E-commerce platforms are constantly evolving. What started as a method for listing products on HTML sites back in the ‘90s has now become a highly-technical industry full of some of the most advanced, automated tools in marketing.
It’s no secret that modern e-commerce platforms can make it a heck of a lot easier to market your products and services. You don’t need to be a web design expert (or even know much about marketing) to get in on the game anymore, if you use the right tools. But it isn’t advisable to jump in and take a shot with the first platform you find. Online retail takes a lot of work, and even if you’re using a great platform, you may find yourself faced with unique challenges and disadvantages.
To answer the question in the title of this article: yes, e-commerce platforms are really worth it. But there’s a catch – you need to choose the right platform to fit your goals. In today’s post, I’ll talk a bit about e-commerce as a whole, how these services work, and how you can make sure you find the right fit.
What Exactly is E-Commerce?
What the heck is e-commerce, anyway? Basically, it’s defined as the buying or selling of goods on the internet. That’s it; it’s really just that simple.
It doesn’t matter if you’re selling a physical product or service; your sale is qualified as e-commerce if there is an online financial transaction. Most e-commerce transactions are Business-to-Consumer (B2C). This is reflected by the fact that B2C makes up a significant chunk of the market. You’ll find some businesses that have storefronts and a web presence, and others which have opted for a digital presence alone.
There are other forms of e-commerce out there too. Mobile commerce (m-commerce) is one of the fastest-growing market segments. It’s becoming more and more popular among people who shop on the go. It’s especially useful for businesses making money selling movie, sports, or concert tickets. F-commerce involves only marketing that takes place on Facebook, while Business-to-Business (B2B) involves direct business-to-business transactions. There is also Customer-to-Customer (C2C) transactions; this is when the general public sells among itself, similar to what you see in yard sale groups or on the Facebook Marketplace. All have an important role to play in the e-commerce industry as a whole.
Advantages of E-Commerce
E-commerce comes with several distinct advantages. Online sales allow business owners to reach regional, national, and even global audiences they wouldn’t be able to reach from a local brick-and-mortar store. E-commerce retailers had a revenue total of over $322 billion in 2016; that number is expected to soar to a staggering $4 trillion by 2020. That type of opportunity for reach (and growth) is nothing to sneeze at.
E-commerce startup costs are traditionally a lot lower than they are with storefronts. This can be beneficial for business owners in many ways. For example, lowering the need for upfront capital (rent, security deposits, signage, internal design, point-of-sale systems, etc.) leaves more opportunity for initial growth.
But that doesn’t mean e-commerce is free, either. The biggest starting costs come from the cost of running a platform itself. This includes finding an e-commerce host or having a website built from scratch (even customization comes at a small price). However, it’s still typically far less expensive as a startup to go e-commerce than brick and mortar.
Then, there’s the issue of where to store your goods. You may or may not need a place to stockpile your inventory, but that depends on what you are selling and whether you have product in hand. If you’re drop-shipping, you may not even need to consider storage space.
Working from an e-commerce platform unlocks new possibilities of customer communication as well as flexibility in marketing techniques. Customers who walk into a store rarely give away their email addresses, especially if they browse without buying. With an online store, you can utilize retargeting and remarketing practices, keeping your product in the spotlight even after a potential customer navigates away.
Disadvantages of E-Commerce
Of course, e-commerce isn’t all sunshine and roses. You are at the mercy of your website and hosting provider, so if your website crashes, you won’t make any sales. Long downtimes can be crippling for online businesses.
E-commerce is also incredibly competitive. What does this mean for you, the retailer? Essentially, you need to have a strong niche and/or a very strong search engine optimization team at the ready. Without those strategies, your site won’t rank, and your products may never sell.
Additionally, there are some items people can’t or won’t buy online. Some people refuse to buy clothing they can’t try on, while others won’t buy makeup they can’t sample or see. You need to have a very clear idea of how your target consumer thinks and shops to be profitable in e-commerce.
Platforms to Consider
You made it this far; now, you’re sure you want to go the e-commerce route. The good news is you’ll find an endless number of options out there. The bad news? Few are actually worth their salt and some may even be outright scams.
The most important initial consideration is hosting. Some e-commerce platforms offer free hosting on their own servers; others allow you to integrate platforms and tools on your own domain.
Three platforms stand out as the most “popular” across all platforms:
- Shopify — This is a great platform for both physical and digital products. Shopify will even take care of the drop-shipping if you are partnering with another big brand, making it easier to get started without a warehouse.
- Volusion — The dashboard here is simple and the step-by-step wizard is also helpful. It walks you through the set-up process, making it ideal for newcomers.
- BigCommerce — This is another popular and affordable option. BigCommerce’s number one claim to fame is its clean, easy-to-use dashboard. It’s intuitive and straightforward, making this another great choice for newbies.
Each of the platforms here come with a range of product options, storage capacities, and payment processing gateways. Most also provide tools for marketing, analyzing abandoned carts, and even creating newsletter integrations, but that doesn’t necessarily make them the “right” choice. It’s important to dig deep and get to know their nuances before you settle on what you think works best. Don’t be afraid to ask companies for a demo; most are more than happy to indulge.
SEO for E-Commerce
As an e-commerce beginner, you need to incorporate both paid strategies and organic SEO efforts to get your new site off the ground. Your goal is to rank as close to the number one result as possible, for as many of your site’s main keywords as you can.
According to Search Engine Watch, a 2011 Optify study showed that sites ranking number one for their chosen keywords saw a click-through rate (CTR) of approximately 36.4 percent. Sites in the #2 position saw a dramatic drop to a CTR of only 12 percent, while those in the #3 spot dropped as low as 9 percent. In short, you need to get yourself to that top spot.
But how? Approach e-commerce SEO as you would any other website — with careful planning and execution.
Try these strategies:
- Conduct careful keyword research on your products. Which keywords match them best, and how can you diversify with semantics?
- Do some competitor research. Who are your competitors, and what are they ranking for in terms of keywords? Use backlinks tools to figure out who’s linking to them and why – then, target those sites yourself.
- Detect and correct website development and speed errors ASAP. This tip is critical because Google penalizes slow, buggy sites.
- Make sure each page is properly optimized with the right keywords, internal links, meta data, and URL structures. Use internal and external linking to draw attention from bots where it makes sense.
- Make sure your website is responsive, or mobile-friendly. This is no longer optional; it’s a must. As with slowness, Google actively penalizes sites that aren’t optimized, too.
It takes time for new e-commerce sites to rank and make money – and that’s usually because organic, lasting SEO results take time, too. This is what makes it so important to budget well for paid campaigns while you work to grow your organic reach. If you don’t see results within a week (or even a month), don’t panic. Give it some time, then monitor and tweak until you get it right. You can always reach out to me for consultation if you need more help, too.