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Welcome to part 4 of the complete guide to starting your online store. So far we've covered the basics of planning, registering your business and finding suppliers. Last but not least we've discovered the importance of developing your fulfillment operations.
By now you have an idea of what your online store will pe selling, you already have some pretty sweet deals in place with your suppliers and the fulfillment team is hopefully ready to process and ship the orders. But wait: you have no actual store. So let's get started with building a brand for your company, finding the right software for your web store and adding products and content to it.
What is a brand? Is it a name? Is it a nice logo that people like and recognize?
I will not get academic on you and I will try to cut beyond all the buzzwords you might encounter when building your brand.
The brand is all those mentioned above and more. The name, the logo, the colors and everything else is there to remind your customers of how much they like you and why. The brand is that feeling you get when you think of someone. You don't know whether it's the clothes, the color of their hair, their personality or anything else. You just feel in some particular way about that person. That's the brand. The way people feel about your company.
Now, to build a brand you need some special ingredients. Some are easy to come by and some are harder. However, once you got that main ingredient on the table, the others will be easier to implement. Here they are, ordered by their importance:
This is "who" your company is. You have to decide right from the start what type of personality you will be showing to the world. Are you young and enthusiastic or maybe mature and conservative?
What does your company stand for, except for … you know … selling stuff? What is your purpose for being in the market? You have to answer these questions and maybe more to find out what is the right personality for your brand. Remember – people will most likely never meet you or any of your team members in person so you have to focus on sending out the right message in the digital world.
One of the best use cases of building a great brand personality is Warby Parker. The company designs, manufactures and sells beautiful eyewear at an affordable price. Not only that but sales fuel its humanitarian efforts in providing developing countries with quality eyewear and means for individuals to self-sustain.
They have an extensive section in telling people WHO Warby Parker is and why they're a great fit for society. Branding goes beyond just commercial info and showcasing the products. It projects an image and a personality so customers can have the feeling of actually interacting with a real person. A great one, that is.
Shakespeare said "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet". Things are what they are. The names are secondary. Once you know what your online store stands for, once you know what your brand's personality is, you can put a name on it.
For example, Jeff Bezos named its famous company Amazon because Amazon is the largest river by drainage. He envisioned the largest store in the world right from the beginning and named it accordingly.
The name you will be choosing is extremely important. Out of all the other components in building an online store brand, this one is the one most likely to turn into a real asset. Your brand personality may change, so could colors, shapes and slogans. But your name has to stay the same. The reason is the Internet is built this way. Web pages get bookmarked, indexed and remembered by their name.
Amazon for example changed its personality and graphic cues throughout its history. But the name stayed the same. So did all other brands that managed to catch the customer's attention.
When choosing a name for your online store do check for available:
Once you've designed and presented your online store's personality, you need to code this personality through visual cues.
The brain perceives images faster than sound and letters. Images deliver powerful messages almost instantly whereas sound and text take longer to be perceived.
That's why companies compact their messages in some iconic combinations of symbols, colors and letters: logos. The logo is the basis to building your store's visual identity. We use symbols because our brains are wired to connect shapes to meaning. Color is usually added to further identify a given company. For example you probably don't remember what's the exact shape of the Coca-Cola logo, but you do remember the red-white combination.
Once the basics of visual identity (shapes and colors) are set, more elements are usually added to the list of brand identifiers:
Once the visual identity is set, it will be communicated through a brand manual, or brand usage guidelines collection. You can have a look at Amazon's brand manual here to get a feeling of what you can incorporate in your visual identity.
Once you've got all those above ready, you can begin expanding your brand to other areas. There are two large areas your brand needs to shine in, and they are independent from one another:
1. Within the company: what does your brand mean for your team? What is the message you are sending to your employees? For example Zappos strongly supports handling customer service in the best way possible. Zappos customer service went so far as to register a 9h and 37 minutes call with a customer that needed support on choosing the right shoes.
The brand can be implemented within the company through signage (remember the large company logos in call-centers or warehouses), company communication but mostly through the culture the company will build.
2. Outside the company: Your brand will meet your customers. There are some very important touch points you will need to keep in check and see how the customer perceives your online store:
(Examples of Amazon using its brand on different supports)
When everything is in place and you have your brand ready to go out and face the customers, it's time to build the online store.
To do so you will have to go through:
Ecommerce applications are usually targeted at two types of users
I will not get into too much details regarding what large retailers use but if you want too, you can check them out here.
Instead, I will focus on guiding you through the four most popular options for small and medium retailers. In the end, you will have to decide which one is best for you.
