Imagine standing under the burning light on a stage in front of millions of people and being asked… “please spell the word…pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.” The sweat beads up on your forehead as you try to desperately think what this word even means much less how to spell it! This is how it feels when the average businessperson is asked to define their target market! I know; I have been there; not in the spelling bee, in trying to define my target market. Incidentally, in case you were wondering this is a real word. According to Wikipedia, it is the longest word in a major dictionary.
Business people hate to define a target market! They moan, “But e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e can use my product.” This may be true, but trying to communicate with everyone is both expensive and extremely time consuming. Hence, most marketers tell you to define a target market and find your niche.
A place in which this logic seems to be woefully lacking is the Internet with eCommerce sites. Far too many people have been sold the bill of goods that because it is cheap and easy to do that setting up an Internet business is the next “get rich quick” opportunity; they are told it is easy and fast profits will follow. These misinformed people go out and set up eCommerce sites selling t-shirt, books, music, bumper stickers, electronics, and other items in an attempt to make a buck…and they fail!
The bottom line is there are simply too many of these vanilla eCommerce sites out. They are extremely easy to find and search, especially with services like Froogle which is offered by Google, which will literally search out the lowest price of anything your heart desires. Because there are so many of these sites out there the chance that someone will find your site are pretty slim.
If your site is also a vanilla site the chances you will land a sale are also slim; unless you have the absolute lowest price. Simply competing on price is the last refuge of a desperate and uncreative marketer! Combine these cold hard facts with the fact that your competition is one click away and you have a recipe for a mediocre eCommerce site at best.
What is the budding Internet entrepreneur to do? Here are a few guidelines to get you going in the right direction.
- Tightly Focused Niche Market: If you are selling T-Shirts create ones that target people with specific interests. For example, if you create shirts with political phrases on them they should be targeted to either Democrats or Republicans, or one of the other flavors out there such as Libertarians, Green Party, etc. If you sell books, what is your subject area? Non-fiction or fiction? If non-fiction is it business, art, architecture, etc? If it is business, is it management, marketing, sales, etc. Whatever you are selling you must appeal to a very tight select group and offer a depth of products that would appeal to them.
- Wide Breadth and Depth of Product: Once you know your exact niche then you need to find ways to carry the most products (preferably unique) for that niche possible. If it is books on sales than you need to aggregate the largest amount of sales books possible. If it is T-Shirts then offer a variety of styles with prints and phrases that others don’t have. In today’s market this is very difficult to do, especially on the Internet, but it is worth it if you can get it right.
- Helpful Organization of Products: Once you are successful in creating a tight niche and creating the broadest and deepest offering of products for that niche you should create a very intuitive organization for that site. For example, if you offer books on sales why not organize them by schools of thought on sales or B2B sales vs. B2C sales. You could even rank them by books on prospecting vs. books on actual sales. If you are an expert on your products you can come up with really innovative ways to group and categorize them that add a lot of value to your customer experience. You can create organization that isn’t necessarily easy to do for companies like Amazon. Amazon does a good job organizing material by author and subject matter, but not by particular schools of thought on something or other ways to organize the material in ways that make it easy for people to shop and find books they were not aware of in that space.
- Offer Additional Value: In the catalog world there are catalogs that are called “Magalogs” which is a combination between a catalog and a magazine. It has both products and information (articles) in it. Do the same with your web site. Can you build information around your product offering by having current news about your products or market? Create articles and other pieces of useful information, not simply a listing of products. For example, if you are selling books on sales you would have articles either yours or others (with permission to use) that have been written on sales posted for people to read. You might offer a Blog on the subject or forums for people to discuss the subject of your products not necessarily the product itself. If you sell T-shirts on politics then your content and forums would be discussing those political ideas that are represented on your shirts, not the shirts themselves. You must be an expert on not only your product, but also the interests, information, and market that surrounds your product; information that makes your product exist in the first place.
- Track Purchase Patterns: Once you start making sales be sure to do a good job tracking what customers are buying. Offer more of that same type of stuff. In addition, by keeping this type of information you can offer customers similar products as they become available. Tracking is a key strategy in being able to boost order size and frequency over time. This can be extremely complex and require large databases of information similar to Amazon, but it can also be done much more simply by creating a simple 8-10 category segmentation and putting people in one or more of those categories and tracking their purchases. This will offer the ability to improve your targeting for future promotions of products. It won’t be quite as powerful as Amazon’s system, but it also won’t be as expensive either. Simple systems can have big effects on repeat business.
- Build a Loyalty Program: Any marketer or sales person worth their salt will tell you it is much easier to sell to an existing or past customer than it is to find and sell to a new one. Using that logic you can create reward programs, specialized promotional offers, contests, and many other creative ideas to bring customers that have already bought from you back to your site to buy again. I have purchased from a number of eCommerce sites where once my purchase was fulfilled I never heard from them again. After a couple of months I can’t even remember where I bought it. A well built and consistent loyalty program will solve this problem.
- Create an Affiliate Program on Steroids: Most affiliate programs are totally lack luster at best. An affiliate simply signs up and gets a few introductory emails and a link they post on their site with a logo. They are pretty much left on their own to try and make money with this affiliate program. Be different. Create a program where you create sales ideas, specialized content, marketing campaigns designed for your affiliates to use with their audience. Communicate with your affiliates regularly with a specialized eNewsletter directed to just them. Give them ideas on how to use your program to promote you and hence make more money for themselves. Consider this, when someone buys a McDonald’s franchise they are given a complete system for doing business. McDonald’s corporate office creates marketing campaigns, training systems, products, and other things designed to do one thing…make their franchisees as much money as possible. If the franchisee makes money so does McDonald’s corporate. Help your affiliates help themselves and in the process help you.
Despite all the claims in the dot com era starting a business on the Internet is like starting a business anywhere else. It takes dedication, creativity, sweat, blood, and some tears. Creating an eCommerce site can be a very exciting and lucrative business, but if you make the mistake that all you have to do is throw up a mediocre web site with some products that everybody carries and wait for the cash to roll in you will be waiting a while. Like digging a goldmine, if you never pick up a shovel and start moving dirt and continually looking for the gold you will never get rich.
Look for ways to build unique experiences for your customers. Use creativity to build ideas and promotions others don’t use. Constantly innovate to stay ahead of your competition. Think of ways to utilize, combine, and build on these steps in your own eCommerce site and you will realize more sales and more profits. It is a lot of work to implement these things, but the work and creativity you put into your business and your site will put you leaps and bounds ahead of your competition.