Sam Hollis Web Design

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Running a Successful Online Shop

Sam Hollis is a web designer, business owner, dad and digital marketing expert.

‘I’m always happy to chat and advice is always free’

Today, I’m going to give you some essential advice on how to run an online shop that gets lots of customers and generates lots of income. First, though, let’s have a look at why you might want to.

There’s one very good reason in the air at the moment. Much like John McClane on TV every other December,  Christmas is back with a vengeance! Last year’s festive season was a bit suppressed, with social distancing and the rule of six limiting parties and shopping trips alike. Even then, online shopping boomed in the festive season making Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos the richest man in history. Twelve months later, the new digital normal is meeting the excitement of a good old-fashioned Christmas to boost ecommerce prospects for many more people.

I’m giving you this brief guide to help you become one of those people.

 

Just launching your sales site? Look at these blogs first.

If you’re just looking to set up your online shop, take a look at my guides to Planning an Effective Sales Website and How to Set Up an Online Shop with WooCommerce – an easy and effective ecommerce platform.

 

Get people into the shop through the conversion funnel

Set up an online shop and you can sell to anyone in the world or, at least, anyone you can get your products to. That’s one of the truths setting ecommerce apart from old-fashioned bricks-and-mortar selling. The world is your oyster, or at least your market.

The other side of the coin is that if you have no place on the high street, so you don’t get any footfall. No customers will wander in on the way past. Everyone who looks at your site needs to be drawn there. Running a successful shop is just the last step in a journey of marketing, advertising and courting search engines like Google to get people in.

You need to take people through three broad steps to get them buying from your shop, and you need at least one marketing and sales tool working on each step of the process to make sales. More tools in each step will increase the number of people pulled through each:

Step 1: Make people aware

Tools:

Pay-per-click advertising – The small graphic ads you see frequently online. You pay every time someone clicks on them.

Paid search advertising – Pay Google and others for your ads to appear in their search results.

Search engine optimisation – Employ experts to make your site turn up on people’s search results more.

Social media (In some situations) – You can attract new customers on social media, though it’s harder than it used to be.

Paid social media advertising – Pay Facebook, Twitter and linkedIn etc. for posts and adverts to be sent out to interested parties on their platforms.

Step 2: Get prospective customers interested and engaged

Social media – Social media is much better at engaging customers already interested in your brand than getting you noticed in the first place.

Email marketing – Newsletters, offers and adverts to keep people interested via email.

Blogs – Blogs like this are good ways to engage people with your brand and your site.

Lead magnets – These draw people to sign up for an email campaign in return for something free and useful.

Landing pages

Step 3: Make the sale

Ecommerce platforms like WooCommerce – Tools allowing you to create an online shop relatively simply and effectively.

Sales pages – The pages you are selling on must be carefully engineered to enable the most sales possible.

Calls to action – Carefully placed buttons and links asking people to do something

For example, a person might click on your google ad,  read a few of your blogs, then decide to buy from one of your sales pages. Together, these steps are called a conversion funnel, because they funnel people to the place where they are converted into customers.

 

Great product images and descriptions

This seems obvious, but when you’re managing a big shop with an extensive inventory, it can be easy to just slap an easy photo on for each product. This should be avoided. Your images and descriptions are your shop’s windows and shelves. This is how customers check out what they’re buying.

Images

Product images should be simple and eye-catching. Focus on the item itself and keep the background plain, at least on your primary image and probably on most of the other images, too. Try to show all visual aspects of your product, including overviews and important features like the face on a watch, for example. Although I wouldn’t advise modeling your shop directly on Amazon, they do this well, so take a look at their featured product images for inspiration.

Descriptions

Product descriptions should be engaging, positive and to the point. Focus on what the customer wants, not what you provide, and put the most important, fundamental and attention-grabbing information at the top of the description. Start with a title that gets the most important point(s) across and stokes interest in as few words as possible. Given the number of different products from socks to supercomputers, there are no hard and fast rules on description length, but 200-400 words is a good guide for most ecommerce sites. If you want to add more detail, get creative and maybe think about dividing it between pages. Videos can be an effective option for this, too.