Before I go any further I would like you to have a look at this chart from Google Trends showing how many searches for each of these applications have been registered in the past. This is a great way to see how popular each of them is and what could you expect in the future.
The graph above shows how the four most popular solutions for ecommerce have evolved throughout the years in terms of Google searches. You can see Magento at the top, Prestashop right beneath it, WordPress ecommerce at the bottom and Shopify growing like crazy. Let's have a look at what ech of these tools has to offer.
Magento is owned by Ebay Inc and works as an open-source application. It first hit the digital shelves in 2001 so it packs quite a lot of experience.
It is estimated that roughly 250 000 stores are now powered by Magento. It is usually used by medium sized retailers because of these reasons:
There are however, some cons:
Long story short: Magento is fit for medium to larger retailers. It is usually installed on your own hardware (server) so beyond development costs you will also need to take into account hosting costs. Development and server costs usually top everyone else on this list. However, it makes up in stability and features what it lacks in cost structure.
There are now more than 200 000 stores using Prestashop. The company started in France and is now a global player that aims for Magento's spot. Unlike Magento, it can be used both as a hosted solution (on your own server) or as a cloud solution (where you pay a standard monthly fee for the right to use it).
It's easier to find developers that can handle Prestashop's structure so development costs could be lower. It's targeted at smaller retailers (usually startups) and you can read a full review here.
All in all Prestashop is a great choice for small to medium online stores so it's definitely worth checking it out. It may not get you to $1 billion in sales but performs great for startups. It's highly customizable and easy to manage.
Shopify is the great challenger on this list. It works great for small startups, you can start using right away, its pricing structure is great and you get tons of apps you can use on your store. It is the fastest growing solution right now and it is used by 150 000 online stores.
Not only that but the company is really well funded. It recently received $100 million in venture capital and now it aims to work as a cloud platform for both online and offline small sellers. Although it started as an online store solution, it now works for offline retailers through its Shopify POS solution.
The fact is Shopify is the most promising solution on this list. It is well funded so it probably won't close shop any time soon, it is the fastest growing and its app and themes ecosystem makes it perfect for the ecommerce entrepreneur. You may need to switch to another solution once you go big but until then – everything works just great.
Although WordPress is not technically an ecommerce application, it evolved beyond its blog youth and its content management adulthood. Using ecommerce themes such as these, shop owners can easily extend WordPress beyond content management.
What WordPress lacks in native ecommerce support it more than makes up in developer community, theme and plugins support. At the moment 74.6 million websites rely on WordPress. Out of this huge figure more than 50% are self hosted.
There are 40 translations for WordPress and WordPress.com receives more traffic than Amazon. These facts and others make WordPress quite a great platform for shop owners just starting up.
Unlike other ecommerce applications that are built with commerce processes in mind, WordPress is great at managing content. Products can be described in so many ways and content can be easily published. This does wonders for search engine optimization and communicating with your audience.
Oh, and remember that figure above? Check out the difference in searches on the term "wordpress" only, as opposed to the other applications:
That blue line up there, dwarfing all others, is WordPress. It has a huge user base and these users can turn their blogs into online stores.
Wordpress is a great way to get your store off the ground quickly and at a low cost. But if you want something more, you will probably need to look into other solutions.
( A visual comparison between Magento, Prestashop, Shopify and WordPress for ecommerce )
For all those solutions above, you will most likely need two types of support:
To do so, you will need to find talented and effective designers and developers on established online marketplaces. The freelancing marketplaces are pretty straightforward. Think of EBay for digital jobs. You post the requirements and freelancers will bid for your online store requirements. There are dozens of places to find designers and developers for hire but some really stand out:
Elance.com is one of the oldest and most popular places to find great programmers and designers from all over the world. There are currently 260 000 programmers and 190 000 designers listed on Elance.
Guru was founded in 2001 by Inder Guglani and now boasts more than 1.5 million members worldwide and $200 million worth of freelancing jobs processed through the marketplace.
Smashing is a very influent online magazine for designers and developers alike. As talent naturally gravitates around other talented people, this community jobs site is a great place to find those great freelancers to get your online store up and running.
All of the ecommerce software solutions listed in this post rely on themes and plugins to customize the layout and improve the functionality of your online store.
Both themes and plugins are offered by their respective developers either free or for a premium. You can think of plugins and themes as building blocks that you can attach to your online store and get it to either look or behave better.
You can find plugins and themes on special marketplaces as well as developer's plugin shops.
