We have over 6 years of extensive experience selling E-commerce businesses of all sizes and niches. In that time, we have found e-commerce businesses to among the most commonly requested by our buyers. If you aspire to build your own e-commerce business and one day sell it, then you should take notes from the experts below. They lay it all out and explain exactly what you need to see success with an e-commerce business.
We have asked some of the most successful e-commerce bloggers and business owners to give you their insightful advice on one very important question.
“What’s the most important factor to the success of an e-commerce business?”
There were many different answers to the above question, however, there were a few common themes that were echoed by multiple experts. Those themes are:
- Fully understand your target market and customer
- Create a product that is unique and offers true value
- Be quick to adapt to the ever-evolving trends
- Build a brand and separate yourself from the competition
Read on for more detailed answers from our panel of experts and vote for your favorite.
Andrew Youderian – eCommerce Fuel
The most important factor for success is the ability to cost effectively market your brand well and/or create an organic way for your customers to do it for you. You can do this through savvy SEO, cost effective paid traffic campaigns or by building a product that’s so remarkable and differentiated that your customers can’t help but talk about it and people can’t help but ask. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to being able to get the word out about your product without breaking the bank.
Richard Lazazzera – A Better Lemonade Stand
Understanding exactly who your market is, knowing how to reach them, and having a product that they truly see value in is known as product/market fit and is fundamentally the most important factor in the success of any e-commerce startup.
You need to find your product/market fit and you need to find it fast if your business is to survive – and, more importantly, thrive.
In The Pmarca Guide To Startups, Part 4: The Only Thing That Matters, author Marc Andreesen notes:
“You can always feel when product/market fit isn’t happening. The customers aren’t quite getting value out of the product, word of mouth isn’t spreading, usage isn’t growing that fast, press reviews are kind of “blah”, the sales cycle takes too long, and lots of deals never close.
And you can always feel product/market fit when it’s happening. The customers are buying the product just as fast as you can make it – or usage is growing just as fast as you can add more servers. Money from customers is piling up in your company checking account. You’re hiring sales and customer support staff as fast as you can.”
Finding product/market fit is vital for the long term success of any e-commerce business and should be the main focus in particular for any new e-commerce business.
Richard Lazazzera is an e-commerce entrepreneur and founder of A Better Lemonade Stand. An e-commerce blog and online incubator where he helps entrepreneurs build, launch, and grow their online businesses.
Chloe Thomas – Ecommerce Masterplan
Finding the right marketing mix for the business, and sticking with it is what differentiates the most successful e-commerce businesses from the rest. Your business and product can be the best out there, but if you can’t find a cost effective and repeatable way to tell your target customers that you exist your business is not going to succeed.
The reason this is so hard to do is that there are 1,000s of options for increasing your sales. You can improve your website, improve your SEO, use advertising / PR / content marketing / social media – within each of those there are 100s of options. So you have to first research to identify the methods you believe will be the best for you, then stay focused on optimizing them – don’t get distracted by the 100 ideas that hit your inbox every week.
If that method you thought would work hasn’t done as well as you hoped – move on! You have to focus, but also be ready to keep optimising – optimising what you’ve started, or move onto the next idea on your list.
Chloe Thomas, bestselling author of “Customer Manipulation: How to Influence your Customers to Buy More and Why an Ethical Approach will Always Win” You can fnd it here – http://customermanipulation.com
Kai Davis – Double Your Audience
Know who your customer is. Specifically, know who your customer is.
There are always people talking about target profiles or target audience. But you need to take it a step earlier than that and answer two questions:
- Trigger — What is the life event that just happened that inspired your customer to seek out your product?
- Target Person — Who, specifically, is the person that you want to buy your product? How old is she? What other products does he buy? What websites do they read? What keeps them up at night?
When you understand these two critical factors — Target Person and Trigger — it makes it dramatically easier to understand who to sell to and how to sell to them.
Because there are different triggers that might be inspiring someone to buy from you. Let’s say you sell Protein Powder.
- Your Target Person is a woman, age 30-40, and they’re starting to get active in the gym. They’re counting calories. They’re reading fitness blogs. They want to put on some muscle and lose some fat.
- Your Trigger is the decision to take control of their health
Now, knowing these two things, you’re able to structure your marketing and messaging to increase the success of your e-commerce business.
Because you know who your target person is, you can structure your marketing, your advertising, your messaging, and your imagery to appeal to this target person.
Because you know the trigger that inspired this person to buy (or consider buying), then you’re able to create content that resonates around that trigger. For someone that has just made the decision to eat healthier and start using a protein powder supplement, which type of content would be more appealing:
- 7 delicious, high-protein recipes you can cook in 15-minutes
- 7 fat-burning tricks to push yourself at the gym
Depending on the trigger — the force to create this new habit — you can create content that better speaks to the prospect browsing your site. And with a better understanding of who your target customer is and the trigger that brought them to you, you can speak directly to them, increasing the success of your e-commerce business.
Kai Davis helps e-commerce store owners sell more, more often, to their best customers. He specializes in helping e-commerce businesses, like yours, build relationships with bloggers and generate high-quality, authentic reviews of your most popular (and best selling) products. You can learn more about how he can help you earn high-quality reviews of your products here.
