How to Start Your Online Store

My husband, Angelo, and I started to manage an online store together last 2015. We almost started from scratch (I say “almost” because he already launched the small business prior to when we got together). This store is currently on break because of a relaunch project we’re cooking for 2019; nevertheless, we can say that we have our pool of loyal customers, and an established presence online. Our niche market knows us, and I’m happy to say that we’re getting to know them too– the price that they’re willing to pay, the books that they want to read, and their preferred purchasing method.

I may not yet be considered an expert online seller, but we’ve gone through the process and reached milestones for our online business. I’d like to share how we were able to kick-off and sustain the online business, and I hope you can learn the basics from here:

1. Know your branding. I keep on bringing this up in my blog posts and talks, but this is really a basic thing that all start-ups must know, including online sellers. Yes, it’s very easy to take a picture of your products, upload it online, and put “For Sale” on your captions. This cannot sustain your online store. If you want to take your online selling seriously, then please know your unique selling proposition and value proposition to your target customers. What makes you unique from competitors? What differentiates you? What makes you stand out? Focus on this.

2. Slow down on the capital expenditures. It’s very easy to buy a domain name online, pay for website hosting or an IT expert to mount an entire e-commerce site for you. These are all good expenses. But, if I may suggest the ff. just so you won’t shell out too much money in the beginning:

· Experiment and maximise the free resources first. When we were planning to launch our online store, we weren’t sure if people would like it. We just knew there was a market, but we weren’t sure how big it is, or how profitable it is, or if our products were to be patronised. I’m not a very risky person, so we decided to use free online resources first– WordPress (we started our with a free domain that had in the end), Google Forms (we accepted orders thru this), and here in the Philippines, we are lucky enough that people still like paying via bank deposit. Thus, there is no need to setup a cart, or an online payment system just yet. This is also a way of gauging if people are willing to exert extra effort just to pay for your products. If they are, then it’s a good sign that your product is beneficial to them. After your “testing the waters” the stage, then it’s up to you to decide whether you now need to invest on an actual e-commerce platform. In our online store, we eventually did.

3. Know Social Media Marketing. I say “know”, because it’s not enough that you know how to use it, but as a business, you have to know how to maximise social media for your benefit. Our online store is a bookstore. Yes, I created a Facebook fan page. But more than that, as an individual, I joined several book buy & sell Facebook groups. I was able to know what kinds of books are being sold and bought online, and at what price points. I started posting our books for sale, and I knew the ones that easily sell, and those that don’t. It was how we introduced ourselves to the online “book selling industry”.

And that’s just step one! Managing your Facebook page is another story.

4. Study your data. The reason why Google Forms is my go-to free resource, is that you can export the responses to an Excel file. You can easily collate your customers’ details, or the bestselling products, and make it your own database. Also, Facebook Insights is very useful. You can see the time your followers are online, know the posts that are most engaging to them, etc. Use these information to strategise your next steps in marketing and selling.

5. Love your customers. This is what will make your customers come back to you. Invest on simple freebies, respond to queries on time, ensure on time deliveries. Once they fall in love with your service, they’ll be more than willing to spread the word about your store, which leads me to the last point…

6. Gather testimonials. I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, but I’m not a fan of online stores that post screenshots of text messages from customers. (My personal opinion only, hehe) It’s like a paid ad– the public won’t know if you’re telling the truth or not. If your customers are really happy, ask them lovingly to give you a 5-star rating on your Facebook page, or in Lazada or Shopee. Oftentimes, they will voluntarily do this without the need to ask them! This is very effective in building your credibility as an online store. And buyers like to see reviews first before they make that purchase. Good testimonials can help bring in first-time buyers.

Extra tip: If the time is right, invest on SEO marketing (Search Engine Optimisation). This is to make sure that you appear on top of Google every time someone will search keywords related to your store. This can increase traffic to your site, and increase the chances of purchase.

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