So You Want to Open Up an E-shop

By Amy Strada in E-commerce
·7 min read

Time is money, money is power, power is running your own e-shop. Is it time you took things online? It’s highly probable. Read on—maybe you’ll learn some new things.

Say you’ve got a business to run: Maggie’s Maple Syrup, a brick-and-mortar shop in Burlington, Vermont. You have loyal customers, lots of kitschy collectibles, and the best maple syrup Vermont can offer. But you know that you have competition. Quebec, just over the border, exports over 36 million gallons of the stuff annually. And your own tiny state produces 40% of the US’s supply.

How do you make the most of the excellent goods you offer? Your customers love you, but you know foot traffic probably isn’t sustainably profitable forever. The reality is—we’re spoiled for online shopping these days, aren’t we? And so if you aren’t part of that, you run the risk of losing a lot of business. So what’s a shop owner to do?

First Thing’s First

Perhaps, obviously, the first thing you need to have is a website, a place your customers can visit you online and check out your amazing maple-themed goods—the things that can be found in your shop and they can order online. The platform you choose is entirely up to you, and there is indeed a plethora of options. But you should be aware of a few key capabilities that might come in handy down the road when your e-shop is up and running.

This Little Piggy Went to Facebook…

Now that you have an e-shop, you need to get traffic to it. You want people to know about your items and your online presence. Making social accounts for your maple syrup empire is the simplest (and cheapest) way to get traffic going. You can post photos of syrup and pancakes, share different recipes that use your syrup, even show videos of the tapping process.

Filling out as much info as possible on your company Facebook page ensures your customers—current and future—can find out everything they need or want to know about you and your business. You have a platform on which you can advertise (for free!) whatever you want to advertise. Plus, you have a way to communicate with your customers quickly and easily at a level they are already comfortable with.

Facebook, of course, is not the only way to go. Twitter is also a great place to extend to if you want to share short-but-sweet updates. And if you have lots of photos to share, Instagram is one of the fastest growing (and underutilized—shh!) platforms for marketing.

If you see some uptake on your social media, you always have the option to boost your content. (This bit isn’t so free, but it will promote your content to audiences that aren’t organically coming to you.)

This Little Piggy Got a Discount…

Now you’ve got a bit of traffic coming to your page. Congrats! So…what do you do with it? You want users to not only visit your page but also connect with your page, your items, your brand.

What better way to entice your visitors than with a discount? People love the idea of not paying full price. “Roughly 80% of [people] said a coupon would influence them to purchase a brand they typically would not buy,” according to a new survey by Valassis. In an older study by Coupons.com and Claremont Graduate University in which half of the participants received a $10 coupon (and the other half didn’t), those that received the coupons were 11% happier and felt a 38% increase in oxytocin levels. Science is impressive.

But simply giving away $10 off your maple cookie mix is a wasted opportunity. You want to help your visitors, but you also need your business to succeed. If you don’t have contact info for your visitors, have them fill out a form with a valid email address to receive the discount in a newsletter. After that, you’re in business. Send Pamela from Pittsburgh a discount code to apply when she buys your maple leaf socks. (It’s almost autumn, after all.)

After Pamela buys these socks, you can further nurture her to continue shopping with you. So you know she likes your socks—why not send her an additional 5% discount on your matching scarf? This way, you can see if she’s truly interested in your products, or the sock purchase was a one-time thing.

Of course, there are other levels of discounts you can apply to your items:

  • Volume discounts, for example, help you out when you have maple icing cupcakes that are nearing their expiry date—offer one for $3 but five for $10.
  • A buy X, get Y discount will inspire your customers to buy a quart jug of syrup when it comes with a recipe book “for free”.
  • Visitor levels allow you to reward repeat buyers so that they see you appreciate their frequent business.
  • Sending birthday discounts shows you know your customer—send a $15-off coupon (but let it expire in a week’s time).

This Little Piggy Finally Bought Your Maple Syrup…

When you were first starting your e-shop, it might have been feasible to send emails about new items and other salient info manually to your customers. But now that everyone’s heard how amazing your maple syrup is (and how rewarding you are with your discounts), you’ve got hordes of visitors. It’d be a fool’s errand to try to keep up with everyone by yourself.

Set up an automated newsletter so that everyone that wants to be kept updated with your shop can be added to your mailing list. (But be sensible—don’t inundate your customers’ inboxes with your emails. Unless you want everyone hitting “unsubscribe”.)

If you want your customers to make sure they’re using those discounts you’re doling out, you can automate reminders to be sent a day or two before your customers’ coupon codes expire. Isn’t it infuriating when you want to apply that discount, but you’re a day late and a dollar short—and that code is no longer any good.

One of the absolute best things you can do with automation, though, is reminding your customers of abandoned items in their shopping cart. Say Sean from Seattle wanted to buy a poster of all the different kinds of maple leaves, a book on the maple syrup tapping process, and a tapping starter kit from your e-shop. But that was a while ago, and maybe Sean has moved on.

Don’t give up! You can let him know that he has these three items in his shopping cart with a trigger in your automation software. Whenever a customer has abandoned items in their cart for over a week, you can have an email sent automatically that pushes them to finish their purchase (perhaps with one of your famous discounts tacked on as an incentive).

To make that reminder even more useful, you can use a recommender that automatically calculates which items Sean would be interested in based on his shopping cart or shop-browsing history. So now, in addition to reminding Sean that he has items in his shopping cart, you can also recommend he check out your syrup processing kit for when he manages to tap his local Seattle trees. This is a great cross-selling tool if you want to show your customers items they might not have seen yet.

This Little Piggy Didn’t Know What VAT Was…

Now that your discounts and personalized recommendations have charmed all your customers, and your posts on Facebook have immense engagement, you’re ready to expand your shop to the rest of the world. The problem is that tricky thing called tax. As an American, you’re used to tax being calculated right before the purchase (i.e., taxes aren’t built into the nice and round $19.99 for a jug of your best maple syrup). But Françoise in France is shocked when the sticker price suddenly changes upon checkout! What happens then? Poof—au revoir, annoyed customer!

But that’s business, and you don’t want to lose any if you don’t have to. Your e-shop should be able to handle providing pricing in both the American and European style so as not to alienate your visitors. Being able to localize your shop so your customers are greeted with their preferred style of pricing and taxation is another way to show Sean and Pamela and Françoise you value their experience.

What about Your Maple Syrup Empire?

Sure, that’s next. You’re perfectly squared away to become the next maple syrup maven. Your shop can handle international customers, you’re able to cross-sell your items intelligently, and you can lure in—and keep—customers with delicious deals.

Of course, that’s not the whole picture, but it’s a good chunk of it. We’d love to hear from you, though! What else is key to running a great e-shop? What makes your favorite e-shop…well, your favorite? Let us know in the comments!

By Amy Strada in E-commerce
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