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What I've learnt: Opening an online store

This little store of mine launched on the 1st of September this year, and although it hasn't been open very long, and I'm definitely not an expert or making big dollars, there are a few things I have learnt so far that I will share to help anyone else who is thinking of starting their own!

 

No matter what you are selling; clothes, craft, mugs, flowers, plants, there will be tips in here that will apply (and a few that won't).

 

1. Decide what you're going to sell, and be unique!

It is so important to be unique with what you are selling, that doesn't mean you need to have a product that is completely new, you can have ten other people selling beeswax wraps, but if you want to sell them MAKE THEM DIFFERENT! Maybe a crazy fabric, or some new technology or sizes, or a better price point, but something needs to be different. Just because you can make what someone else is making a profit from, doesn't mean that your version will sell. You need to be able to market it and if there's no selling point then it won't work.

2. Pick a domain 

Before you start creating social media accounts, pick a name that is available everywhere. Consistency is important as it looks professional and makes it easy for your potential customers to remember your business name and find you. You should be reserving your domain name, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. Even if you don't currently use these platforms, register for as many as you can, as this also stops somebody else from getting your name.

When buying a domain name, be wary of what domain you choose. In New Zealand, .co.nz seems to be preferred over a .com domain, as it seems more local and that is important to New Zealanders. There are also strange new ones popping up such as .kiwi and .geek.nz, don't pick those.

3. Start building a following

Now that you know what you're selling and what you're called, it's time to start finding people to sell to. A good way to do this is to start posting on your business instagram. If you don't have your product yet, or don't have any of your own photographs, start reposting from other accounts that align with your brand (always giving credit) and post inspiration photos and behind the scenes sneak peeks. It's important to build a bit of a base before you launch your product. 

Over time you will start to get a feel for who your customer is, and what kind of posts they respond to. This will make it easier for you when it comes to shooting your own product and building your website.

4. Sign up for an eCommerce site and start building your website

I chose to use Shopify for my website as it seemed easy to use, and did everything I needed it to. It was also the only one I had heard of as I had previous experience with it while on a work placement. I also did a little google search of what other companies use it and there were A LOT, and some very big names so I thought it would be a good place to start. 

What I liked about it was the fact that it did everything. I know there's a lot of "Instagram Sellers" out there who strictly only use Instagram, but this didn't seem like a very professional approach to me. Also the thought of having to go through all those DMs and tracking every product and purchase manually just didn't make sense to me. Shopify, and I'm sure the other eCommerce platforms, track your sales, and handle payments and website hosting and almost everything your business needs, as well as making reports and analysing your sales data so you can track your performance which is very handy!

You also don't need to worry about the website design, as Shopify comes with a whole range of customisable themes, with a selection of free ones, and some super pricey ones! And they're very easy to use, you don't need to be a coding pro to get a professional looking website. 

5. Photography

To build your website you're going to need some photography. I found this easier to do once I had picked my website theme as I had a general idea of what kinds of photos I would need and how everything was going to be laid out. 

If you're just starting out you don't need any fancy photographic equipment. Smart phones these days have camera's that are plenty good enough, you just need to make sure you're working with good lighting! For my photo's I use a Canon 80d DSLR and Lightroom Classic to edit, but if you are shooting on a phone there are plenty of free phone apps that can be used to edit photos.

What I struggled with was figuring out what kind of photos to take. As I am working with clothing, I have tried on a model in a more staged shoot, on a model in a more natural background, on a mannequin and flat lays. Nothing I have shot on a mannequin has sold and only a few flat lays. On a model has worked the best for me, but there are other very successful stores that are the complete opposite! This is something that you need to experiment with, and don't be put off if something doesn't work, just try something new!

6. Product Descriptions

Product descriptions can make or break a sale. A customer wants to be able to click through to a product and have all their questions answered. Depending on what you're selling, make sure to list measurements, content, where it's made, what kind of condition the item is in; just think of what you would like to know before you were to purchase an item. A catchy description also helps and is something I haven't quite mastered yet!

7. Payment Methods

Another reason I chose to use a proper eCommerce platform, payments! The way I see it, the more payment options you have the more likely you are to get a sale. On my website I currently have Shopify Stripe (which handles credit card payments), PayPal Express, Afterpay, Laybuy and Poli Pay. All of these methods have various transaction charges, although all fairly minor. My plan is to trial as many as I can and see what options work the best, then I can remove anything that doesn't seem worthwhile. Although the only payment that I would really need to do this with is Poli, as it charges a monthly fee, whereas the rest are per transaction so are only costing me money if they're used. 

For an idea of how my providers are faring so far:

  • Shopify Stripe - 22 payments
  • Afterpay - 7 payments
  • Laybuy - 2 payments
  • Paypal - 2 payments
  • Poli - 1 payment

8. Postage

Once you sell something you need to send it! My customer base is very sustainably focused, therefore I use recycled or recyclable products to wrap my parcels. Presentation is very important! You want your items to be shared and tagged on Instagram so make it pretty. A personalised card is always a nice touch and separates you from faceless companies.

9. Returns and Refunds

This is very dependent on what you are selling. In the secondhand clothing community the majority of people don't offer refunds, but if you are a designer or a brand selling your own product then an option to return is usually expected and adds to your perceived trustworthiness. 

If you can't afford to give refunds, provide a store credit, which keeps the money in your store but provides the customer with options. Shopify has some of the tools to manage this but doesn't track customers credit so this would need to be done manually.

10. Generating interest and purchases

As I covered earlier, Instagram is a great place to get your name out there and generate interest in your brand. It is a great way to lead potential customers to your website. For example, from my time online, 473 people went direct to my website, 449 were referred to my website via Instagram, and the next highest was 73 people referred by Facebook. 

The conversion rate for Instagram followers vs. purchases isn't high, so don't get put off, you just have to keep working at it. I still have a long way to go, and definitely can't quit my day job anytime soon, and from my research from other sellers, the conversion rate is quite similar. My conversion rate is 2.21%, and another seller, www.girlgoneretro.com/@girlgoneretro, has 4283 followers and a conversion rate of 3%. The aim is to grow your followers, but do this as organically and genuinely as possible, there's no point having the numbers but not the right kind of people.

 

Next up, creating my own garment for the store! And how this is received...

 


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