Retail 101

What You Should Know Before Opening An Online Store

Whether you’re just starting to sell a product or are already in retail, opening an online store is a great way to diversify your sales. No matter if your store is on Amazon, Etsy, or your own website, there are certain hurdles every online retailer faces.

Before you throw yourself into the lion’s den of shipping, fees, and the ever-present threat of bad reviews, make sure you familiarize yourself with the basics of what everyone opening an online store needs to know.

1) Get Ready For Customer Service

Good customer service vastly improves your online store

The most important thing about operating an online store is having good customer service. Because of the inherent anonymity of the internet, people feel much less emotionally attached to your business than if it was a brick and mortar location. This means that if anything negative happens, they’ll be much more inclined to immediately ride you off altogether and post bad reviews.

Although some people are rude and entitled, this attitude is coming from a fair place. There are a ton of online stores which are scams or just bad businesses. Having great customer service allows people to feel at ease. When they feel like they’re interacting with a real person and a quality business, they’ll open up and relax.

So how do you have good customer service? Although that can be defined in many different ways, a general guideline is:

  • Have a great attitude. Be professional and patient. Direct and logical, but also kind.
  • Make sure your response time is good. Same day is best, within a few hours is better. If you’re taking multiple days to respond, people are going to get antsy and nervous.
  • Have clear policies listed in obvious places. When people get irate, pointing these out is one of your best options.
    • Bonus Points: Have 1 or 2 generous policies, like free shipping or free returns. You can also make exemptions to your policies to polite or new customers to make them feel valued.
  • Use professional copy on your website/ packaging. Customer service starts before customers ever interact with you. By being professional in general, you’re signaling to customers that you’ll be professional if they need something from you.
  • Listen. If you get the same complaint from three different people, that’s valuable information for your business.

Remember, having good customer service isn’t just about doing good business; in an online context it’s the lifeblood of your store. Why? Because:

2) Everything Hinges On Getting Good Reviews

Getting good reviews is an important part of your online shop.

Yelp, Uber, Amazon, and tons of other tech-based companies gave us more than just convenient service from the comfort of our own homes; they gave us the star rating system. Sure, ratings existed before the internet, but they were nowhere near as important as they are now.

Unless you’re opening your online store on your own website, chances are your shop will have reviews and star ratings that you cannot control or remove. And ratings greatly affect your shop, for better or for worse. 90% of potential customers read reviews before making a purchase, and 88% of potential customers value online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.

Not only that, but if your shop is on a site where it competes with other shops, like Etsy or Amazon, the amount and positivity of reviews affects how your store ranks in search results. If you get enough negative reviews early on, your store may become essentially invisible to future shoppers.

So how do you make sure your shop appears towards the top of search? There are a couple of techniques you can use.

3) Have A Lot Of Products

Having a ton of products improves your online store

Online stores are just websites, and they follow the same rules all websites do. This means that ranking is incredibly important. The main battle you’re fighting isn’t to convince customers your product is good; it’s to get your product in front of customers at all.

One of the best ways to increase the visibility of your online store is to increase the number of products you have. Increasing the number of products you have increases the number of pages your store has, which increases ranking.

There’s no magic number to how many items you should have because not all shop categories are the same. If you sell beads, you’re most likely going to have hundreds or thousands of variations. If you sell handcrafted tables, you’re going to have a few dozen maximum.

Whatever your category, a good general rule of thumb is to make sure your store has at least a few grids of products. Around 20 items is probably the low end for what customers will consider a ‘real’ store.

Even if you only have one product when you open your online store, you can still have multiple listings on your store. Different colors, sizes, and packs of multiple products are all ways to increase the number of items in your store without making new products.

Scrub daddy showing a wide variety of product lines
The daddy of the daddies

Having a wide product selection is crucial to making your online shop seem professional and increasing your search results, but it’s not the only thing you can do to make sure people see your items. No matter where you host your store, you should make sure you:

4) Do As Much SEO / Tagging As Possible

SEO and tagging for online shops

This will vary wildly depending on where your site is located, but no matter what type of shop you have, it’s extremely important to have good SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and tagging.

Think about how the internet works for a second. Let’s say someone wants to buy a new broom. The algorithms that control which brooms the customer sees are lines of code that have no idea what a broom is, much less what the best broom is. All they can do is follow their code and show the customer which web pages rank the highest for keywords related to broom.

So even if you’re looking at your store and based on the picture, price, and quality, you know that your broom is the best, that literally doesn’t matter at all to the computer. All that matters is tagging and SEO.

Ok, so what do tagging and SEO mean for you? That depends on where your store is hosted. If you’re on your own website, you have the most options, you can directly implement any SEO techniques. The flexibility is nice, but that also means all the SEO is all on your shoulders. If you’re hosting your own online shop, you should read many, many blog articles on how to have good SEO and maybe even hire someone to set you up and teach you what to do.

If however, your shop is hosted on an already existing site, this means you’ll have to research exactly what options you have.

In Etsy stores, there are several areas you can optimize to make sure your products show up in search. Your product title is the most important, and should be found directly from using keyword searches to find out what customers are looking for. Your product categories, image file names, and general tags should also be keyword optimized.

The rules will be different depending on wherever you open your online shop, but before you make any listings, you should thoroughly research how to best use SEO for that specific site.  

5) Research Your Fees

Fees associated with your online store.

Every online shop is going to have fees associated with it, and these fees play an important part in deciding what price your product should be. Even if you have your own website, you still have to pay hosting and credit card fees.

If you’re on another platform, you’ll have a different variety of fees. Most online shops have some kind of combination of a monthly cost, as well as a fee for each additional listing. Credit cards are accepted on all these major websites, so those fees are passed onto the seller as well.

You should have a clear understanding of all the fees you’ll have to pay before you start your shop, since the fees need to be incorporated into your pricing. If you’re selling large ticket items, this is important but not crucial. However, if your margins are slim and you rely on bulk sales to make a profit, understanding these fees is incredibly important.

Opening an online store can be an excellent experience for a business owner. If you’re able to provide a great product and get your store in front of enough people, you can make a good chunk of money and get valuable feedback about your product and business.

3 comments on “What You Should Know Before Opening An Online Store

  1. Angela Garcia

    Great subject. Useful tips.

  2. Robin Higgins

    Thank you!

  3. Michael Jones

    Sweet article Robin, very direct and straight to the point. I’ve gotta implement these principles into my website, and see how it affects my sells. Thanks for the advice.

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