A guide to starting an online store
After her second child was born, Melbourne-based artist Kim Marie began to think about ways to earn an income from home. She wasn’t ready to leave her children and go back to work full-time, but had a desire to develop her professional skills and have a creative outlet too. She spent many hours brainstorming and researching her options and settled on a creative e-commerce store. The result is Noa Loves.
‘Running an online store gives me flexibility. I can work at night or on the weekends,’ Kim explains but admits that she had a bit to learn before she started to gain traction. With two small children occupying much of her days, the biggest challenge was finding the time to set the business up. ‘At first, I researched what my competition was doing. This informed what I would offer, how I would stand out from the pack and how I would set my prices,’ she says. Like a physical retailer, Kim also had to consider her ‘store policies’ on exchanges, gift cards and overseas shipping.
Standing out in a flooded market
There’s no shortage of places to buy, swap or sell online, so standing out is essential. According to Kim, ‘The most successful shops all have one thing in common: catchy listings, strong product, great photography, and accurate descriptions.’ She admits that she should have harnessed the power of social media earlier and has since set up accounts to drive traffic, but says it has been more important to earn great reviews from customers, and let word-of-mouth generate interest.
Dr Michael Valos, senior lecturer in Deakin University’s Faculty of Business and Law says one of the key challenges for online brands is earning shoppers’ trust. ‘With brick and mortar stores, shoppers can go in and meet you face-to-face, which gives them a sense of security. However, they rarely see the people behind an online brand,’ he points out. To gain this trust, he says a strong user experience, which includes easy checkouts, competitive shipping and no compulsory registration, is essential.
'With brick and mortar stores, shoppers can go in and meet you face-to-face, which gives them a sense of security. However, they rarely see the people behind an online brand'
Dr Michael Valos,
Deakin Business School, Deakin University
Social media consultant and Deakin digital marketing alumnus Mariana Medina predicts that, ‘The future of e-commerce will take place more and more outside traditional websites,’ and says ‘social selling’ through networking platforms will be standard. ‘Connect with your customers, create relationships and show them the people behind the scenes,’ she suggests and says the biggest marketing tools in 2017 will be Facebook Live and Instagram Live.
Snapchat and YouTube will continue to be powerful tools, because small business owners can use them to broadcast events, share products, news, and connect with customers through storytelling. But, Medina cautions, ‘Don’t sell all the time. Provide content related to your business that will entertain your shoppers and humanise the relationship between them and your brand.’
Taking care of business
Although starting an online store might seem easy enough, Dr Valos says plotting out a proper business plan can still be a good idea. ‘It allows entrepreneurs to have a clear idea of the demand, the competitors and to establish a unique selling proposition,’ he says, and recommends using tools such as Google AdWords Keyword Planner to see how many people are using search words related to your idea.
Most of all, it’s important to love your product or idea. Kim says she spends at least 10 hours per week managing her business and sometimes the hours are odd. ‘If a potential customer emails from the US late at night, I can’t afford to wait until the morning to reply,’ she explains. Fortunately, Kim loves her work, believes in her jewellery line and is happy to work as the need arises. To those who’d like to follow in her footsteps, Kim’s advice is: ‘Do your research, offer something different and treat your customers the way you want to be treated.’
Dr Michael Valos
Deakin Business School, Deakin University
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