Nick Eubanks – Im From the Future
In my experience the one critical element to succeeding with e-commerce is pricing strategy. It’s not as simple as having the lowest price or the best product, there’s a lot of research, psychology, and testing needed to create and manage a sustainable pricing strategy. Simply lowering prices on items in response to competitors becomes a race to the bottom, and Wal-Mart or the manufacturers rep is going to win that race while gauging your profits.
Having the best product usually means it’s the most expensive, and as consumers become more savvy with online shopping, and more discerning with buying the right product for their need – shoppers are less likely to buy a power tool when all they really need is a simple wrench (metaphorically speaking). Most people don’t spend money to buy beyond what they need; if they want new sheets and they are able to get 500 thread-count Egyptian cotton for 30% less than the 600 thread-count, that’s what 90% of shoppers will do. In that scenario you damn well better have some 500 thread count sheets.
Don’t get me wrong, there are absolutely profits to be made in the high-end of each niche, but even then you need to have your price strategy dialed in to know where you sit relative to your competitors, how your shipping costs and lead-times are going to factor into the consumer’s true “delivered price,” and how your timelines (if your drop-shipping or using 3rd party fulfillment) need to affect your pricing relative to competitive sources.
In the same vein as a hotel’s revenue manager, who knows to turn prices up as much as 100% during busy season, 40-50% when there are large events (and hence more demand) in the local area, and lowering prices when occupancy drops below ~60%. The same rules apply for managing pricing on your e-commerce site if you’re going to remain competitive in the marketplace.
Kunle Campbell – 2x eCommerce
It’s a very broad question and will have slightly different answers for varied sized businesses.
For established and growing e-commerce businesses, the three fundamental elements of their sales growth are typically down to:
1: Vertically integrated or ‘full-stack’ products they sell directly to consumers (D2C).
This essentially means that they own their brand and have to either manufacture or outsource manufacturing. On the flip side, some hybrid etailers sell a wide variety of brands as well as their own-brand products. Either model enables the etailers spend more on Customer Acquisition Costs (CAC) and gives them more control of their supply chain and margins. Some examples of ‘full-stack’ e-commerce companies are: Bonobos, Warby Parker, MADE.com, MOO.com and NastyGal. Examples of hybrid companies that sell other brands and their own-label brands include ASOS.com, Boohoo.com and JacksThreads.com. Most hybrid companies now seem to be pushing more of their own-brand products due to the increased margins.
2: Retention: repeat purchases and customer loyalty
The second characteristic of successful e-commerce businesses is their ability to retain a sizable customer base. They are able to convince existing and first-time customers to return on a fairly regular basis to make subsequent purchases. This is enabled by their business models (as in the case with subscription commerce), the depth of offering in their product catalogs, the products they sell are replenishables, they are able to execute sophisticated 1:1 personalized email marketing that nudges their customers to repurchase and their customer loyalty offers and rewards programs. Although subscription e-commerce businesses fall into this bracket by default, most etailers in the apparel vertical also by their very nature expect customers to return at least each season.
3: Word of mouth referrals
The final element of e-commerce success comes as a result of the delivery of superior customer experience (CX). The most successful of e-commerce businesses have a loyal customer base that help to happily share their positive shopping experience with their family and friends. They will share their experience and the online store’s offers with their friends in person and on social media. These businesses have great on-site user experience (UX), friendly and truly helpful customer service and will also have an extra unique value proposition in their setup that warrants a mention and recommendation over conversations. As an example; Warby Parker’s try before you buy model has led to over 50% of sales to be driven by word of mouth. Other unique value propositions fast growth e-commerce businesses offer to their customers include free shipping, free returns, blended content and commerce experiences (Huckberry.com) and community oriented commerce.
If you are new to e-commerce, work on minimizing your customer acquisition costs (CAC) first; then acquire customers and focus on two or all of the three strategies above.
Kunle is an e-commerce consultant and a trusted advisor to ambitious, agile e-commerce brands. He helps e-tailers grow their revenues by developing and executing scalable customer acquisition strategies. He blogs, runs webinars, a podcast and courses about e-commerce growth on 2XeCommerce.com.
Michelle Michalak – Slyde Handboards
I believe the most important factor for the success of an E-Commerce business is to ensure your website is mobile friendly.
The vast majority of people are both browsing and shopping via smartphones, so it’s imperative the mobile user experience is top notch.
Ryan BeMiller – Shopping Signals
The most important factor to the success of an e-commerce business is two-fold. You need products people want, and you need qualified traffic. In my opinion, you need both of these to be successful. Having just one or the other will not get you the results you desire.
First, the products. You need one or more products that people actually want to buy. The most successful products are those which cannot be easily purchased in-person at a local store, and which are part of a niche that people are passionate about.
Next, the traffic. By “qualified traffic”, I mean traffic that is targeted to your specific niche. Sending a bunch of random traffic to your site isn’t going to do you much good. However, if you generate organic or paid traffic that is comprised of people who are passionate about your niche, you stand a far greater chance of success.
Ryan BeMiller has been building and marketing websites for nearly 20 years. He’s the founder of ShoppingSignals.com where you can learn all about marketing and optimizing e-commerce websites. When Ryan’s not busy making websites better, or hanging with his wife and 2 girls, you may find him on Twitter at @shopsignals.
Kurt Elster – Ethercycle
The most important factor to the success of an e-commerce business is the product mix. Number one, you have to have a product people want. Anti-Aging Cream for Poodles may be a niche product, but it’s not going to a big seller. Assuming you have something wants, you need to be intentional with your other products. They have to fit into a product funnel that enables cross-sells and upsells.
