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Top 10 Things NOT to do When Setting Up eCommerce Site


ecommerce pitfalls

1. Don’t Procrastinate

Of all of the sites that we’ve built, typically those that have taken more than 6 months to launch, have failed. I think that’s down to mindset more than anything else. The sites that take ages to launch are typically run by people who just want to add a few more products, or want to tinker with a banner, or want to wait until their Aunties wedding is out the way...there’s always something preventing them from launching. There’s always something in the way.

And by the time they do launch, they’re bored of it already! And without that initial enthusiasm and passion, it’s not going anywhere...because setting up a site is only half the battle.

You’ve got to hit it as quickly as possible and fan those flames.

I’m a big fan of a concept called ‘minimal viable product’. Basically it’s the quickest, easiest route to get something out into the big wide world. The concept is that your first version doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be the best it could possibly be...but it’s out there and you’re able to very quickly assess whether the whole concept will work.

So, go live quickly and early. Don’t procrastinate.


2. Don’t Pick Products That Are Readily Available

This is a bit of an obvious one, but if you can easily find a product on the high street, you’re going to have a tough time selling it online and making money from it. This also goes for products that are readily available online.

Now I hate to say this but this happens a lot in certain markets. There are a lot of sites selling the same brands and the same products, so it makes it very difficult to differentiate yourself within the crowd. But it’s well worth bearing this point in mind when selecting suppliers and products.

Now there are a couple of caveats to this general point. The first one is don’t sell readily available products unless you can somehow re-invent it.

A good example of this is the site Dollar Shave Club. They basically took an item that can be found in supermarkets, high street shops and even convenience stores – the men’s cartridge razor and very successfully sold it online. What they did was sell it on a subscription basis, so they would send out a pack of razors every month. They also made it extremely cool – their sales video was funny, unique and went viral very quickly. But it was also a very simple concept – great quality razors delivered to your door every month, so men are guaranteed a fresh, close shave every week, every month.

The other caveat is don’t sell readily available products unless the product you’re selling has a unique selling point which clearly makes it a better choice than any other alternative.

A pretty good example of this is Dyson. Before they came to the market, there were lots of vacuum cleaners available and Hoover was more than just a household name. But Dyson came along with a product that had a clear USP – “no loss of suction” and demonstrated that against the bag models that were the alternative.


3. Don’t Try and Be Everything to Everybody

There are a few good reasons why you shouldn’t try and be everything to everybody. Firstly it takes a huge amount of work to list enough products to make that concept work. You can see the thinking behind it “we’ll be the next Amazon”...or “it works for Amazon so it will work for us”.

What happens with this thinking is you end up with a random selection of products that just doesn’t make any sense. The site just ends up looking like an online version of a motorway services foyer. You’ve got a two man tent, a teddy bear and some false teeth....oh and a torch with the power of a million candles.

Do however, pick a niche and own it. The most successful clients we have are those that have a very unique niche and absolutely own it.

If you really have to sell a random selection of products, it’s better to set up multiple sites, each with a very clear theme and relevant products.


4. Don’t Use ‘Being the Cheapest’ As Your Business Model.

People often rely on pricing as their business model. It’s really important to remember that people don’t always buy on price. Stock, speed of delivery, cost of delivery, returns policy, quality of photography and description, trust, as well as social proof are all key buying considerations. So do look at having a USP, a unique selling proposition - something that differentiates you from your competitors.

Also, dropping your selling price has an INCREMENTALLY greater effect on your net profit.

For example, if you have a 50% margin and you drop your price by just 10%, you have to increase your sales by 25% just to make up the difference.

So do have proper margins and look at other ways to increase value to your customer, without sacrificing profit. Low margins only really work if you go for high volume, and to get high volume you typically need a big marketing budget.

Coincidentally, you tend to find that your cheapest customers are also your worst. They typically only buy once and are quick to complain. And this all comes back to the previous point about product selection...if you pick the right products, you won’t need to compete on price.


5. Don’t Make Your Site Look Untrustworthy...or Just Plain Crap

42% of online buyers say they based their decision to shop with that site purely on the site design. So it makes sense to get that side of things right. Clean, simple websites, whilst they might appear to be a little boring do tend to work better than something more elaborate.

We do quite a lot of redesigns and I’ve seen some absolute horrors in my time. Generally speaking it’s best to use just a couple of colours, nice clean fonts and most sites nowadays are really about the content and not the site design itself.

Conversion rates can literally triple or quadruple with a professional looking ecommerce website so whilst investing in a bespoke design might seem like an unnecessary expense, it can make a significant difference to the success of your site.

