Ideas tend to create a rush of activity & excitement. In the heady early days of a new project, getting to grips with the pure mechanics of an idea can often feel a lot more like progress than actually thinking about why you are doing it in the first place. In the world of e-commerce, asking ‘why’ is essential. In this, the first post in our E-commerce Basics series, we’ll address some of the all-important first steps that come before building your site.
If I asked you to get in the car with me and drive to London, you’d no doubt ask me why. Is it likely that you would get in without a thought and pass the miles in quiet acceptance? Probably not. Your new e-commerce idea though will become your life. It will suck you in and, for good or ill, become your primary focus for the next few years. Asking ‘why’, tempering that enthusiasm and grabbing the pens and paper to understand what you are about to embark upon will save you time, money and potentially, a lot of sleepless nights.
It’s not uncommon for someone else to have already had the same idea, so a good, sensible first step it is to check the market. Perhaps you plan to be a footwear retailer specialising in handmade Spanish shoes? An hour spent web searching the lie of the land will tell you if anyone else is doing this. How? You already have the skills: use generic phrases and keywords and put yourself in the place of a potential consumer. Be critical. Is there already someone doing your exact idea? If so, are there weaknesses in their model? Is their site flawed, or is it seemingly perfect? How’s their service? Importantly, how good is the product? Be prepared to buy from them to assess how they do business and the quality of their offering. Boring? Unnecessary? Not if you one day hope to compete with them.
We’re going to cover this in more detail in a future edition of our E-commerce Basics series, but as a quick and dirty guide, once you have concluded some initial market research, honing in on the popularity of your new product, sector or category is most certainly a great idea. With tools like Moz Pro’s Keyword Explorer at your fingertips (our favoured tool), it’s the work of a moment to analyse search volumes, popularity (or lack thereof) and potential competition. That last word: competition – if the keyword research shows a market ripe for disruption, or so well covered it would take years and hundreds of thousands to crack, pay attention. These small, seemingly innocuous markers along the forest trail pretty much hint at what your future might look like, should you enter the market.
And yet, sometimes a hard market is no reason to back out. For example, a creative strategy of reverse-minded search engine optimisation can reap the rewards. How? As a real-world example, we did very well at Always Riding by adding branded categories that targeted highly sought-after (but often not well represented) spare parts that we knew customers would need to buy during a product’s lifecycle. When the actual products were hard to rank for, we tried the back door – and it worked!
Example product: road bike shoes. The spares? Think straps, heel pads, laces or tension adjusters.
The results of your market research may better inform your requirement for cash (a bald word but it’s not abstract ‘investment’, it’s cold, hard cash – actual money!). Building your site, setting up the supply chain, getting staff, pre-ordering or perhaps making your first prototypes will take time (another type of cash, because as you are doing this preparatory work, you are not earning money) and actual dollar’s down.
If you’ve done your research and the results indicate that you can find space in the market, then you might be ready to start looking at the mechanics of getting things started – take that excitement off ice, it’s go time!
Hopefully, you’ve found this blog useful, and I haven’t dampened your enthusiasm. I began an e-commerce journey of my own nine years ago, and this year sold out the majority share in the business. One of my regrets is not doing the above sufficiently before I started. While it did all work out in the long run, it was I think, a lot harder than it needed to be. I should have spent more time honing our proposition before putting the building blocks in place. Looking back, I could have saved a lot of time, money and stress, so don’t make my mistakes!