No matter what product I buy from you, you should be able to offer me an upsell at checkout, and follow-up with me via email with cross-sells. If a product doesn’t fit within that ladder, why are you selling it? Having a lean & mean ladder of products will make your positioning in the consumer’s mind clear, allowing you to stay top of mind, and encourage both referrals and repeat purchases. Increasing customer lifetime value starts by being intentional with your product ladder.
Steve Chou – My Wife Quit Her Job
The most important factor to the success of an e-commerce business is finding your unique value proposition. There are so many entrepreneurs out there who take the leap into e-commerce by selling products in super saturated niches.
But unless you are providing something special with your products and services, your business will never be able to stand out in a crowd.
Right now, everyone is flocking to Amazon and selling copycat products from Alibaba. And while this strategy will make you money in the short term, in the long run it becomes a quick race to the bottom in terms of price.
Instead of rushing a product to the market, take some time to create a product that no one else is selling. Take some time to put a unique spin on it. Provide a service that no one else is providing.
The key to long term success is being a purple cow, carving out a niche and building a long term brand for your business.
Andreea Ayers – Launch Grow Joy
The most important factor to the success of your e-commerce store is to define and really know who your target market is and design everything on your website to speak to THEM. Your branding, product images and descriptions, your ABOUT page and all of the other pages on your site should reflect your target market’s lifestyle.
It might be tempting to want to design your website to appeal to everyone, especially if you sell a product that has mass appeal, but the more specific you can get with your target market, the higher your conversions will be because your web visitors will feel like you are speaking to THEM! If you’re just starting out, think about who you are most excited to work with and that should drive your target market definition. If you’ve already been in business for a while, you can survey your existing customers to find out more about them (here’s a survey example http://www.launchgrowjoy.com/target-market/).
Andreea Ayers is the founder of LaunchGrowJoy.com and she helps e-commerce entrepreneurs get their products featured in the media. To attend her free training on becoming a PR pro, check out www.launchgrowjoy.com/training
Eric Bandholz – BeardBrand
Well, really e-commerce business is simply business. So the most important factor is generating more revenue than money you spend, but there are a lot of variables on how you do that. I’m a big fan of investing in high quality information to improve the shopping experience. That means videos, great photography, and engaging copy all in an easy to find format. If you can do those three things well, then you’ll stand out from the majority of retailers.
Eric Bandholz is the founder of Beardbrand, a men’s grooming company focused on beard care. He bootstrapped the business to 7 figure sales and is shaking up the way men approach grooming.
Greg Mercer – Jungle Scout
Without a doubt, the most important factor to the success of an E-Commerce entrepreneur is the ability to teach themselves new skills and continued education. The internet is a constantly evolving environment and if you don’t stay in the loop with what’s new and what’s working, you get left behind.
My favorite medium for lifelong learning is through podcasts, however, I’m also an avid reader of blogs and online courses. I spend roughly 20% of my time each week learning and the other 80% of my time working on my business.
Continued learning can be time consuming so here are a couple tips to be efficient at it. To start, anytime you don’t need to listen to what’s around you, pop in your headphones and learn something new. Commutes to work, cutting the lawn or doing dishes are all great examples of “wasted” time that can be used for learning.
I would also recommend listening to podcasts and YouTube videos at 2x speed and skipping the intro and outros. If it seems too quick to you, try building up to that with 1.25x, 1.5x then 2x. After doing so, you can usually listen to an hour long podcast in 25 minutes or less 🙂
And, since you’re reading this blog, you’re off to a great start! Keep it up!
Billy Murphy – ForeverJobless.com
You must aim to create a product that is significantly better than that of your competition for the product you’re launching. It does not need to be #1 overall in the niche, but it should be #1 for whatever value your product is focused on. You cannot have significant success unless you solve the need in an obviously better way than your competitors.
I recommend not focusing on anything else until you can answer “yes” to this question:
If I had this problem or desire, would this product solve this problem or fulfill this desire better than anything that exists in the market? If “yes”, then you can start thinking about moving forward. If “no”, that is the only thing you should be focusing on.
Billy is a former professional poker player turned entrepreneur. He’s started multiple companies from a 7 figure poker training business, to over 20 e-commerce stores. He also trains others how to start profitable businesses, and shares his business knowledge on the ForeverJobless.com blog and podcast.
Eva Jorgensen – Sycamore Street Press
Taking a step back to look at the big picture. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day to day of customer service, accounting, managing email, etc… that we forget to take time to look at overarching trends in our own business and in our market. I’ve made this mistake myself in the past and regretted it. But since then, I’ve learned to keep my eyes and mind open to new directions and strategies, new niches opening up, new people to collaborate with, etc…
The online world is a fast-moving place, and in order to keep up, we have to be continually evolving. In order to do that, we’ve got to step back from the day to day, take in the bigger picture, and then using the knowledge gained from that to make smarter decisions for our business.
Eva Jorgensen is Founder, Co-owner & Creative Director at sycamorestreetpress.com, a company that sells beautiful prints and paper goods made in the Utah Mountains.
Brendan Tully – Pareto Ecommerce
Broadly, one of the most important factors is understanding your business, your sales pipeline and marketing funnel in relation to where the bulk of your target market currently is.