Also, don’t try and hide your contact details. If you start being cagey about how people can contact you, it’s going to send the wrong signals to potential buyers. A lot of site visitors will look for an address or phone number before they order. If they go to your contact page and just see a contact form with no phone number and no address, it sets off alarm bells.

It’s also a good idea to put your returns policy and delivery charges on your product pages. Either in a tab or as a popup window. It just means that again you’re trying to be transparent about things and also the customer has all the information they need right there on the product page.


6. Choose your ecommerce system carefully

What I’m really saying is that it’s crucially important that you select an ecommerce system based on what YOU need it to do. I know it’s difficult especially when you’re starting up to know what you might need, but spend some time becoming familiar with the terminology.

If you’re selling shirts in different sizes and colours, you’ll need a system that can handle variants. If you’re selling personalised gifts, you’ll want a system that makes personalisation options easy. If your business model needs web to print, you’re going to have to look for a system that can handle that.

It’s also very important is that you find a system that you enjoy working with. Not just the user interface itself – how it works and how you get around it, but the support you get as well. This is soooo important to start ups, because you’re going to need a lot of support initially. If you’re having to submit a ticket and wait 24 hours for an automated reply, you’re going to get very frustrated, very quickly.

So try out the software first. Get a trial version, have a play with it, try and set up one of your products to check that it will do what you want and above all, test the support. Give them a call, ask for some help and see what the support is like.


7. Don’t Give Up Too Quickly

Seth Godin, the American entrepreneur said “It takes about 6 years of hard work to become and overnight success”. And whilst that quote is rather tongue in cheek, it’s true that it does take time to build up anything of real value.

So don’t expect to make your fortune in one, two or even three years. Do however look at your sales figures and profits and use those as signs of whether your business is growing year on year or just holding steady.

Yes, you do get the odd exception to the rule but typically most business take a huge amount of time and effort to get there. So don’t give up too quickly.


8. Do NOT Forget to Write a Business Plan

Yes, it’s boring and no one really wants to write a business plan.

It doesn’t have to be the best thing ever, but assessing your competitors, drafting up a marketing plan, working out how much money you’ll need for stock, promotion and the site build, thinking about how you can differentiate your business, identifying weaknesses, your pricing policy and going through that thought process, can save you loads of time, money and effort later on.

It might even reveal that there’s no market for the product.


9. Don’t Try and Do Everything Yourself

It’s natural when you’re starting up a business to try and do everything yourself. That’s great and I’m all for expanding your capabilities and knowledge, but you should always ask yourself whether doing the accounts, or trying to learn Photoshop to create a web banner, or wrestling with Adwords are the best use of your time.

What often happens is that the accounts don’t get fall behind and the pile of paperwork gets bigger and bigger and bigger. The web banner you’re working on just takes ages or just doesn’t look very good and doesn’t present your business in a professional way. Or that your Adwords ads just don’t make you any get loads of clicks but no sales because they aren’t set up correctly.

Often it’s better to outsource these things to a professional. They’ll be able to do it quicker, better and you’ll be able to use that time to market your business. Which is pretty much the most important thing you should be doing once your site is up and running.

There are loads of resources now available. You’ve got sites like Fiverr, People Per Hour and Elance where you can easily outsource projects.

I also highly recommend that you join a networking or mentoring group. It can be really tough if it’s just you, or even if it’s a small team of two or three to maintain positivity. It can be a really lonely journey.

There are networking breakfasts and lunches where you can get together with other business owners and entrepreneurs. There’s also a company called Entrepreneurs Circle, where you can meet people.


10. Don’t Expect Magic Sales

By this, I mean...don’t expect sales to just magically appear. You need to market your site and let people know it exists.

I’ve been taught to call marketing channels...pillars, because they support your business. I believe that an ecommerce business should have at least 5 different marketing pillars. What those are really depends on your market, your business model and your budget.

I’d say that Google Shopping and Adwords should be on your list. They can both work extremely well for ecommerce businesses.

Again, with pretty much all the sites that I’ve seen fail. The vast majority have done no to very little marketing.

I highly recommend that you spend 1 hour per day working on marketing your business. That might be writing blog articles, social media, outsourcing your online marketing, writing great welcome emails, coming up with powerful’s all good stuff. Just turn off any distractions and spend one hour diligently working on your marketing plan and it will transform your sales.


If I was going to pick one of the ecommerce pitfalls above as the most important, I’d probably say it’s number 8 (Don’t Forget to Write a Business Plan). If you do this, if you really think through your business, how you’re going to market it, your positioning and do some basic maths, it pretty much avoids most of what I written about.  


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