Many small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) think they cannot compete with the big online retailers such as Amazon and Walmart. Some of the statistics would seem to support this.
Just look at Amazon, which claimed an estimated 44% of U.S. ecommerce sales in 2017. But SMEs should not give up or feel intimidated.
If we look deeper at the Amazon numbers, there is good news. In its most recent quarterly report, Amazon reported a 44% increase in revenue from third-party sellers.
There are many ways SMEs can run a successful ecommerce marketplace business. And we are here to help you compete with the biggest and best in the online retail space.
We’ll show you how to create a successful ecommerce website and share information on how to make your local ecommerce business stand out from the crowd (especially amongst the giants).
Ten tips for a successful small to medium-sized business ecommerce website
These tips apply to all ecommerce websites – large and small. Smaller businesses may be tempted to ignore some of these items, thinking they cannot afford them or that none of it really matters.
But it does. Customers have come to expect a certain level of service and functionality from all online retailers, regardless of their size. As you build or revisit your ecommerce marketplace website, keep these ten tips in front of your mind.
1. Spend time upfront to design a quality site.
Websites can be built with just a few clicks these days. But small business ecommerce websites should not be thrown together without giving some proper attention to design.
Your layout should be visually appealing, drawing customers’ attention to your feature products or services. There are hundreds of pre-designed themes and templates to choose from, offered by the most popular ecommerce sites. A professional-looking site does not have to cost a fortune, but you should take some time to sort through the options.
The style and colors of your site should convey and reinforce your brand image. Products should be easy to locate.
More is not always better. Larger images with less text often do a better job of grabbing a shopper’s attention.
Work with a professional if you’re unsure how to design a website that will encourage shoppers to look around and add items to their cart.
2. Provide quality online customer support.
Your customers need to know they can get questions answered and receive assistance after normal working hours. You need to make it easy for them to reach your business via email, chat, or phone. The way to contact them should be highly visible.
If you have the means to provide 24/7 customer support, you should do so, as many customers find this valuable. Many customers shop after working hours. Chatbots are the latest way many businesses are making 24/7 service available.
Emails should be answered promptly. At the very least, an automatic reply acknowledging receipt of a customer email should be sent out immediately.
3. Offer the most popular payment options.
You need to make it easy for customers to pay. This requires that you offer multiple payment options.
PayPal and credit cards are the most popular methods, but others – such as Google Wallet and Apple Pay – are gaining traction. Stay on top of these payment services so you ensure you’re offering your customers the most desired payment options.
4. Create a purposeful blog.
A blog is an excellent way to spread the word about your business. But make each post count.
Use blogs as an opportunity to share information your target customer will find useful and relevant. This will solidify you as an expert in your industry and show you truly care about your clientele.
Posts should be focused around carefully selected keywords based on Search Engine Optimization (SEO). If you’re not familiar with SEO or how to determine which keywords are right for your business, check out this resource to help get you started.
5. Include product reviews.
Reviews are a great way to increase customer trust and to answer questions that may arise on products. Be sure to encourage customers to write reviews by offering incentives such as a coupon or discount when a review is written.
6. Optimize your site for mobile.
More customers are doing all of their shopping on their mobile devices. If your site is not optimized for the mobile experience, you risk losing out on sales.
Supporting the entire mobile experience entails:
- Support for mobile-friendly search, including consideration for bandwidth and display restrictions on mobile devices.
- Product videos and pictures that display well on mobile.
- Support for digital wallets and mobile checkout.
- Reaching out to customers via SMS rather than just email.
7. Offer free or low-cost shipping.
Online shoppers have become accustomed to fast and free shipping, thanks to giants such as Amazon. Smaller businesses need to compete on this front.
A free shipping policy can often increase sales enough to offset the cost you incur from waiving the shipping fee.
If you cannot afford free shipping, explore a partnership with a local delivery service or consider using physical stores as distribution centers.
It is worth the time to see what the main shippers such as UPS and the USPS can provide for your business, so you can contend with the bigger players in the ecommerce marketplace.
8. Use high-quality images.
Pictures are the primary way online shoppers decide to purchase. Images are often more important than the accompanying text, so make sure they sell your product well.
High-quality images are critical. They should be clear, show the details of the product, and display the product from various angles. Include product videos when appropriate to show the product in action.
9. Make returns simple and guaranteed.
Offering free returns and a guaranteed return policy removes the fear factor some customers have when shopping online. If a customer knows they can return an item that does not fit or is not what they expected, they are more likely to give it a shot.
And your hassle-free return policy will earn you high marks with customers, making them more likely to return and to recommend you to others.
10. Make it easy to check out.
Customers do not want to waste time entering endless details at checkout. Encourage repeat customers to create an account that will save shipping and billing details so checkout can be done in just a few clicks. And if they have to go “back” after they’ve entered shipping data into the cart, make sure that data is retained so they don’t have to enter it again.
Fast checkout keeps customers happy and more likely to complete the purchase process.
How smaller businesses can stand out in the ecommerce marketplace
As SMEs grow, one of the biggest threats are the larger players – the giants – in the online retail space. So how can you compete with Amazon, Walmart, and eBay?
Diversify with an omni-channel approach.
One of the best ways to compete against the bigger players is to expand your presence on other platforms. Smaller online retailers can move beyond their website and sell on such platforms as Walmart Marketplace and Amazon.
Many ecommerce platforms such as Shopify now also make it easy to start selling via Facebook, Instagram, pop-up shops, and even brick-and-mortar stores.
Managing all of these channels may sound intimidating, but there are ways to create efficiencies in the process that are affordable for smaller businesses.
A powerful integration platform can be used to set up ecommerce integration with Amazon, WooCommerce, or any other ecommerce marketplace.
Integration provides many advantages:
- Removal of manual entry of orders.
- Real-time inventory updates.
- Faster order fulfillment.
With an affordable yet powerful integration platform in the market, SMEs can now afford to expand and diversify.
Offering an exclusive or unique product that is not available through these behemoths makes your smaller business stand out.
A narrower focus means you can become an expert and leader in that niche.
Add a personal touch.
Gift wrapping items and handwritten thank you notes are personal touches customers will not get from the bigger chains.
Appreciation for these small sentiments will not be lost on consumers.
Create a brand.
Brand loyalty is huge when it comes to competing with larger enterprises. It is one of the best ways to beat out the giants when you cannot compete on price alone.
You can build brand loyalty through excellent customer service, product differentiation, quality blog posts, creating a strong “character” for your company, and smart social media marketing. Do whatever you can to connect more personally with customers.
Offer offline experiences.
Smaller businesses have the opportunity to provide local, in-person events.
There is value to be gained from face-to-face shopping. It creates loyalty that will carry over to your online presence.
Leverage third-party directories.
Local listings are a great resource for getting your name out there. But you have to keep the information up to date. There are about 50 web-based directories that are very important and can make a huge difference in your website traffic.
Be sure to take advantage of the big three in this space:
- Google My Business local listing page
- Bing Places for Business local listing page
- Yelp local listing page
These three consumer resources are free and are the most commonly used ones, making them the most important ones for SMEs to list on and maintain for accuracy.
You should also add holiday hours and special events such as holiday sales to these listings.
Get to know your target market. Is there a way you can make their shopping experience more convenient or engaging?
Perhaps a simple plugin or app could be used to make your business stand out from the crowd. Always be thinking of ways you can differentiate yourself.
As online giants such as Amazon continue to rake in more sales through third-party sellers, smaller businesses have hope and an opportunity. Take the time to create an engaging and intuitive website, but also be sure to diversify and expand your presence through multiple channels.
These tips will set any smaller business up for success, no matter how large the competition is.