When I owned a small ecommerce business, I sometimes felt unable to compete against larger companies. Ad budgets were tight; working capital to fund inventory was sometimes limited to cash from current sales. Hiring or outsourcing to find the right graphic artists or web designers was time consuming and ended up being expensive.
But I always successfully competed against much larger companies. Here are 10 tips for how your small ecommerce business can compete, too.
1. Know Your Customers
Since your business is small, you have a smaller customer base. Likely you have fewer products. Make sure that you know your customers and what they are buying. Talk to your customers, ask them why they purchase from you. Ask them what else they would buy if you were selling it. Ask if your prices are competitive and make adjustments as necessary.
Amazon has extensive analytics that tells what is selling, but Amazon may not know why.
2. Choose Niche Products over Mass Market
Once you’ve figured out your customers’ desires, find niche products they will buy, rather than mass-market products. Work hard to find sources that are specialized. If you have a difficult time finding those products, so will your competitors. Bring them to market as “exclusive” or “private label” products. This will keep the bargain hunters from attaching to your UPC codes for comparative pricing.
3. Create Awesome Content
Content sells. Write compelling descriptions about your products. Take detailed pictures. Create videos. They are a quick ticket to search engine traffic. Shoppers love a creative video and will likely remember your product, and with any luck they will purchase that item, sign up for your newsletter, or bookmark your store.
4. Get the Word Out
Got a great new product? Get the word out. Send out emails, Tweet, and update your status on Facebook. Ask people to spread the word. Feature it on your website. Post your video on your YouTube channel. Feature it in your newsletter.
Beyond a single Tweet, reach out to your customers with direct messages. Mine your sales history for past purchases of similar items. This is not just creating one time buzz. It is a way to communicate with your customers and develop more of a relationship.
5. Create a Loyalty Program
Many shopping carts support rewards programs that offer points for future purchases. Take advantage of that. It can create long-term customers.
Offer a discount or free shipping to any customer who spends, say, more than $250 in a given period. In many shopping carts, you can create a special class of customer that receives a discount. In my previous business, for example, we used loyalty programs to encourage repeat purchases during holiday seasons.
6. Execute on Fulfillment
Set appropriate expectations for fulfillment and exceed them whenever possible. Tell your customers when they can expect shipment. Let them know when you shipped the order and include a tracking number. Your competitors may send similar emails, but did they meet the timelines they promised? Fulfillment execution is why Amazon manages its marketplace sellers so closely. Likewise, it’s important to meet your customers’ expectations.
7. Design a Better Website
Beautifully designed, minimalist websites with great sliders are all the rage. But I want to shop in a store, not vote for it in the best creative design contest.
Set up your website with effective, logical navigation. Make sure you have a great on-site search function. Most shopping carts have lousy search engines. Invest in one that supports plurals, synonyms, and includes some merchandising features. At the very least, evaluate Google Site Search. It’s affordable for small businesses, and can be tailored to support a variety of page designs.
Present your content front and center. Don’t bury it all in detail pages. Sometimes it’s useful to have descriptive text on category or product list pages.
Design a one or two-step checkout. Make sure all shipping costs are visible in the cart prior to checkout.
Finally, make sure your site pages load quickly. Optimize your images for performance to reduce your page load times.
8. Make Yourself Available
Many small merchants don’t have a phone number or they offer interaction only via email. Don’t make that mistake. Make yourself available and visible to answer questions. If I can’t tell where a company is located and know how to contact it via phone if my order has a problem, I simply won’t order.
If you are a small company, take a few minutes and tell a story about yourself on your “About Us” page. Shoppers want to know that there are other people at the end of the order.
9. Move Faster, Be More Nimble
We used to buy a lot of new products at trade shows in our previous jewelry supply business. We would frequently active some of them on our site while still at the show to gain an advantage over competitors.
We made adding new products a focus when we returned from a show, too. We would frequently add a batch of 50 or more new products in the first week after we returned. We’d promote that in our newsletter and on Facebook on a daily basis. Most of our larger competitors were weeks behind us. We were simply more nimble than them and used it to our advantage.
10. Mind Your Margins
Run a tight ship. You can’t afford to have a cash crisis. Invest conservatively. Watch your gross margin and monitor ad campaigns, personnel costs, and shipping costs. Keep an eye on your financial status and make sure you have cash on hand for both emergencies and opportunities. If you see a great new product idea and you have cash to invest in inventory and promotion, you may be able to execute more quickly than a larger company with buyers and budgets.