The coronavirus made us all shift to online shopping. What better time to set up an online store can you think of?
Without a doubt, it’s a challenging time to be starting a business. However, if you calculate the odds and do your research, you can expect a marvelous return on investment.
Here are the 7 steps you should take to start an online store from home!
Step 1: Make a Decision About Your Future Store’s Focus
The first thing you need to settle down is the products your store is going to sell. If you are trying to set up an online business, it’s likely that you already have a certain product in mind (unless, of course, you are trying to pull a Jeff Bezos and start the next Amazon – in that case, good luck, it is going to be a tough one!). However, you need to make sure that you are not only passionate about the stuff you are going to distribute but also logical.
Therefore, you need to evaluate the product from the commercial angle. Think whether there is a demand for your product, what pain points it can possibly resolve and how you can market it to add more value and stand out from your competition.
Some questions to consider at this stage include:
- Is the product unique? If not, how are you going to differentiate your online store from the other stores selling it? At the early stages of your business development, you need to understand that putting a low price to outcompete other businesses in the market is a rather questionable strategy. Perhaps, implementing some modifications to your selling model can give you a competitive advantage.
- Is your product aligned with your target audience’s needs and wants? The idea is only great if your target audience agrees. Hence, you need to make sure that there is an interest in what you are going to offer.
- Do you have a healthy profit margin? This question is particularly relevant to small new businesses as you must ensure you can meet your ends.
- Do you personally love the product you want to sell? Even though the discussion above outlined that it is not about passion but rather about the economical viability of the product, you still need to be at least somewhat interested in the product. Unless you, yourself, can highlight the benefits of buying it, you will not be able to market it successfully. Often, the most successful online entrepreneurs are the ones who act as their own business’ brand advocates at the early stages of the store setup.
Step 2: Do Your Research
Once you have made a decision about the product, it is time to dig deeper into the market. Unless you are an innovator creating a whole new market for your product (impressive!) and are going to practice product-oriented marketing, you need to know what you will be dealing with.
The market-oriented approach involves a lot of preliminary research to identify your market, your competitors and your specific niche. It is essential for any business to find an opportunity market gap to fill in. However, it is particularly crucial for an online store.
Some of the points you need to consider when conducting market research include:
- SEO-analysis of the market. Granted that you are planning on working online, you need to get the scope of keywords and other SEO metrics associated with your brand’s focus.
- Competition analysis. You need to get a grip of your competition, which means assessing the key players within the market, the market share they have, why they remain at the top of the market, etc. Have a look at the different strategies they employ, their branding efforts, their marketing efforts as well as how they organise sales.
- Your audience. Before you can move any further, you need to put up a thorough customer persona for your target audience. There are some peculiarities associated with online store businesses. To successfully market an online store, you need to know more than just purchasing habits and demographic metrics of your target audience. You must also learn everything about your prospects’ online behaviour, too – this will help lots with promotion and targeting.
Step 3: Get the Logistics Question Down
One of the benefits of setting up a store online is the fact that it allows you to cut down on the costs associated with a physical store. At the same time, however, this also implies that you need to pay more attention to get your logistics right.
A lot of online stores prefer to work with dropshipping suppliers, which means the product gets shipped directly from the manufacturer to the customer. This is a great option for those entrepreneurs that are yet to hit the figures needed to maintain a solid inventory. However, you need to be cautious when choosing this method. Some of the biggest risks associated with drop shipping include lack of branding (not all dropshipping suppliers provide an option for you to apply your personal branding to their products) and unreliability. You need to understand that you are responsible for the product you sell to your customers, so you need to make sure the supplier not only ships them in time but also in good condition.
Alternatively, you may look into the Just-In-Time method that is great for keeping more control to yourself.
Step 4: Set Up the Store
Now, let’s talk technology.
Nowadays, there are tons of different options when it comes to setting up a marketplace. You can either do it yourself if you are familiar with coding and different plugins, or you can opt for a hosted eCommerce platform instead. One of the most popular ones that do all the job for you is Shopify. It provides you with a lot of customisable templates to make your online store unique and do it from scratch without the added hustle of hosting it yourself.
However, in times of uncertainty, you might want to go multichannel. Social media platforms are a great way to simplify the buying process for your customers and reach out to a larger audience. Besides, both Facebook and Instagram allow you to set up a store without too much effort.
Step 5: Build Your Brand
If you want to attract a large audience of customers, you need to work on showing yourself.
One sure way to do it is branding. Branding is a huge part of a broader marketing strategy that allows you to differentiate your business from the competition by delivering your message, your mission and your vision.
A good brand should be recognizable, distinct and coherent. This means all elements of your branding strategy need to be aligned:
- Your logo
- Your tone
- Your image and reputation
- Your colour scheme
- Your name, etc.
Only when all of these are intact, your brand will stick in the memory of your customers.
Step 6: Connect with Your Target Audience
As an online business, you need to be customer-centric. In the age of technology, it’s extremely easy for the customers to research the product they are interested in and find the most suitable option. Often, the factor that draws a purchasing decision is the price. If you cannot compete with the wholesalers or other brands that can offer the scale of economies effect, you need to search for alternatives.
A great alternative is to raise brand loyalty through social media marketing, social selling and other strategies and techniques aimed at building strong relationships with your target audience. People buy from who they trust and know. Even if that means paying more.
Step 7: Promote! Promote! Promote!
Once all of the previous steps are completed, you want to start working on growing your online store. There are lots of ways of doing it, but in the early stages of your business development, the most effective method is advertising.
- Social media. You can start running a number of social media marketing campaigns to grow brand awareness. Those are relatively inexpensive and allow you to target the audience that would be interested in your products.
- Word-of-mouth. Don’t be shy – ask for referrals. If you are doing a great job of providing a high-quality product on time, you can expect your customers to recommend your services to their friends. However, don’t stop there, there’s nothing bad in asking them to do you a little favour and leave a comment online. Offer them a discount for their next purchase as an incentive.
- SEO. Learn the basics of SEO to bump your website up in the Google results and increase your organic traffic.
- Pay-Per-Click (PPC). SEO, however, can take a while since search engines aren’t always in a rush to index new pages. You can help your online store with a listing by purchasing traffic.
- Influencers’ support. Reach out to influencers. Identify influencers in your niche and offer them barter – that way, you could quickly get your store known among the target audience.
Henry Thompson is a journalist who enjoys covering topics of home security and home renovation.
Over the course of his career, he has been contributing to various media publications, and now he is running the blog homenetrouter.com where he writes about healthy living, DIY, and home security.