Understanding this is key to choosing the right marketing tools and making them work. So often e-commerce business owners chase tactics and don’t understand the underlying fundamentals that govern the ROI on those tactics. Ultimately this ends up with a situation where they spend a whole lot of money with a marketing agency and don’t really get a result.
A tough one to explain in a few words but generally speaking your customer is going to be in one of three states:
1-no awareness of your business, an existing problem they have or a better solution to their problem
So in this case, your job as a business is to create awareness of the customer’s problems and your solutions. Facebook Ads and the Google Display Network are perfect here and potentially strategies for social networks like Instagram.
2-no active demand, no pressure to change or the friction to change from the current state is too high
Here your job is to create, reignite or increase demand, remove the friction to change or increase pressure on a prospect to take action.
Email marketing with a targeted, timebound campaign, especially if you have an existing list will work great here. Again Facebook and the Google Display Network work well here. Another tactic is to repackage existing big spends as a monthly spend or offer a finance option or run a discount promo to prospects who haven’t bought.
3-active demand and seeking a solution
Here Google Adwords for Search, Google Shopping, Remarketing, Amazon and Bing are probably the channels to look at.
Interfacing directly with your customer base on the phone, by live chat and email is a great way to get insights into where prospects are at once they hit your website and where the gaps are in your sales and marketing processes. Using a tool like Hotjar will give you some great insights too.
Keyword research tools and using the Bullseye Marketing Framework where you run short trial campaigns on different channels are a great way to test a channel to see whether it works first without betting the farm on it.
Brendan his team have worked with over 2000 businesses in the last 5 years. Visit Pareto Ecommerce & get Brendan’s Free 7-day ecommerce optimization and marketing crash course
Anthony Thomas – Sticker Mule
By far, the most important factor in e-commerce success is traffic acquisition. You could have the best product in the world, but it doesn’t matter if no one knows about it. Conversely, you can sell anything on the Internet if you throw enough qualified traffic at your site. When we first started Sticker Mule our service wasn’t nearly as good as it is today, but we were relentless about getting the word out. All the attention helped us quickly identify and fix problems to become a better company.
Anthony is the co-founder and GM of Sticker Mule, an online sticker printing service
Neil Patel – NeilPatel.com
Branding. As an e-commerce site there won’t be much that sets you apart in the long run… everyone can offer free shipping or competitive prices. But the company who builds a strong brand is usually the one who will last. Look at Zappos and Amazon, they have done well over time due to their strong brand.
Tristan King – Shopify Ninjas
Be real. Use real language, not corporate jargon. Emphasise that the people building the products, answering customer inquiries and building the website are all humans beings, just like the person looking at your E-commerce website.
Fun, interactive messaging and team videos can be a great way to do this. (For example: “Just hit ‘reply’ and a real-life human will get back to you within 24 hours” is much better than “We’ve received your inquiry and a customer service representative will be in touch as soon as possible.”). Emphasise how you came to solve the problem you’re solving, how real people use your product and why, and genuinely listen to your customers and people who are interested in you and your business.
Tristan King is the founder of Shopify Ninjas, the world’s highest rated Shopify Experts who help business owners build and run profitable online stores on Shopify.
Suzanne Wells – SuzanneAWells.com
The most important part of an e-commerce business is the ability to adapt to change. This means adaptability to changes in consumer preferences, platform changes, policy changes, shipping industry changes, technology changes, and even legal changes. For example, USPS changes its pricing about every 18 months. eBay constantly changes the way it evaluates seller performance. Technology is changing faster than we can learn it. The concept of mobile optimization didn’t exist even 6 years ago because eBay launched its mobile app in 2010 – we had to learn how to optimize listings for mobile devices. Change is inevitable. Successful sellers learn to adapt and respond to change in a positive way.
Staying informed and responsive to change is ensures survival of an e-commerce business, and being responsive to change is the best way to outperform competitors in every aspect of the business. To quote Darwin, “It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.” The same is true in business.
Suzanne has made a successful career selling on eBay as well as teaching others through her blog – SuzanneAWells.com
Paul Rogers – PaulnRogers.com
I personally think the most important thing is having a sustainable customer acquisition strategy, without just relying on paid and organic search. Building a brand is really important in my opinion – as this will compliment customer acquisition activity anyway and will also bring in loyal customers.
Also, being able to retain customers via CRM can represent a significant channel and will increase the lifetime value of customers from other channels (depending on your vertical). Your cost of sale is going to increase over time with paid advertising and organic search is becoming more and more brand-lead, as well as being extremely volatile – so I think it’s key to invest in different areas and avoid just putting all your eggs in the same basket (even if it drives more revenue in the short-term).
Giles Thomas – Whole Design Studios
When it comes to e-commerce, like in all conversion focused online businesses, the key to explosive growth is customer understanding. Once you understand your customers wants and needs on a deep emotional level you can get messaging right. Talking to them in a relevant way that focuses on their problems and needs. The key to this is your value proposition.
Luca Senatore – Genie Goals
Without a doubt, the single most important factor any e-commerce business needs to address to succeed is the creation and execution of a smart, complex, multichannel acquisition strategy.
In the increasingly competitive world of e-commerce, retailers are becoming more aware of the importance of metrics such as ‘life time value’ and why this should be factored into cost of sale targets. As a result, many are prepared to invest more to acquire new customers. But throwing money at it for the sake of appearing in front of potential customers more often isn’t necessarily the right answer.
