnerships
You can grow your online business steadily through direct-to-customer sales, but if you want to achieve rapid growth, it’s worth developing a solid partnership with business partners and resellers.
Resellers, in particular, tend to have established brands and customer bases. By becoming their go-to supplier, you tap into their existing market, growing your sales volume dramatically.
The most important thing to remember is that resellers value is created through their brand, so they are very protective about it. As such, you need to help maintain or enhance their reputation by delivering outstanding service.
Top Tip: It can be especially helpful to invite resellers to come and see your products first-hand so they understand exactly what they’re selling and are reassured by the quality.
Local customer service
A lot of online businesses outsource their customer support to somewhere cheap like the Philippines and rely solely on web chats and email to manage support tickets.
While this may be cheaper, it is likely going to frustrate your customers and partners if they can’t reach someone with the power to actually do something. In our sector, many customers have very short lead-times, so waiting on a reply to an email will cause anxiety around delivery times.
Local customer service may cost more, but customers will feel reassured that any issues will be resolved quickly and easily, and that they will receive their purchase in the expected time-frame.
Top Tip: Don’t assume that everyone wants web-based help. Make your phone number prominent on your website and staff your phones to ensure quick, easy resolution to any customer issues. You’ll also get valuable feedback that you can use to improve your service.