In search of a new resource to help your ecommerce business? My bet is a live shopping podcast would be the perfect find. That’s why I’ve created one. In the past year or so I’ve been digging really deep into how digital commerce can become better for small and mid sized business. Right now huge brands like Amazon, Walmart or Alibaba are covering too much of the market for the “rebels” to stand a chance.
Small online stores, eCommerce entrepreneurs and direct to consumer small manufacturers need better ways to sell online. Right now you might optimize your page speed or Google SERP, maybe add a better product but trough be told …
Most ecommerce sales are in the hands of very, very few people
Playing in the same league as Amazon doesn’t get you very far as they’ve been losing money for the last 20 years or so, just to gain market share. Spending money on Facebook or Google Ads won’t do much better. As a small company or entrepreneur you don’t have much options into how you can beat the big boys, even in small niches. But you do have one big thing: you are a real person, with a passion for what you are doing. And this can be big. You can be the real you, online and earn big for it.
The solution: live commerce and live shopping
So how do you make your personality shine through your web store? The solution is simple: by using a thing called live commerce or live shopping. I’ve wrote a bit on the background in a previous post. In a nutshell it’s you, live streaming a product presentation to customers, with ecommerce and social (chat, questions) features on top of the video.
Using live shopping for ecommerce stores is still a blur
There’s a small issue with live commerce: most ecommerce entrepreneurs don’t know about it and those who do, don’t know how to start a live session. As such – I’ve started a live commerce and live shopping podcast: Live Commerce World. You can subscribe to it via Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
What will this podcast be about?
“Anyone can start a podcast. Why should I listen to it?” you might say. I hear you.
This is a very specific podcast: it focuses on live shopping and how this changes customer behaviour and why it is a perfect channel for younger generations. The podcast also focuses on why live commerce is this huuuge, emerging trend and how you, as an ecommerce professional, can benefit from it.
It starts off with some tips and tricks my team and I have put together over the last year working with customers all over the world, from companies of all sizes. We’ll continue with interviews and success stories, helping you benefit from live commerce and live shopping.
There’s quite some things you will need when starting a store. One of them is a brand for your online shop. Have you thought about ecommerce branding? If so, read on as there’s some great tips to help you build your brand.
What is ecommerce branding?
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.
Your 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, as part of your ecommerce branding. 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 creates an image and a personality. This way 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, especially when it comes to ecommerce branding.
When choosing a name for your online store do check for available:
domain names (preferably a dot com domain – they are still most likely to catch on)
social media accounts (check for the chosen name on twitter/facebook/instagram etc. Not all may be available but try to register your brand on the most important social networks)
mobile apps (check to see if any app using the name you’ve covered is published on either iOS, Android or Windows mobile. The world is mobile so your brand should be too.)
any other areas where your brand could be present and there is a potential brand conflict
3. Ecommerce branding: Visual identity
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 and ecommerce branding. 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:
company fonts (used in graphic design)
secondary colors (a special color palette used separately from those in the logo)
imagery (the types of images used to convey marketing messages)
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.
4. Ecommerce branding implementation
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:
Your call-center support: this is the voice of your company. It needs to reflect your brand’s personality and keep customers happy and coming back.
The package: the way your package looks and feels is a great way to showcase your brand and build an emotional connection to the customer receiving and opening the package.
Your web-store: we will get into more detail about the way your web store reflects your brand but rest assured: this is the place your customers will be spending the most time on so you need to make it yours. The webstore needs to reflects your brand personality and your visual identity.
Social media: your personality and visual identity will go beyond your online store. The most common areas you will need to be present are social media outlets. For example check out these companies shining on Instagram.
(Examples of Amazon using its brand on different supports)
These are the building blocks for your ecommerce branding. Start small but start with the basics and build a brand for you and your online store. It really pays off in the long run.
This year is the year you will go big online. Your small business can bring in more customers and sales by improving your ecommerce game. To do that you will need to choose the best ecommerce platform for a small business. In this article you will find out which are the best platforms, how you can use third party professionals to implement them and how to get your team on board with it.
Here is what you will learn below:
Choosing the best ecommerce platform for a small business
How to hire ecommerce developers and designers for your platform
Adding content to your online store
How to train my team in using ecommerce platforms
Choosing the best ecommerce platform for a small business
Ecommerce platforms are usually targeted at two types of users
small and medium businesses (such as yourself)
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 ecommerce platforms for a small business.