I believe investing in driving traffic from different channels (PPC, paid social, Shopping, display etc) through campaigns highly tailored to each channel – then starting/continuing the conversation with well-drafted remarking and email marketing tactics – is a vital first step. This must be followed by a thorough attribution analysis designed to inform decisions, which will then fine-tune a highly effective multichannel strategy.
This way we’re able to drive traffic and conversations where most others can’t afford to; and make every dollar invested work a lot harder for us.
Luca is a dynamic speaker and digital marketing professional rated #5 Top International PPC Expert and #21 Most Influential PPC Expert 2015. He has spoken at international events such as Performance Marketing Insights: London, Web Summit – Dublin and PPC Masters – Berlin. Runs Genie Goals
Karolina Jasvinaite – Soundest
I would say that your e-commerce success mainly depends on two things:
- How well you approach your customers;
- How fast you can adopt e-commerce trends and improve customer experience.
Approach your customer with relevant communication
Communication is relevant when the right message reaches your customers at the right time. So automated messages that are sent according to customer behavior are very powerful in this case.
Usually, small businesses do not feel mature enough for comprehensive but expensive solutions. They can always start from using basic business data that is understandable for everyone. For example, data about new and returning website visitors, new subscribers, shopping cart abandoners, etc. Utilize this data for sending automated welcome, cart recovery, or re-activation emails to customers and you will soon yield positive results!
Follow e-commerce trends and constantly improve customer experience
Currently, only 7% of world trade is online. So competition in e-commerce will definitely grow.
The latest trends reveal that e-commerce will metamorphose into omni channel commerce. This means that the customer shopping experience will include different channels such as retail stores, online stores, mobile stores, etc. A great example of this is Amazon.com, which after years of boycotting bricks and mortar commerce recently has opened its first offline bookstore. The fact that Twitter, Pinterest and other social networks have launched BUY buttons proves once again the growing integrity in commerce. Is your business ready to adopt these coming trends?
So, in my opinion, constantly moving forward and improving the shopping experience is one of the most important factors for e-commerce success.
Chad Rubin – Skubana
Innovation is the most important factor to win in 2016 only the strong survive environment. Doing it better, faster, cheaper, easier and the holy grail – DIRECT is the recipe for e-commerce success. Your product needs to solve problems follow the above to beat legacy incumbents who have traditionally dominated their market at their own game.
Chad Rubin started Crucial Vacuum in 2008. Crucial Vacuum along with his new brands, Crucial Air and Crucial Coffee reached a revenue growth of over $8M in 2015. In 2013, he co-founded Skubana with DJ Kunovac, an all-in-one e-commerce platform designed to synchronize and streamline backend operations of an online business.
David Hehenberger – Fatcat Apps
Finding a marketing channel that works. You could sell the most amazing product, but if you can’t get it in front of people and generate sales things won’t work out. For most e-commerce businesses, there’s always one marketing channel, that – at any given time – generates the bulk of sales revenue.
Here are the most common channels I see work in e-commerce:
- Marketplaces (in particular Amazon)
- Paid traffic (eg. Google AdWords & Product Listing Ads)
- Content marketing
Which channel is right for you depends on your business and value proposition.
Haven’t found a great channel yet? It will take some trial & error to figure out the best channel. For a framework on how to do this I recommend “TRACTION: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth” (http://tractionbook.com/). TRACTION lists every marketing channel online businesses can use (20+) and gives you a step-by-step guide on how to run experiments to learn which channel works best for you.
Over the last six years, David has helped countless of e-commerce stores get more traffic and sales. He currently runs MerchantMetrics.io (Google Analytics for Amazon FBA Sellers) and FatCatApps.com (WordPress plugins that boost sales & conversions).
Catalin Zorzini – Ecommerce Platforms
For the past three months I’ve been roaming the web for online shops at least a couple of hours a day, researching for our new e-commerce websites gallery.
And I can definitely say that with these new platforms that make creating a top notch online shop easier than making a lemonade, the real challenge now is to get the word out, to differentiate, to get more people on your shop than on the other 50 created in the last 10 minutes.
So my advice is to adopt a slightly different route than most people, a content marketing first approach: start with a blog, create some really high quality, long-form, seo-ptimized articles about hot topics in your niche. Think about (and research using Semrush or something similar) the top 5 real problems people google answers for. Start from there and see what other things you could help them (your future / potential / hopefully 1% converting clients) with. Of course you can promote your stuff on social media, ask friends to link to your posts, grab emails for your newsletter and so on.
Only after you get some organic traffic move towards creating the shop on top of the blog (WooCommerce comes to mind).
One more thing I found useful in my experience: to choose a really good domain name. That could work wonders for your search traffic. Think more about keywords here than your brand name. It doesn’t sound as fancy, but it might actually make your business work! Of course most good domain names are already used (or on sale for $$$$$) but you may still find a gem if you’re persistent and patient enough. Two great little tools that might help here are Who.is and SnapNames
Eric Davis – Little Stream Software
Acquiring and retaining repeat customers is an important factor for the long-term success of an e-commerce store.
It’s always going to be getting more competitive and difficult to acquire new customers in the future. Between new channels and new competitors, improving top of your funnel metrics is going to cost you more and more. Eventually you’ll have to abandon your best marketing channels because they stop producing a profit for you.
If you focus on converting one-time customers into repeat customers, you get to build a marketing channel that you own. One that exclusively features your store and that converts at 3-14x the rate of your new customers.
