Selling products over the Internet from the comfort of your home is a real thing. Countless people do it and they all started from a similar place.
Whether they started from the hum and whirr of a dial up modem accessing the Internet, by navigating the web with text based commands, or by jumping right into the age of GUI and Google, they all started not knowing how to sell stuff online.
The beauty now is, after much trial and tribulation, people have sorted out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to selling products online from home. More than that, giant name brand online store fronts like Amazon exist that are available 24 hours daily to study for best practices. But you know something? Even the big names don’t always get it right.
There are many factors that can make or break an online store. They don’t all have to be implemented but do as much as you can with the time and skill-set you have available, and improve as you go.
1) An Image Is Worth More That A Thousand Words, Especially For Online Shopping
Bright, crisp images are important when making a decision to purchase something over the Internet. Sight, and sometimes sound are the only senses that can be used when making a decision to buy or click away.
Taste, touch, and smell are out of the equation at this time in history.
I know we hear a lot that images should be as tiny (file size wise at least) as possible so that they load faster when a web page loads. And that is true. But between PNG and WebP format, we can get away with very high quality images with small file sizes.
Also, larger more high res versions of images can be made available with a click if the potential customer chooses.
Beyond file size, back drop and demonstration should be considered important when taking images of products. And if more than one angle matters, all those angles should be captured as an image.
There are many free online photo editing tools and apps, plus sites like Fiverr and eLance are full of talented people that can be hired on a long term or ad hoc basis to help with images.
2) Compelling Descriptions Should Spell Out What An Image Cannot
There’s only so far that you can take an image to appeal to the “sight” sense. Videos can certainly help in many cases. Even animated GIFs might have a place.
But compelling descriptions have multi-purpose value.
First, a great description can answer all questions that the potential buyer has even before the questions are asked.
Next, it provides content that makes it more easily dicoverable in search engines.
Plus, the information presented can limit the number of support requests and product returns. Someone may buy something based on assumption and later return it when that assumption could have been dealt with had the description been more clear.
With that said, too much information has the possibility to overwhelm, so a balance should be sought. “More info” tabs help hide information until the browser is interested in having a deeper look.
3) Customer Service Should Be One Of The Top Priorities – Happy Customers Encourage Word-Of-Mouth Advertising (Which Is Free) And Often Come Back For More
There should be staff in place to handle any and all customer matters in a timely and efficient manner. Some tasks, like providing detailed descriptions for products, can lighten the need for human to human customer support but it is still important that it exists when the need arises.
Not just before, during, and after sale support though, there are the little things that go a long way:
- How about sending a thank-you email after a purchase?
- A rare treat might be to get a hand written letter to a physical mailbox! This could be a thank you or a “please come again” type message.
- If a customer has a particular frustration, then after it is rectified and they are completely happy, go over and above and offer something extra. A friend of mine runs a shop selling pet ID tags and when a technology glitch surfaced that temporarily angered a customer, he helped her process her order. She was very happy. He later sent her a two-use coupon. One for her next purchase and one for a friend.
- Give a free gift to customers. Just add it in the product box when shipped, or separately later so they don’t feel they paid extra for shipping. Trutfully though, even a sticker, a magnet or a pen could mean something.
- For some businesses it makes sense to make a follow up phone call too.
- When I used to buy wholesale computer parts my supplier Wally used to call me on my birthday and ask me what motherboard I wanted as a gift. He would also send me a card with a hand written note during the holidays.
- Also, it’s important to keep a customer up to date with the status of an order. This, for the most part, can be automated. A personal email or phone call won’t hurt when something arises out of the ordinary.
4) eCommerce SEO Is Just As Important As SEO For Other Content On The Web – Give Each Product Its Own Web Page
Every page on the Internet has the potential to rank for something in the search engine results. It helps if the page is about one specific “topic.” The topic in this case could be all about the one product.
Consider what people would type in the search engines to find a product. That phrase could be used as the title for the web page for that item.
Having it in the HTML title tag, the main heading tag, and the URL provides a strong indication to search engines what the page is about.
Including the phrase again in the copy, and having a related image enforces the topic even further.
Of course, when other people candidly link to the web page and say “check out this product” that further solidifies the web page as a player in the search results for its optimized keyword (and others).
Over time you can check the stats for your site to see what other terms brought in traffic to a given product page and make efforts to improve and strengthen the rank.
I won’t cover it here, but using the Google Suggest keyword research approach and/or the Google Keyword Planner tool offer a quick and simple way to find terms people are looking for. Both are free and the latter requires a Google Account (a Gmail address will work).
5) Look To Other Platforms That You Can Pull Your Product Listing Into
I work for a large raw food store online and one of the tasks that I had in the past was pulling his product line into other product management tools to provide another avenue for sales.
This is much better when the following conditions are true:
- Your product line is complete. Meaning… you don’t add new products to your main catalog on a daily basis (unless RSS and auto-update is in play).
- The product feed can be exported or it uses RSS.
- The other provider has a tool that makes it simple to import a product feed from RSS or CSV.
This offers great exposure for your products. Mind you, this could also mean a lot more work and education.
It’s best when you are able to pull your catalog into a site that just shows snippets of your products. It’s nice if they are categorized the same as your main product line and it would be ideal if they self-updated when a change is made in the main catalog. In this situation, a click on the product title would bring the potential customer to your main store for checkout.
My friend imported his product catalog images into his Facebook page to do exactly that.
There are other stores online where you can import products but some require that you handle fulfillment through those stores. And a lot of times you are maintaining separate databases of products which can get to be overwhelming when there are lots of items.
This was a few years ago now but I was importing his catalog into eBay, Amazon and Google. I’m sure there are many others.
The platfrom in which you sell from (as your main shop) can be a factor in the success of your store. I have always launched my stores from my own domains using a content management system but there are plenty of options available, including hosted options.
You could use WordPress with some add-ons, or you could use dedicated shopping cart software, or even a custom solution.
You might opt for an integrated solution that is built on your domain but “embeds” the services of 3rd party carts and payment processing. This is very common.
Then you have the hosted options to have your own store. The big names that come to mind that I see around a lot include Etsy, Shopify and Yahoo! Shopping. eBay and Amazon also let you have your own “store” and also integrate your products into their existing catalog.
There are plenty of options. You don’t have to do them all to see success. In fact, my best advice would be to master one before even considering working with another.
But know that many many people before you have successfully built and run online stores from home and there are enough tools (a lot that are free) and information (again, a lot that is offered free) that can help you do the same.