Ecommerce: What You Need to Know Before You Begin - Page 2

By Vangie Beal
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More of What You Need to Know About Starting an Ecommerce Business

4. Invest in a professional web presence

It's important for small businesses to have a professional Web presence.  Website design can cost anywhere from $50 for basic templates that you edit on your own to more than $25,000, depending on your business needs.  Toubian recommends preparing for that investment upfront.

"If you have to cut corners, do it someplace else," he says. "Regardless of the size of your business, a poorly designed site that's hard to navigate will give visitors a less-than-stellar impression of your product and services." However, an easy-to-use, seamless, personalized site that loads content quickly gives visitors a positive first impression. It will drive long-term engagement, loyalty and cross-channel sales.

5. Customer acquisition is costly

When The Betty Mills Company first started, it cost 11 cents to bid on the term "janitorial supplies." Today it costs up to $2.50. Hanna says keywords his company would like to bid on can cost up to $7 per click. "If you don't have an installed base of customers, you have to suffer the cost of customer acquisition, and you'll need a lot of money to do it."

Customer acquisition can be costly but Jeff Zwelling, CEO and co-founder of Convertro, a provider of media and marketing attribution, says there's a smarter way to spend your customer-acquisition dollars.

"You want to know which customer-acquisition method you're using—a specific online ad, Google AdWords or any marketing channel—actually results in conversions on your website," says Zwelling. "Small businesses may have reservations about turning off any marketing channel, but tracking customer acquisitions lets you drop wasteful channels and invest more capital in the ones that do work well for your business."

6. Don't forget customer retention

"If you're going to get in the ecommerce business, you need to focus on customer retention from day one. Invest in a good email platform to provide consistency in your message," says Hanna. "From the first order you want to communicate with that customer and bring him back for a second order."

Hanna also says that you need a differentiator.  For example, The Betty Mills Company offers more than 3,500 snack food items. The company launched a "Snack Rewards" loyalty program that lets customers earn points that they can redeem for snacks. "Suddenly we have office managers being hailed as heroes for bringing in these great snacks because of our loyalty program," he says. "This gives us an edge that our office supply competitors don't have."

There's no lack of software to analyze website data to improve customer service, and Toubian says "it’s never too early for small businesses to adopt a test-and-learn culture."

He recommends testing every single element and funnel within your website to better understand who your customers are, what they really need and want, and most importantly, to create an experience that will make them come back repeatedly and spend their dollars with you across all channels.  

7. Leverage the right technologies for your business

You have to be technical, says Hanna. "You can't get into this business without being technical. There's a lot to know about data feeds, you need to know how to move information around dynamically, and if you're not adept at this, you need to hire someone to do it, or you'll be left behind."

The shift to cloud computing makes it affordable for small businesses to start an ecommerce business. "We're now a cloud-based business, so we no longer have a legacy data center with leases on aging server equipment and IT people on call," says Hanna.

You can start a new ecommerce business without investing huge dollars in systems. "We probably use eight different tools, and when you think about the costs for what you get, ecommerce systems and tools are affordable for any small business," he says.

Toubian agrees.  He says there's more opportunity than ever for people who want to start their business because the Web tears down traditional barriers to entry.  "Today's technology makes it easier than ever to start your business," he says, "but it also means the competition is more fierce. You're going to have to work a lot harder and be a lot smarter to survive."

Based in Nova Scotia, Canada, Vangie Beal has been covering small business, electronic commerce and Internet technology for more than a decade. You can tweet with her online @AuroraGG.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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This article was originally published on November 08, 2013
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