Google will cut off your titles at 70 characters and your descriptions at 160 letters, so get your quick pitch and important info into those spaces at the start of your article. Other than that, stay positive and sales will come.

 

Make it easy for the customer

I’ve built a lot of sales sites and trust me, nothing puts buyers off like unnecessary complexity. Make it as easy as possible for customers to find your shop, navigate it and make the purchase. Keep explanations short and to the point, put buttons in obvious places and never ask for more information than you need to. I should include slow loading times in this little list of customer repellents too. Prevent these by ensuring you have a good platform and good tools, keeping them updated and not including too many plugins and add-ons. Finally, you can make your shop easy to find with the help of search engine optimisation and Google’s tools.

 

Include customer testimonials in the site

From little grab quotes and five-star reviews to in-depth videos relating how your product changed a customer’s life, testimonials are always valuable additions to your shop. Don’t hide them away on a separate page either. Get them on your product and sales pages. Anywhere where the customer is making a buying decision, there should be a quote telling them why they should do it.

 

A good sales site is like a good salesperson – Dynamic and adaptable

Lists of products with specs and a tiny image are a little bit last century. To compete in the 2020s, you need to excite prospective buyers with mixes of media, bright colours and engaging formatting. Include videos, big, beautiful pictures and unique layouts in your site. It can make a big difference to your sales numbers. A good place to start is with colouring the buttons you want users to click brightly and breaking up all tracts of text longer than 200 words with headings, colour and different formats.

When I talk about adaptability, I mean adapting to different devices and screen sizes. Most good platforms will allow you to do this, but you should check your shop on both large and small screens to ensure it looks good on both. Tweaks may be needed to make sure it works on both.

 

Follow up with the customer

Whether prospects make a purchase or not, get in touch with them if you can to politely ask how they enjoyed their experience, how you can help them, and most importantly, if they are interested in any of your products.

There are three main types of follow-up contact

  1. Cart abandonment – “You left without purchasing your presents. Don’t worry though, we saved them for you and you can complete the purchase here.” – These are probably the most valuable marketing emails you will ever send because they can recover up to 10% of your lost income. You can automate them, too.
  2. Purchase follow-up – Sending an email to purchasers saying thanks, how did you enjoy our shop, here’s how we can help you in future does many positive things. It’s polite, it reflects good customer service, it builds loyalty and it generates feedback you can use to optimise your online shop. You can even add a survey.
  3. Non-purchase follow-up – Don’t worry if a customer left without buying. All is not lost. If you have their details and permission, you can contact them offering reductions on what they looked at and telling them about upcoming sales. Black Friday and boxing day are great days for pulling customers back into your shop if you’re set up right.

 

Feedback, analytics and reaction

They say that in sales, the customer is king, so listen to them carefully. Ask for feedback in your follow-up emails and on social media. You will know your shop is doing well when you have a loyal following who are happy to go the extra mile and give feedback.

One type of very precise, automatic and useable feedback is ecommerce analytics – Computer-generated statistics provided by your shop platform, web designer, Google and a range of other providers. These can tell you a vast range of things like who’s coming to your online shop, where they came from and what they’re buying. I could write a whole article on these, and I will, but for now, I’ll tell you that they provide an easy way to measure and tweak the effectiveness of your online marketing and sales. So set them up as outlined in your ecommerce platform’s help and in my blog on getting found on Google, here.

 

Sweet success

Pay close attention to this advice and be careful to run a tight ship, and you’ll be counting the customers and profits in no time. My final piece of advice would be don’t be scared to ask for more advice. While these tips should help you optimise the customer’s online experience, running an online shop is an undertaking with many facets, from finance to logistics. Be forward in going to specialists in each area for advice and you will put yourself on track for success. Please get in touch on sam@samhollis.co.uk if I can help any more with matters of web development and online marketing (with the support of my team of specialists).

 

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