Ask Bloomtools: How to sell your products online and make more money

Written on the 29 October 2008

Times are changing - consumers don't always go in to stores to buy things any more.  Now more than ever, they are buying online.  In fact, 54% of Australian internet users say that they have purchased a product online in the last three months, according to a report released by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) last week.

So how are you tapping in to this lucrative market?

Even if you are a bricks and mortar business with a physical store, you can still sell your products online...and get your share of the $50+ billion that is spent online each year.

But how do you go about selling your products online?  Here's some advice.

  1. Identify your niche -

    The types of small businesses that achieve the most success in ecommerce are those that sell specialty items, like pyjamas, travel accessories or vitamins, because they can offer customers a wide range of products that a physical store can't match.  For example, if your business is a general store, selling online won't work for you because your range of products is too varied and customers can easily find them somewhere else. 

    So before you jump into ecommerce, have a look at what your competitors are doing and make sure there is a market for your products online.  An online shop can be a great addition to a bricks and mortar business, but you need to prepare and do your research.  Also, if you do sell a lot of products in your shop, you may want to choose just a section of your range to sell online.
  2. Choose a good shopping cart system -

    If your physical store is cluttered, confusing and messy, customers won't come through the door.  The same applies on the internet.  If you don't have a quality, reliable, user-friendly shopping cart on your website, you won't make any sales online.  The key to this is partnering with the right website developer and choosing the right ecommerce software.  Your website developer should be able to offer you a shopping cart system that they have built in-house, rather than just adding another company's software to your website.  If it is their own software, there will be less chance of problems, they will be able to give you ongoing support and it will integrate with the rest of your website. 

    The shopping cart should be part of aContent Management System so you can easily edit it yourself, without waiting or paying for the developer to do it for you.  As well as saving you money, this will give you complete control over the shopping cart so you can always keep it up to date.  You should also choose a shopping cart that has built-in inventory control and can notify you when you are running low on stock.  This function will also keep your customers happy - there's nothing worse than progressing through an online checkout only to get a call from the company telling you the product is actually out of stock.  So make sure you do your research and choose a shopping cart that works for you and is user-friendly for you and your customers as well - the results will speak for themselves.

  3. Make it easy for your customers to buy -

    While online shopping is growing, some consumers are still uncomfortable with the idea of buying through a website rather than face to face.  Therefore, you need to make the whole process as smooth and stress-free as possible for them.  Promote your shopping cart on the homepage of your website so they know how to find what they want.  A great idea is have some featured products on your homepage to immediately catch their attention. 

    Before they buy they will want to find out more about you, so make it easy for them to see your terms and conditions, privacy policy, returns and exchange policy, shipping costs etc.  Also, if you have a physical business and address, put this on the site as well to give them added peace of mind.  All this information will reassure them and answer their questions so they don't get half way through the checkout process and suddenly leave because they need more details.  Security is a big issue with shopping online, so you should give you clients peace of mind by showing how secure your site is.  Use logos of banks, credit card companies and internet security organisations to show you are professional and trustworthy.

    Also, internet users are usually time poor so you need to make the sales process as simple and fast as possible - make the 'buy now' button big and noticeable so it's encourages them to click, only ask for the details you need for the purchase (send them a survey after the purchase if you want to find out more about them), and have as few clicks as possible to get to the end so they don't lose interest or get frustrated.  Upselling ("you might also like...") is also a great addition to your shopping cart because it helps the customer find other things that might interest them and helps you make more money from the sale.
  4. Promote your online shop

    That saying 'build it and they will come' unfortunately doesn't apply to an online shop.  You can have a great shopping cart with great products but if you don't promote it, no one will know it exists and you won't make any sales.  The first step is to let all your current clients know that you know have online shopping available.  This is a great value-adding service for your clients and because they already have a relationship with you, they will be more than happy to buy over the internet with you.  The best way to let them know is through an email newsletter, promoting it over the phone when you talk to them or even adding a small flyer in with their next invoice.

    The next best way to get traffic to your shop is through search engines.  We recommend that you sign up for Google Adwords, which is a Pay Per Click advertising system.  To use Adwords, you simply choose keywords that relate to your shop (eg. ladies pyjamas, scrapbooking accessories) and place a bid on those keywords.  When a person searches for one of those terms, your ad will appear on the page (if yours is the highest bid it will be at the top and so on) with a link to your website.  If the person clicks on your ad, then you pay the amount that you bid for the keyword - so basically, you only pay for the people that actually click through to your site, making it one of the most cost-effective methods of advertising available.  Combine this with a search engine optimisation program to get your site to the top of the free listings, and your site will be easy to find and get lots of customers.
  5. Keep building profitable relationships

    No matter how good your site is, not everyone will make a purchase the first time they visit.  Therefore, you need a way to capture the details of these people so you can draw them back to the site and get them to buy in the future.  You will need to offer them some kind of incentive to get them to give you their name and email address - competition (everyone loves something for nothing), email newsletter ('sign up for news updates and latest offers'), free downloads (ebooks, reports, checklists) or free trials of your products are all great incentives.  Then it's simply a matter of setting up a simple form on your site that links directly to your database so everyone is added automatically - you will get the best results if you ask them for only their name and email address, because people will be relucant to share their personal information with a business they don't know.  Once you've got their details, you can send them regular emails to keep your business top of mind and encourage them to come back to your site and make a purchase.

    One of the most important things you can learn in business is the importance of building ongoing relationships with your customers.  Don't just forget about them once they make a purchase because current customers are a valuable asset in your business - they already like and trust your business, so it's much easier and cheaper to get them to purchase again than it is to attract a completely new customer.  So once they've made a purchase on your site (and in-store), add them to your database and send them a series of automated messages (eg. day 1 - thanks for your purchase, day 10 - feedback survey, day 30 - new products you might like)

That was just a basic introduction to selling your products online.  If you think your business is ready to start reaching the millions of Australians that shop online, give us a call and one of our internet consultants can give you advice about setting up your online shop. Give us a call on 1300 2 BLOOM (1300 225 666) or email us here to find out more.