Way back in 2007. I was excited by opportunities that online channel could offer.
Whole world as your market
Sales no more tied to fate of local demand
We already had a physical store and I thought if we add new channel we would double the sales without significant investment!
So with high hopes, I hired a developer to create a dynamic website for selling jewellery online via divyaarts.com
Dynamic as in we could login as admin and add new products images by ourselves.
I ran the website for more than 3 years adding new products regularly. But we did not generate any sales from the whole experiment. (We did generate lots of leads though, those were then converted into sales offline)
What went wrong with the website? Why did we not get any sales? Was the issue with SEO, website design etc…
None of that. The thing is that offline and online businesses are different. I wrongly believed: ‘If You Build it, They Will Come’
What does it take to get started online if you already have a physical store?
Let’s say you want to start selling online. What do you need?
The Right Product
Not just any products. Products which are suited for selling online.
This is how Jeff Bezos started. He drew up a list of 20 potential products he thought might sell well via the Internet, including software, CDs and books. After reviewing the list, books were the obvious choice, primarily because each book is standard all over the world. There is no need to ‘touch and feel’ it before buying a book.
Here is a big secret. You will do very good online, if your product has annual repurchase rate (percentage of last year’s buyer that purchase again this year) greater than 60%.
If you have selected the right product you have won half the battle. I will write more on selecting the right product in future.
(By the way, if you are just starting completely new, the smart place to start should be the Market- the customers – not the product!)
Catalogue – Pictures and Description
You need high-quality images and other data about each product like name, material, color, size, measurements, etc. All the details which customer needs to know before buying. When I started I had 18 data points for each product now I have 86 different data points. You do not need those many when you start.
Inventory Management Solution
If you are selling 100+ SKUs with less than 10 quantities each, then you need a good system to monitor current inventory levels of your products. I have seen many retailers not starting online channel because of this issue. They do not have any system in place to know current inventory levels. Without this, they can’t promise anything to online customers.
Once you have these three basic things in place you can start selling online.
You can start with selling on marketplaces like Amazon, Flipkart, eBay, etc. But you can’t build a stable business by being dependent on marketplaces.
If you want to build a brand, then you need your own sales channel, your own website.
Marketplaces take care of Bringing customers, Convincing customers and Delivering products and repeat this over and over again. By doing so they build their own brand equity. Customers become loyal to those marketplaces.
Marketing systems for successful website
While you may not have these marketing systems yet. It is good to know what you should be aiming for.
1. System to generate leads/traffic
Just like footfalls in an offline store, the online store also needs website traffic. There are many ways to get traffic – SEO, paid links, affiliates, social media, referrals. But you need a system to generate regular traffic.
Also getting new customers will be your primary focus if your product has repurchase rate of less than 40%. Your focus will be completely different if your repurchase rate is 60% to 75% and will again be different at 75%+
At 75% repurchase rate you will be more focused on customer retention activities.
2. Opt-in/ Capture leads
Think about your own online shopping habits. How many times have you visited an online store you had never heard of before and bought something in the first go? Almost never happens. You don’t know them. Don’t know product quality. What if they are they fraud? What if you pay online and they don’t send the product ordered.
So you won’t convert your traffic into sales on first interaction. You need a way to establish trust over time. The best way is email-capture. Instead of aiming at their credit card it is better if you get their email id and their permission to follow-up.
That is the reason why you see pop-ups on all websites. They are trying to get your email so that they can market to you again!
3. System to build and nurture Relationships/ Engagement
Once you have their email address and their permission for follow-up, then you can center all your efforts around the customer and build relationship with them such that they want to hear from you and buy from you. You need to send interesting messages to your leads and build trust over time. Once you develop trust and confidence then they buy when they are ready.
4. Back-end to sell More
Once you have formed a relationship with customers, they trust you. Now you need more products to sell to your existing customers. This is where marketplaces like amazon, flipkart excel. Since they have a huge catalogue of products to sell to same customers, marketplaces can afford to make loss in acquiring customers so that they can make profits in future transactions.
IMPORTANT side-note: This is another reason you should not get married to your product. You should not think in these terms: I am a jeweller so I will sell jewellery. These are self-limiting thoughts. Your thought process should start from your audience: I have these many trusting customers, now what else can I sell them?
Most important thing – Mindset
I have covered only important systems needed to sell on own online store.
But there is one more thing needed to be successful. It is most important one. That is the Mindset.
Let me explain.
We offline sellers assume that selling online is similar to selling in a shop. In many ways that is true but in many ways selling online is very different.
First, you are dealing with customers who have not seen your product and hence can’t make quality judgements and are consequently suspicious of your promises. So a lot of time is spent in establishing trust.
Secondly, India has traditionally been seller’s market. We don’t have high standards of customer service. Returns/ replacements in the offline store are rare. We don’t care much about one-off bad service. Mediocre product quality is OK to sell since buyers won’t find similar item nearby. Hence we sellers have been spoiled. Many offline sellers have no concept of customer service!
But in online sales, the customer is the King. Amazon is truly customer centric and has set very high standards in favor of consumers (rightly so!)
Online customers expect free delivery. Free returns.
Buyer is just one click away from your competition.
If the buyer is unhappy then she can broadcast her views to all her friends online.
Returns are high, since the buyer has not touched or seen your real product. They don’t know what are they buying.
All this is new for offline store seller and we have to improve our service standards.
The only way to change is to adopt customer-centric Mindset.
That means understanding your customers. Knowing where they are in buying cycle. Addressing their concerns beforehand, making it easy for them to order, return, replace…etc.
Once you adopt the truly customer-centric mindset and develop the marketing systems outlined above, you can build a powerful business that sells not just to your own locality but to the whole world.
Just building your own website without these core marketing systems is no. 1 reason for businesses not making big online.
I will be going in detail on building each marketing system in my future articles. Subscribe to stay updated.