The best part about focusing on your repeat customers is that they’ve already started a relationship with your business. They trusted you enough to visit your store, give you their credit card, and make a
purchase. As long as you improve on this trust and don’t jeopardize it for a quick-profit, you don’t have to put in a ton of new work.
Just start by shifting how you spend your time. Instead of focusing 99% of your marketing time and effort on new customers, make it 80% and invest 20% of your time in growing and nurturing your repeat customer base.
Eric Davis helps e-commerce entrepreneurs customize their Shopify stores using public, private, and unlisted Shopify apps at Little Stream Software
Ashley McGregor Dey – Geek And Wander
The best way to succeed as an e-commerce business is quite similar to that of traditional retail businesses, treat your customers well. Excellent customer service will do more for your business than branding, a super fancy website, or great deals. You should always put your customer first, listen to them, help them, surprise and delight them, and make their shopping process as smooth as possible. Have your contact details easily accessible on your site, keep your FAQs or help section up to date, respond to inquires and issues through your customer support channels and on social media, and if you can offer easy and free shipping and returns, do it! Even after they’ve purchased, continue to treat them well. You want them to keep coming back, and to tell their friends and family. It’s far cheaper and easier to keep an existing customer than to acquire a new one.
Have your contact details easily accessible on your site, keep your FAQs or help section up to date, respond to inquires and issues through your customer support channels and on social media, and if you can offer easy and free shipping and returns, do it! Even after they’ve purchased, continue to treat them well. You want them to keep coming back, and to tell their friends and family. It’s far cheaper and easier to keep an existing customer than to acquire a new one.
Try to be different, test, measure, fail and win.
The barrier to entry in e-commerce has been removed allowing anyone with a little knowledge of the internet to set up a basic e-commerce website over the weekend with little expenditure. Where most people fail is giving up too easily. If they don’t make a sale in the first week they throw in the towel.
New e-commerce store owners need to be ready to stand out from the crowd, make their offering / service different. Be prepared to test new technology, new messaging and be prepared to fail – not every email or social post will work. A lot of new store owners also forget to measure and understand where their customers are coming from and how they are converting. Using free tools such as Google Analytics and Google Search console will provide you with enough basic actionable data to improve your e-commerce store.
EcommerceGuide is helping anyone who is interesting in selling online, sell more. Free expert advice on e-commerce platforms and marketing.
Danny Richman – SEOTrainingLondon.org
Assuming you have products that people want to buy, and at a price they are willing to pay, the three most important factors that determine the success of an e-commerce business are trust, trust and trust.
In a recent study conducted by YouGov, 71% of UK consumers said that, when buying offline, they prefer to buy from a small, independent business. When shopping online, 59% said that they prefer to buy from a big business. The primary reason given was “Big business are more trustworthy”.
In my own study of 1,000 US-based consumers, 32% of online visitors stated “lack of trust in the retailer” as the most common reason for them not to buy from an online retailer.
Here are the 9 most effective ways to gain the trust of online visitors:
- Build a brand that people recognize
- Improve your organic SEO. Online consumers are 10 times more likely to trust websites that appear in the organic Google results than those appearing in the ads.
- Display your contact details and a physical mailing address prominently on your website
- Show a clearly stated returns policy on every product page of your site
- Show visible trust signals on every landing page e.g. third-party reviews, trust seals & SSL certificate
- Include an “About Us” page with images of the business founders
- Make your delivery charges apparent on every product page, not just the checkout
- Add prominent links to your social media profiles to let visitors see a human side to your business
- Have a professionally-designed website that is simple to use and mobile-friendly
In summary, a successful e-commerce website is a site that consumers can trust with products they want to buy.
Danny Richman is one of the UK’s leading online marketing and Search Engine Optimisation experts and founder of Richman SEO Training. He has been developing successful online businesses since the birth of the internet, advising clients how to maximise online ROI and improve their visibility on Google. Clients include the BBC, Marks & Spencer, and John Lewis Partnership.
Ross Allchorn – ShopCreatify
I wish there was a succinct ‘silver bullet’ answer I could give to this question, but realistically speaking, there are a number of factors that will determine the success of an e-commerce business. Sure, I could give a trite answer like ‘passion’ or ‘drive’ but all the drive, passion and good intentions on the planet will not necessarily equate to success.
I would say success could come down to the following primary factors in e-commerce:
- Having a solid strategy in place (proper preparation and planning prevents piss poor performance)
- Being sure that there is demand or potential for what you’re selling
- Providing excellent customer service
- Giving your customers all the information and visuals they need to make a buying decision
- Inspiring trust
- Letting people know about you (don’t be a billboard in a rainforest)
Then of course, there are some relatively obvious ones like catering for mobile devices, offering an amazing user experience and presenting your offering with extremely high quality visuals could all play a big part in your success.
To summarize, in order to increase the chances of success in e-commerce, a merchant needs to look at the whole picture and make good choices around all aspects relating to the business. Choosing best of breed software as far as the budget allows. Forming strong partnerships with reputable and reliable service providers like payment and fulfillment services. Focusing heavily on the premium execution of all your written and visual customer facing elements. Finally, ensuring that you and your staff understand the importance of clear communication with everyone including but not limited to designers, developers, customers, service providers and each other.
