Celebrating the people behind British small businesses

30 sizzling eCommerce tips from the small business experts

Now we’re in the swing of Christmas shopping season, it’s time to take your online selling to the next level – but how? We gave you the tools yesterday – now here are some tips from independent retailers themselves. From technology firms to marketing agencies, we called out to the UK’s best eCommerce businesses for their nuggets of wisdom on how best to sell online. Go forth and make Christmas wonderful with these 30 tips!

Making your products more appealing

Julian Fisher from Bubbles:
  • People buy with their eyes first – always invest in great images for your site or online store.
  • If you have a search function, take a look at what people are searching for to help you tailor your online offering.
  • Clear, short and snappy descriptions win over complicated, lengthy and unending details.
  • Add offers and deals where you can – everyone loves a bargain.
  • People like to feel confident in their purchases, so allow them to share their finds on social media by adding a button.

SEO, PPC and Social

James Shakespeare, Managing Director of Evosite
  • Competing head-on with sites that have millions of visitors for the most popular keywords will always end in failure. Investigate whether there are more specific combinations of words that your particular customers might type into Google. 100% of 100 searches is better than 0% of a million.
  • Searches are not the only way to get visitors to your site. Carefully planned and orchestrated use of social media tools can be a great way to generate targeted traffic. This works really well when there’s great and valuable content at the end of it. Blog articles, videos and infographics generate traffic, engage customers with your brand and create loyalty. Great content also gets shared and expands your marketing network.
  • David defeated Goliath by having the fight on his own terms, by being agile and smart. All of the things you should aim to do through your niche eCommerce website. Always think: What could I do that they would find difficult to match? They’d love the battle to be about price and search numbers – try to make it about expertise, service and value.
  • Entertain, educate, and above all, engage!
Anthony from www.cybercompare.net
  • Google Analytics is invaluable.  Ensure that you have e-commerce tracking enabled in Google Analytics, so you can better understand where your customers are coming from and which key phrases and other channels are driving the most revenue to you.
  • From an SEO perspective, ensure each product and category in the site has a quality, unique description attached to it – don’t copy from other stores!
  • One really common SEO mistake we frequently see is Site Owners allowing both Search Results and Pagination to be indexed. Ensure the Meta Robots tag is enabled after page one and in all search results, and Google won’t give you a slap on the wrist.
  • Where possible, exact match your PPC Campaigns keywords after your campaign has been running for several months, and constantly monitor for negatives that can be added.

Plan ahead

Tara Kneafsey, SME Director at RSA
  • With an eCommerce business your employees might be working remotely or based at home, but you’re still responsible– so make sure you have the appropriate employer’s liability cover, and carry out health and safety training.
  • Consider what would happen if your key suppliers and other partners, including delivery companies, went bust or were unable to deliver to you. Work out how long you could survive without them, and create a contingency plan until you resume normal levels of service.
  • How you store your goods is important, as they need to be kept secure and out of harm’s way – something that can be hard when dealing with large amounts of online stock. This includes physical damage as well as environmental conditions such as damp and extreme temperatures.

Make the most of being small

James Shakespeare, Managing Director of Evosite:
  • If your eCommerce website sells products similar to ones available through big sites like Amazon, eBay or other large online retailers you might wonder how you can ever compete with their commercial muscle. The answer is to compete on your terms rather than theirs and focus on some of the things they can’t do.
  • Make the most of the fact that you can display an intelligently selected range of options and alternatives. Have a search and selection process designed specifically for the things you sell.
  • Achieving this level of customisation may be a struggle if you’re using a template or ‘off the shelf’ eCommerce package. Investing in a site designed specifically for your business may be a worthwhile investment if you want to compete on your own terms and create an online shopping experience genuinely designed around your customers.
  • Because you know your products and understand the people who buy them, you can offer a much more useful and relevant range of up-selling and cross-selling options. You could also offer product customisations and ‘bundled’ offers that offer unique value to each customer.
  • Go beyond the bland and functional descriptions that you’re likely to find on big generalised eCommerce sites, and create content that connects with your customers.
  • Get inside the minds of your customers and create content just for them. Make yours a site for enthusiasts, packed with great content and valuable information.
  • The focus for the big sites is price and volume, but as a niche retailer you have the opportunity to offer more.  Customer service for eCommerce giants is often limited, where you can offer advice on how to care for the products, how to use them most effectively and how to get the best value from them.
  • Your passion and enthusiasm for your business and your products will connect with your customers and create loyalty. Think about other options such as free samples, a post-sales help line or anything else that adds value and shows that you care about what you do.

Techy tips

Nick Whitmore, MD of NDistribution Limited 
  • The most important thing is for eCommerce business owners to decide on the right CMS for their website from the word go. Picking the wrong CMS can lead to disasters down the line – lots of people are choosing CMSs that really aren’t fit for purpose (i.e., WordPress) then having to go back and change them, which costs them lots of money and time.
John Engates, CTO at Rackspace
  • You don’t want your website to crash right at peak pre-Christmas shopping time. To avoid website problems, e-tailers in particular should do a full audit of their web hosting environment to check if there is enough network connections and server space available to handle a high influx of web traffic.
  • Get support: peak traffic demands over the Christmas shopping period and beyond will probably not happen during a nine to five working day. Customers will be shopping in the evenings, and even on Christmas and Boxing Day. Retailers need to have appropriate support to keep their website up and running whenever it’s needed.
  • Additional web capacity may be required during high-traffic times. The public cloud is the ideal hosting environment for this as it offers unmatched scalability on a pay-as-you-go basis.
  • Keep improving! After peak season dies down, review the performance of your website, analyse any downtime or other performance issues, and use this to fix any issues. Most people shop online because it’s convenient, so keeping it that way is crucial.