Before I go any further I would like you to have a look at this two charts from Google Trends showing how many searches for each of these ecommerce platforms 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 first one was in 2015 when Magento was king and Shopify was barely starting to grow in popularity:
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.
This is in 2021:
Things have changed dramatically. Shopify grew exponentially leaving all others behind. It’s steep increase in 2020, during the pandemic lockdown shows just how valuable this ecommerce platform has become.
Magento – the ecommerce platform for small businesses with a web development budget
Magento is owned by Adobe (it was previously owned by Ebay) 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 210 000 stores are now powered by Magento. It is usually used by medium sized retailers because of these reasons:
the number of features aimed at web stores that have passed the startup phase
enhanced sales, online payment, returns and customer info features
ability to customize and extend beyond the standard installation
ability to handle large number of orders, if optimized
There are however, some caveats:
you will need experienced developers to handle customization and/or extensions
increased server costs due to increased requirements
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.
Prestashop – the ecommerce platform for when you really don’t like Magento but still want open source
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 a good option when it comes to ecommerce platform targeted at a small business.
easy to install and setup
you can start your store without any technical know-how (with the cloud solution)
has great warehouse and suppliers management applications
development costs are lower, due to having rather simple technical requirements
hardware requirements are lower, resulting in great performance and lower server costs
it may not be the right solution after you go beyond being a startup and you’ll have to move up
smaller developer community
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 – probably the best ecommerce platform for a small business
Shopify is probably the best ecommerce platform for a small business. 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 1 500 000 online stores. That’s a huge jump from 150 000 just 7 years ago.
Not only that but the company is really well funded. After it received $100 million in venture capital in 2013, the company became a publicly traded company and its market cap is now $160 billion. Shopify started as an online store solution but now serves businesses both online and in-store through its Shopify POS solution.
cloud solution: data is always safe, you can access it from anywhere
extremely easy to setup without technical know-how
you can extend your shop through third party apps and visual themes
can work both for online and offline sales
extensive developers and designers community
not so easy to extend beyond core features. The solution can be extended through separate apps
apps are purchased separately
From my point of view Shopify is the best ecommerce platform for a small business and its probably going to stay this way for quite some time.
WordPress & WooCommerce – easy, free and unscalable
Although WordPress is not technically an ecommerce platform, it evolved beyond its original use case and its content management is now extremely adaptive. Using ecommerce themes and ecommerce plugins such as WooComerce, 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.
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 optimisation and communicating with your audience.
huge user base, very popular application
a large variety of themes and plugins (almost 50 000 plugins at this date)
a large number of developers
easy to set up and manage
a large knowledge base
many themes designed specifically for ecommerce
not built specifically for ecommerce
only the hosted version can be used as an ecommerce application
not many operational tools (such as inventory management, complex customer service etc)
can only be used for smaller numbers of products. If you have more than 2000 products and more than 5000 users you should check something else out.
Long story short: WordPress is a great way to get your store off the ground quickly and at a low cost, especially if you have few products. But if you want something more, you will probably need to look into other ecommerce solutions for small businesses.
How to hire ecommerce developers and designers for your platform
For all those solutions above, you will most likely need two types of support:
implementing and extending the applications: you will need to look for developers
adapting the standard layout for your own needs: you will need to look for web designers
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:
Upwork, former Elance.com, is one of the oldest and most popular places to find great programmers and designers from all over the world. There were around 150 000 contracts last year for creative work and around 212 000 contracts for development work.
Guru was founded in 2001 by Inder Guglani and now boasts more than 1.5 million members worldwide and $250 million worth of freelancing jobs processed through the marketplace.
How to use themes and plugins to improve your online store
All of the ecommerce platforms solutions listed in this post rely on themes and plugins to customise 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:
ThemeForest.net (Features themes for all major ecommerce solutions)
TemplateMonster.com (Features themes for all major ecommerce solutions)
Shopify Themes and Apps
Prestashop Themes and Modules
Magento Themes and Extensions
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:
implementing the basic software package
implementing the chosen theme
optimizing the theme or building one from the ground up to be the right fit for your brand
implement the right modules (say a special CRM module to handle customer information storage better)
implement payment gateways so you can process order payments
integrate with shipping partners so there few to no shipping errors
Once the process is complete you will have an up and running online store, without any products or any type of content.
Adding content to your online store
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.
How to train my team in using ecommerce platforms
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:
customer relationship management
inventory and warehouse management
marketing and PR
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!