Ross is an entrepreneur and founder of ShopCreatify, a certified Shopify expert company that specializes in store setups and customization. A design and web industry veteran of over 20yrs who started on a B&W Apple Mac in 1996, Ross now focuses entirely in e-commerce on the world’s leading SaaS platform.
Gavin Ballard – Disco
Understanding what the biggest problem your business faces at any one point in time is, and being able to relentlessly focus on solving that above all else.
If you’re just starting out, your number one problem isn’t Facebook campaigns, affiliate deals, or how to split test button colours on your home page – it’s working out what you’re selling, who you’re selling to, and whether they are interested in that in the first place.
Once you’re more established, your number one problems are more likely to be driving repeat purchases, optimising the average value of a cart, or optimising paid advertising campaigns to give a positive ROI.
At every stage, you need to be honest about what that single biggest problem holding your business back is and spend 80% of your time focused on that.
Gavin Ballard is the CEO at Disco, which helps online businesses that use Shopify to make money
Kevin Hamilton – Mine That Data
The most successful e-commerce businesses that I work with are excellent at two things. First, they fully understand the importance of finding new customers at an acceptable cost. They have a fully developed customer awareness program, and that program plants the awareness seeds today that result in new customers tomorrow.
This is done at minimal expense. Second, the most successful e-commerce businesses that I work with improve merchandise productivity over time. In other words, they have a process in place to find new items this year that become winning items next year.
The process of finding new customers and new merchandise yields future success.
Kevin founded MineThatData in 2007, and since then has helped more than 200 online, retail, and catalog brands understand customer behavior. You can find his popular blog here or on Twitter at @minethatdata
Jessica Rosen – Raw Generation
Sales. Without revenue you don’t have a business; you have a hobby. Converting visitors to sales is the number one most important thing. One tip I can give you is to do money generating activities first every day. Don’t open emails, don’t check voicemails, don’t do anything until you’ve at least done one money generating activity.
This is something that will move you closer to: 1. generating more leads, 2. converting more website visitors to customers, 3. turning one-time customers to repeat customers, etc. Actually, if you set aside the first half of your day to money generating activities you will find that a lot of the stuff you filled your time with before doesn’t actually matter. And last, but most importantly, money in the bank makes doing business a lot easier and gets rid of a lot of problems.
Jessica Rosen is the President and Co-founder of Raw Generation, a business that creates products to help people lose weight in healthy ways. Jess combines her passion for healthy living with her business experience to help others become healthier and happier.
Don Davis – Internet Retailer
Build a relationship with a core group of customers by offering them something unique. There’s no point in trying to compete with Amazon and Wal-Mart on price or selection. For commodity items, many consumers will simply go to those sites or to big-box stores where they know they can great deals. But many shoppers want more than just a good price, especially on something that they don’t buy every day. In categories like apparel, consumer electronics, toys, sporting goods, home décor and many more, consumers are looking for expert advice and inspiration.
Many successful midsized and smaller online retailers succeed by providing deep information about a niche they know well. Demonstrate that you’re an expert. Provide the detailed specs that are needed in some cases, or how-to videos. And provide a way for your customers to interact with you. That may include encouraging them to send you photos of them wearing your products or to ask questions that your internal experts can answer. Connect with your online customers and you’ll succeed.
Don is the editor-in-chief for Internet Retailer
Eric Siu – Single Grain
The most important factor to the success of an E-commerce business is to always be evolving. A new trend in your space might cause your best sellers to lose steam or Amazon deciding to come into your space and eat your lunch might spell bad news. Continue to pay attention to what your customers are saying and move quickly.
Eric Siu is the CEO of digital ad agency Single Grain
Bill DAlessandro – Rebel CEO
The most important factor for the success of an e-commerce business is a willingness to play the long game. Everyone these days is focused on the next get-rich-quick product opportunity, or flipping their business before they’ve even started it.
The e-commerce game is won in the long run by building a brand that customers remember and come back for – that’s defensible and sustainable. Everyone wants to be an overnight success, but real success is measured in years.
Bill is the founder of Elements Brands, a portfolio of e-commerce brands with over 100 proprietary products and millions in annual revenue. He blogs about e-commerce and lifestyle design at RebelCEO.com
William Harris – Elumynt
The most important factor to the success of an e-commerce business is the owner’s ability to take a step back and think. It’s easy to get too busy with tasks — tasks you’re convinced have to get done right this second, but if you don’t take time to step back, assess things, and make a plan that you can stick with, you’re going to get blindsided sometime in your future.
William Harris is the Founder of Elumynt, an e-commerce growth agency and is an industry speaker and author for IRCE, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, The Next Web and more.
Autumn Wyda – Shine Wedding Invitations
In my opinion, focusing on your product is the best thing you can do to create a successful e-commerce store. Without a great product, it’s going to be really difficult to convert buyers. Building traffic is costly and time consuming, so you want to make sure that once potential customers arrive at your site, they’re impressed with what you’re selling. At Shine, we create wedding invitations for a very specific target market and make sure that our quality matches that audience’s expectations. We’ve had great success with that philosophy and I think it is applicable to any e-commerce business.
In a previous business venture, I invested a lot of time and money to create a high tech website and neglected the design of the actual product. Customers didn’t care about the fancy features I had built into the site and ultimately just wanted good products. I quickly learned that I had it backwards and vowed to never make that mistake again!