The best places to look for themes and plugins are the following:
When you've chosen the application you are going to use to manage your online store, contracted the right developers and designers and chosen the appropriate theme and plugins, you're ready to implement your online store. If everything is set so far, the freelancers you've contracted will know what to do. The overall process will be, in a simplified manner, the following:
Once the process is complete you will have an up and running online store, without any products or any type of content.
Content is any text, image or rich media that you will be hosting on your online store. As a startup, great content can mean great sales. There are two converging reasons for this.
The first reason is search engine optimization. Many of the people that will be visiting your online store and hopefully buying, come via search engines. You probably know a bit about how Google works, you may have heard a thing or two about search engine optimization but the fact is content is king. Great content is better indexed by search engines and can provide you with visitors you can turn into customers.
The second reason you should pay great attention to content is the customer. The customer needs to get as much information on your products and on your company as possible. Upload beautiful images, write extensive product presentations and say everything you can about your company.
And go beyond …
Here you'll find three great strategies to conquer your market with content. Explain your customers how to use the products. Showcase the lifestyle around your products and brand. The more content you will be pushing towards your customers, the more credible your brand and online store will be.
When you've added all the products and the relevant content, don't stop there. Optimize your product descriptions constantly. Start a blog and get people to send you their stories. Content is king and it will stay like this for a long time.
Once everything is ready to go live, you still need to do one thing: train the team. Segment your fellow team members and train them according to their responsibilities. For example order management personnel won't be handling product information so there's no point in showing them how to use these features.
The main areas where you will find features that team members need to learn using are:
Most of the ecommerce applications have their usage guidelines either online or can be provided to you when required.
So training should be done according to responsibilities, it should be done in an interactive manner and team members should be provided with a form of software manual or written guidelines.
Once the online store is set up and reflects your brand, the products are all online and the team members are familiar with the ecommerce software, you are ready to go live!
Wow – we've covered a lot of ground and by now you should be ready to have your store online. But there's one last chapter to our journey. Meet me next week on the final part of this guide, covering marketing, extending sales channels, testing and fine tuning.
Say you’re running an online store. Chances are you are using or plan on using Google Analytics. It’s free, it’s popular and there are tons of info out there to help you get started and optimize your sales stream.
But there are downsides too. First one – Google already knows a lot about you and your customers. You might want to keep some things discreet, right?
Second – Google Analytics is an one-size-fits-all type of product. Sure, it has plenty of features but chances are you’re likely to get lost in some of those features. Even if you don’t get lost, you’re likely to spend a lot of time digging through somewhat useless data, while at the same time, missing out on very important bits of information.
Third – real time reporting is pretty limited, if you’re running the free version. Once you get over 10 million views you’ll have to switch to the paid version, costing you north of $150 000. But then you can also try some more advanced reporting tools.
Of course, there are plenty of traffic analytics tools out there. Some have really great interfaces and features. But as an online shop owner or manager, you have to look at what works best for your store. Have a look below:
Mixpanel is great choice for small and mid-sized business that sell. Whether we’re talking about an online retailer, a hotel selling reservations or an iPhone game developer selling game upgrades - it is a great tool.
Even the way Mixpanel tracks actions and charges users is a great fit for online retailers. Ecommerce sites don’t really need too much intel on page views. What really matter are actions – the number of times sometimes has clicked the “buy” button, the number of times users download a brochure or the number of Google Ad visitors that turn into customers.
Mixpanel calls these actions data points, and this is a great news for startups and mid-sized businesses.
It’s tailored around five basic functions:
Pricing is free for less than 25 000 data points and it can go up to $2000 / month, for companies with more than 20 million data points.
GoSquared is a great piece of engineering and with its redesigned interface – easy to use. It serves over 40k businesses and it has a special area developed strictly for ecommerce owners.
When it comes to ecommerce, GoSquared packs a lot of power in a simple interface. Just like most other applications on this list, it puts a strong emphasis on the targeting users as potential customers and tracking their actions and behavior.
The Metrics work toward providing clear insights on how revenue is doing. The analytics tool provides info on social media influence on sales and data on best performing products.
One really useful set of tools is what GoSquared calls Predictive Analytics. Previously discussed on Netonomy.NET, predictive analytics can mix past and present data to determine possible outcomes in the future. It can be used to predict traffic, sales or best selling products, to name a few.
GoSquared also mentions their ability to send Differentiated Reports, based on specific team member’s needs. One for the CEO, one for the marketing team, one for the … well, you get the idea.
But if there is something that really sets GoSquared apart – this is the Developer API. Using this, developers can build truly dynamic online stores, that respond to customer behavior and profile. From info on previous purchases, location, language and others, online stores can be set to respond to specific customer needs.
