So, You Want to Add eCommerce? A Guide
While some entrepreneurs start with an idea for a product, some just start with an idea. Whether it’s a need for knowledge in your community niche, a passion to create and share your art, or just a place to post things that you think are funny, there are millions of people creating content every day without monetizing it in the form of selling a product. So, what happens when they want to add eCommerce to their website?
For some content creators, it’s easier than others. Hopefully, this will serve as a helpful guide for how to add eCommerce to your existing brand. Let’s get into it.
First, you already have an audience. Congratulations! You get to skip the first step in the entrepreneurial handbook affectionately referred to as “screaming into the void.” Instead of starting from scratch and trying to convince a lot of people that you have a good idea, you’ve already built an audience – maybe it’s a Facebook group, maybe it’s an email newsletter. You just need to expand on your original idea and leverage the existing follower base you have.
The next step depends on whether or not you have a clear idea of what products to offer. If you’ve already had a great idea, you can start polling your subscribers to see how they feel about it. It is not an advisable move to just charge ahead without your audience’s input. Having an existing audience won’t mean anything if they aren’t interested in what you’re selling.
Where your audience is located will affect how you get their input. If you create art and post it on social media, for example, making prints is a pretty clear path. And you can poll your audience on which pieces they are most interested in purchasing as prints.
There are many forks in the road at the point of product creation, once you decide what it is that you want to create. However, it all boils down to the make-or-buy decision. Do you make the product yourself, or buy it/outsource it? (And there are many options that blend the two extremes.)
Continuing with the artist example, if you want to outsource, you may contract with a printing company that does the printing and sends them to you, and you then sell them to your audience. Alternatively, you could work with a company like Redbubble or Teespring that will do the printing and the selling, and you can direct your audience to their platform. Finally, you might consider buying a nice printer and doing it all yourself. If you’re wanting to create branded merch, this could mean buying a Cricut machine, creating designs, and putting them on blanks yourself. Amazon has a good selection of Cricut machines
Should You Consider Drop Shipping When You Add eCommerce?
As a rule of thumb, outsourcing to companies that handle production while you focus on sales and marketing (i.e., dropshipping) cuts into your profits but can save you money and time upfront. If you are operating on a shoestring budget, it can be a great way to start out until you build capital and are able to invest in the machinery, materials, and labor necessary to do in-house production.
If you want to have a lot of control over the process, you need to be willing to spend time researching and a lot more money upfront investing. That will leave you with the highest cut of profits – usually. As part of your research, you’ll need to figure out if outsourcing to a company that can take advantage of economies of scale better than you can, will actually be cheaper than buying all the supplies and materials yourself.
Finally, depending on your industry, you might want to consider white labeling. This can be a great choice particularly for anyone wanting to get into fashion or makeup, as you can curate (and purchase wholesale) a collection that you feel fits your brand and put your labels and branding on it.
You may also want to read: How to Use Google Analytics to Improve Conversions: A Guide for eCommerce Owners
Where you sell your products will vary a little bit based on which product creation route you take. But in most cases, you’ll have a lot of options. If you’ve chosen a print-on-demand site then you can basically skip this and the fulfillment step! For other options, read on.
Typically, you’ll want your own website (and you probably already have one). If you get a lot of traffic to your website already, that’s a big mark in favor of selling there too. Even if you have a basic template on a site like Squarespace, the process of adding eCommerce is simple, and usually just a matter of upgrading your plan and populating your shop.
You can also consider social selling if your social media following is. In most cases, you’ll still need to add eCommerce to your site. You can link it to your social media channel and use tools such as Instagram’s shoppable tags to sell more directly to your followers.
Finally, you can try heading to a platform like Etsy that targets an audience that has a lot of overlap with your audience (and fits with your niche of products, of course). If you make your own merch, you could sell it there. But you’re unlikely to find an entirely new audience. It would be a better fit if you wanted to sell digital tutorials for how to make something, as Etsy sells primarily to crafters and people who want handmade goods.
Again, if you’ve chosen the print-on-demand type service, you won’t have to worry about fulfillment! As you get deeper into researching how to do everything yourself, it will start to become clear why outsourcing is such an appealing choice. (It can be pretty exhausting to do it all yourself.) But if you’re the DIY type, you’re going to have to figure out how to get the product to the customer.
This step involves researching packaging and shipping options to determine which is the best fit for your product. Ultimately you will just need to put in the time to figure out the sizes and weights of your boxes and which company is going to give you the best deal.
There is an outsourcing option for this step. But typically, that isn’t an option until you hit a certain volume of sales. If you’re interested in outsourcing, you can work with a third-party logistics company, which will store, pack, and ship out your orders for you.
Most of these companies offer a give-and-take when it comes to value and cost. Working with a fulfillment warehouse located in California might be advantageous for reaching customers on the West Coast. But comes with higher tax obligations, for example.
Some companies specialize in handling lighter, smaller items that can be packed into lightweight poly mailers, while others have the necessary warehouse configurations and equipment built to handle heavy and oversize goods. You’ll have to do some serious research on product fulfillment. And asking the right questions could help you avoid making the wrong choice.
We’ve discussed the process of creating physical products, but what if your focus is on something that’s digital?
Some of what has already been covered, like determining your audience or platform, won’t differ too much.
It’s mostly the product and fulfillment (in the strict sense of distributing it) that changes. Plenty of companies offer services, courses, high-end whitepapers, or other knowledge products that require payment in order to access. If that’s more what your focus is, you can outsource creative services required to design, say, a 10-week marketing video course through freelancer platforms such as UpWork or Fiverr.
Once you have a piece of digital content ready to sell, the same tried-and-true SEO tactics that have gotten you this far should be deployed in order to get any native content ranking high in search. If you decide to sell your content on specialized marketplaces, there’s no shortage of opportunities. Udemy, Coursera, and Skillshare all offer high-quality tutorials on any number of subjects. Amazon is, of course, the dominant eBook marketplace. But you can even find eBooks or PDFs on Etsy if your niche is creative enough. (For example, architectural firms sell building plans on Etsy.)
Listing your work on ProductHunt is also a fantastic way to build grassroots awareness and support outside of the network you already have, too.
How Do Things Change?
It’s worth thinking about how you’re going to interact with your followers once some of them become your customers. For brands that start with a product, for example, a clothing brand, their audience expects their focus to be on selling. But, as is becoming more common these days, many businesses are producing something for free, and transitioning into monetizing.
Suddenly, you may start getting complaints from customers. Some, who feel that they are being heard through your customer service channel, may take to your social media, airing their woes there. You need to be prepared to respond and help them – not only for their sake but for followers who can see how you react. After all, that’s the whole reason the dissatisfied customer took to social media – so that you would be forced to respond publicly.
For your followers that are not customers, you’ll likely want to balance promoting your products without becoming too “salesy”. You’ll risk offending and alienating that audience you worked so hard to build if they feel like all you want is their money.
Finally, you’ll want to figure out how to make it all work together. Investing in omnichannel integrations can allow for streamlined chat services and customer support, and inventory tracking can help you stay ahead of the game as you add complexity to your business and begin to scale.
Jake Rheude is the Director of Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, an eCommerce fulfillment warehouse that was born out of eCommerce. He has years of experience in eCommerce and business development. In his free time, Jake enjoys reading about business and sharing his own experience with others.
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