Autumn Wyda is the founder of ShineWeddingInvitations.com, a site dedicated to upscale wedding invitations. As a passionate e-commerce entrepreneur, she enjoys teaching others how to sell online through speaking engagements and 1-1 mentoring.
Ross Beyeler – Growth Spark
Understanding your performance metrics is key to running a successful e-commerce business. To keep things simple, focus on measuring Traffic Rate, Conversion Rate, Average Order Margin and Customer Lifetime Value. Growing your business simply comes down to improving one (or more) of these numbers.
Ross is the Founder of Growth Spark, an e-commerce consultancy that specializes in Shopify and helps brands grow their businesses.
Tom Davies – Burst Commerce
My top tip for e-commerce success is to use social proof to boost sales.
Social proof is about showcasing what other customers are doing within your store. These techniques have been shown to have a positive impact on sales and conversions as shoppers will often follow the lead of others.
Here are a few of the more common e-commerce social proof techniques:
- product reviews – show ratings and reviews based on user feedback
- best seller ranks – showcase best sellers within your store
- social buttons – show which products customers like on other social networks
- customer images – show your product in action by real customers
In summary, social proof will help your customers make buying decisions, and therefore lead to more sales, based on what other shoppers are doing within your store.
Tom Davies is the founder of Burst Commerce, maker of Shopify apps, including the recently launched app for promoting best sellers: Best Seller Insights.
Alex O’Byrne – We Make Websites
It’s important to position your e-commerce business so it can adapt to the ever-changing market it exists in. Adaptability allows you to thrive, encourages knowledge flow, flexibility, diversity, autonomy and calculated risk-taking.
Contrary to classical thinking, everything does not need to be perfect when you launch your online store. What many forget is that the concept you start out with will not necessarily be the one you end up with. Your company should be changing early on. A successful business should listen to its consumers and then make decisions.
Think about your competitors, too. How are they working with customers? How do you compare? Are there any gaps in what they are doing that you could fill? Are any groups of customers being ignored? Could you obtain them? Combining your market research with environment analysis and benchmarking should give you a great scope of your e-commerce industry and your potential within it. Only when you are armed with this knowledge can you make effective decisions and adapt your business so it is positioned to reap the success you have calculated it can have.
Alex is Co-Founder and Director at wemakewebsites.com, the highest rated web designers on Shopify.
Francis Teo – Blue Lambda
Continual experimentation and A/B testing on your store is the best way to grow your store.
A/B testing in a structured and scientific way is the best way to learn more about your customers. Through A/B testing, you will learn about what your customers want, and what gets them to buy. What appeals to them, and what does not. Once you have that learning, you can apply it to your store, in all parts of your conversion process. The results can be significant.
This principle of testing applies to other parts of your conversion process as well. For example, testing Facebook ad creatives, Facebook ad audiences, Adwords ads, banner ads. Testing different channels. Testing combination of channels. As long as you keep testing, you can keep ahead of your competition and grow your store.
Unfortunately, most store owners, once they have reached a certain size, just remain stagnant. This just opens the doors to the competition to overtake you. Don’t let that happen. Keep testing and keep growing.
Francis Teo from Bluelambda has been helping online stores grow since 2009. Bluelambda is a digital e-commerce consultancy that helps online stores get more revenue, sales and traffic.
John McIntyre – ReEngager
When it comes to any kind of business success, I think the single most important factor is are you solving a real problem in a unique way? Are you filling a real value gap in the marketplace, or are you just copying someone? Are you simply offering another “me too” product in a crowded marketplace, or are you bringing something to the table that either doesn’t exist, or is at least rare?
The money (and therefore the success) is in the gaps. It’s in doing stuff that other people aren’t doing. Yes, you can market a bad product, or even a decent product, but it’ll be an uphill battle, and it’s unsustainable. On the other hand, if you fill a real value gap in the marketplace, everything will be 10x easier. People say the idea doesn’t matters. That it’s 99% execution. I disagree. Execution is important, but the idea – your unique value – is the multiplier of your action. If your execution is flawless, but you don’t solve a problem in a unique way, you’ll always end up with unsatisfactory results.
John is the CEO and Founder of ReEngager which is an e-commerce email marketing company
Jesse Gaddis – Bedford Slims
If mail order is the newspaper, then e-commerce is CNN. Life exists 24-hours a day. So, you must operate like a 24-hour newsroom. Figure out how to reach customers, answer questions/emails/concerns even when you are sleeping. The news doesn’t ever sleep and neither will your online store.
Jordan Gal – Cart Hook
In regards to e-commerce marketing, the most important factor to success is maximizing the lifetime value of a customer. What I see happening in the market these days is a lot of retailers getting frustrated that margins are shrinking. They’re getting frustrated that the market seems to be driving up ad costs to the point of eliminating profits. But what’s really happening is that the more sophisticated marketers they’re competing against are perfectly happy to break even and often times even lose money on the first purchase. This is because the smart marketers know they’ll make plenty of margin over the lifetime of the customer through email marketing and other channels.
If one merchant needs to make a profit on the first purchase and another doesn’t, guess who’s going to win? And guess who you need to be to survive and thrive? Come to terms with the fact that it’s not about the first purchase, it’s about maximizing lifetime value.
Jordan Gal is the CEO and Cofounder of CartHook.com, which offers online retailers a complete funnel building tool, as well as an abandoned cart recovery tool.
A ton of good advice from our panel of e-Commerce experts!