The art of successfully launching an e-business

Part 4: Four truths about selling online

For many people, launching an online business can seem like a turnkey solution for increasing their sales. However, this kind of business requires a number of decisions and investments that entrepreneurs often haven’t considered before they start. What is the best way to successfully jump into online sales without getting burned?

To tackle the subject, three digital experts from Sid Lee shared their experiences during a roundtable discussion. Here is a meeting of the minds between Vincent Ramsay-Lemelin, Senior Digital Director of Creation and Innovation, Jean-François Lavigne, UX Director, and Jonathan Pallet, Strategist.

The discussion was hosted by Michèle Nicole Provencher, Content Supervisor at Sid Lee.

Lesson 1: Plan the launch of your online business as if you were starting a business from the very beginning.

MNP: What investments and preparations are necessary in order to create and maintain an online business?

VR-L: You need a huge amount of preparation, but above all you need a team. A good example is Altitude Sports. At the beginning, they had a store with 15 employees; now, they have a website and over 130 employees. You need a lot more people to manage a site than a store.

JP: With online businesses, performance is essential. You need specialists in analysis and search engine optimization (SEO) and in search engine marketing (SEM), as well as in social media. Photographers, copywriters and designers are also necessary to create the site’s content. You also have to think about managing inventory: the processing of orders and returns, packaging, transportation, etc. Companies that already have one or several warehouses will generally open another specially for their e-business. Another possibility is subcontracting your warehouse management. There are companies, such as Canada Post in particular, that offer turnkey warehouse management solutions.

J-FL: Those who are successful with their online business start out small in order to test out their needs and the demand. For example, you can start by offering a smaller selection of items than you offer in-store in order to avoid suddenly having too much inventory to manage. Afterwards, you can slowly grow and optimise as you progress.

Lesson 2: Don’t stop doing what you already know

MNP: Have you noticed any preconceived ideas among clients who decide to launch an e-business?

VR-L: What I see a lot is that already well-established companies often expect their site to be at the same level as their stores right away. That’s impossible. Starting an online business isn’t like opening a new store – it’s almost like starting a new business.

JP: People often hope to achieve a version of Amazon’s success, but in reality they don’t need that. And anyway, Amazon does it better than they can. You have to think about the kind of brand experience you want to offer, and then think of a site that is in line with that idea. If you sell handmade soap, you could offer free samples to customers on orders of $50 or more, for example. It’s a gift for the customer and introduces them to other products at the same time. Plus, if everything is very well presented, people will see that the product is artisanal and unique. So you don’t need to offer 24-hour shipping like Amazon.

J-FL: You have to manage people’s expectations. You can simply explain that delivery takes five working days, there’s a $10 fee or there’s a minimum purchase. Make sure that there are no unpleasant surprises for the customer.

JP: BonLook, which sells eyewear online, is a good example: They need several days to manufacture the glasses. Depending on the complexity, delivery can take between 8 and 30 days, but since everything is very well explained on the site, this avoids any frustration.

Lesson 3: Pay attention to the behaviour of your site’s users

MNP: How do you discern whether there might be problems with your e-commerce website?

J-FL: It’s pretty easy to see when users enter and leave a site. Therefore, you can discern the problem and apply solutions that will translate into more conversions. For example, take the case of coupons in the payment section. In my experience, it’s often more productive to hide them. Why? Because once the customer sees this option, they’re going to leave the site without completing their transaction in order to try and find a way to get a coupon and take advantage of a discount. You really have to pay attention to behaviour, because the most obvious solution is not always the best one.

VR-L: You need to see technology as a toolbox and find a way of using it to your advantage. If you copy the way someone else is doing something, you lose an opportunity to do something different. And isn’t doing things differently the key to success?

The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal. As a result, the Chamber cannot be held responsible for published content.

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