Pricing can be configured here and starts at $32 / mo for 100k pageviews and 100 transactions. It can go north of $640 / mo for more than 10 million pageviews and more than 10k transactions. You can test the application in a 14 days trial.
Foxmetrics has some nifty features when it comes to ecommerce and online retail related options. It is light and easy to set up, it works on both web and the mobile and it is focused on helping you increase conversions.
Although Foxmetrics is not 100% focused on ecommerce related (they also provide support for online publishers), it does have some great features you can use:
Although Foxmetrics does not provide a free option, it does provide a 14 day trial to test the features. Plans range from $50 to $120 per month and beyond, for enterprise users. However, as an ecommerce user, you’ll be stuck with the $120 plan.
Woopra is a great way to understand your customer and their history browsing your store. You’ll be able to get behavioral insights from customers, run advanced or preset analytics reports.
By tapping into Woopra’s Funnel reporting section you can discover bottlenecks in the conversion path.
The product also promises a good segmentation on best performing customer groups and even build segments based on funnels.
The pricing starts with a free version that allows 30 000 actions (similar to Mixpanel’s data points). The small business plans range between $79.95 and $1199.95/mo.
The promise KISSmetrics makes is that all your data will be connected to real people, with real actions. Once setup, you can see where people are, what and why they buy your products and in some unfortunate cases, why they don’t.
Features include funnels, cohorts (groups with similar interests), revenue in real time and the metrics you’re familiar from GA. The things that really set the product apart is the data export feature for further analysis and its A/B testing options, both a great fit for customer profiling.
Pricing for the KISSmetrics product starts at $150/mo for up to 500 000 events and goes up to $500/mo, when your webstore reaches more than 1 million events. Once you pass the upper threshold, just like all others, you get to negotiate your pricing.
Ecommerce startups need flexible, easy to set up and cheap solutions when it comes to software. A few companies provide such solutions and probably the best known is Magento, which can accommodate a wide array of startups.
However, Magento does have some issues and when it comes to small ecommerce companies, it might not be the best choice. Issues ranging from bloated code, unreliable support when it comes to finding the right development team make it hard for small companies to implement it. As you’ll see below there is one contender to Magento’s reign that you should definitely check out if you’re planning on starting an ecommerce company.
That contender is PrestaShop, a flexible and easy to setup open source application.
The company that now develops the product was founded in 2007 by Igor Schlumberger and Bruno Lévêque. The duo thought they could bring a better open source solution to the market and they did just that. Bruno, having a background in both tech and business, developed the first version of PrestaShop, which was downloaded 1000 times in the first month. Now PrestaShop runs on more than 185 000 stores world wide and has more than 600 000 registered contributors.
As Bruno Lévêque, founder and company CEO was unavailable at the time for a statement regarding the company vision, I’ll just go ahead and assume that they’re planning on increasing the install base and further develop the application. As they’re pushing forward with the new version, it’s becoming obvious that the two main opensource applications that small and medium companies will be able to chose from in the future will be Magento and PrestaShop. So it’s probably a good thing to know a thing or two about the upcoming champion.
When deciding what platform to run your store on it’s important to think about the company developing it. How is it organized, why does it exist and of course – what’s the business model? What keeps the company afloat? That way you can know whether it’s here to stay or not.
Fortunately – PrestaShop is developed by a growing company, with offices throughout the world and a very interesting business model: they give out the application as open source but they charge for special modules and themes in the … aham … PrestaShop shop.
The company also charges for support and training services, which might come in handy when the online store or the development team evolves. If you’re more into online documentation – there are plenty resources out there, starting with the Developer Guide.
Well – enough with the talk about the company – let’s get busy reviewing the new PrestaShop v 1.6. I’ll just stick to the back-office but you can have a look at the default responsive frontend theme.
What’s really outstanding about the PrestaShop’s new back-office is that it’s designed for humans. It’s uncluttered (looking at you, Magento), it’s responsive (great for quick use both on the Desktop and mobile devices) and the team managed to arrange the dashboard elements in a way you can quickly access what you need.
The top most used reports (such as sales, orders, cart value and others) are displayed on the dashboard and users can quickly check, refresh or change settings for them.
It’s not just the dashboard – all back-office sections are redesigned to provide quick access to data, in a beautiful interface:
With the new version users can get access to PrestaShop’s best features without any hassle. My two favorites are:
PrestaShop is probably a very good choice for small and medium companies that look for open-source solutions. With the new version you’ll have an uncluttered view of your ecommerce operations and you’ll be free to upgrade your system with the help of a growing contributors community.
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