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4 Startlingly Basic Mistakes That Doom Most Ecommerce Startups

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Consumer have overwhelmingly embraced online shopping.

According to a recent UPS study, 70 percent want to shop their favorite retailer digitally. As a result, the category is seeing huge gains and growth annually. Just last year, ecommerce grew 13 percent. Online is increasingly the norm for shopping.

We’re seeing more ecommerce companies launch each year to take advantage of this migration, many in new categories – art, electronic cigarettes, mattresses, etc. – that were previously relegated to brick-and-mortar retail. While a handful manage to be successful ventures over the long-term, 75 percent of the time these startups unfortunately fail.

When I launched my company, V2, in 2009, I knew failure was one mistake away. With that in mind, here are the four biggest pitfalls I avoided in order to grow my business into the top online player in its category.

Related: 5 Ecommerce Mistakes to Avoid: A Newbie's Guide

1. Not being focused.

Though it seems simple enough, in launching an ecommerce portal, it’s critical to determine exactly what you’re selling and what you’re not. Many startups think they can do it all at launch and offer too many products. Too many products confuse customers, dilute your store’s core value proposition, and can strain financial and management resources. At launch, the best approach is to become a master in a particular area by starting small in very, very niche market.

Once you’ve established your presence in the market and have demonstrated success within that area, then you can think about evolving the company further. Zappos is a perfect example. They conquered shoes, first and foremost – that was their early focus. After that, they branched out to a more comprehensive apparel strategy. 

2. Not optimizing site navigation.

A website that cannot easily be navigated is a huge turnoff for visitors. They want everything easy, convenient and intuitive, from homepage browsing to checkout and every page in between. Some of the most critical navigation elements in ecommerce are search (for shoppers with specific tastes), labels (be straightforward) and visuals (they drive navigation more than text).

The last thing a company wants is to make their navigation challenging when the user is moving forward with a purchase. After all, it’s difficult enough to get a lead to your site. Checkout, in particular, needs to feel familiar. Having a shopper ready to make a purchase and subsequently struggling with buying is at the heart of why the industry’s cart abandonment rate seems eternally stuck at 67 percent.

Related: 4 Strategies to Stop Shopping Cart Abandonment on Mobile

3. Not addressing SEO early on.

Deploying SEO for your ecommerce site is a no-brainer, but the key is to integrate SEO right from the beginning. It’s too common a mistake for companies to initiate full-scale SEO work after the website is built, and sometimes after it’s already been launched. By then the internal architecture of the site and its URL structure are already in place, making successful SEO a much bigger challenge.

Integrate SEO thinking from the very start. Make sure your site has the important basic title tags and meta data, and determine the most popular keywords for your category. If you can't figure this out, invest in a short-term project with an SEO consultant.

You or your SEO expert can also work with your team on creating compelling product descriptions, blogs and social media that gets shared or linked back to your site. That has a big impact on organic search results. If you cannot do it, the consultant can help you understand which “long tail” search terms are most relevant for your site (though traffic is lower for those terms, they offer higher conversion rates).

4. Not collecting enough data.

A succesful ecommerce site creates a personal experience for each shopper. Fortunately, every site touch point creates the opportunity to discover more about buyers, thus providing the capability to offer personalized recommendations. Suggesting products or areas of interests makes the experience more enjoyable, while also building brand loyalty by showing the end-user that you understand them.

The only way to deliver on personalization, however, is through comprehensive and exhaustive data capture. Businesses should invest in collecting site data and third-party data (e.g., historical behavior, demographics, etc.) to get a full-view of their shoppers. The data allows the company to create a bond that is often hard to accomplish with consumers online. Art startup, Artsy, does this quite well. 

Launching an ecommerce venture is a very rewarding experience. I know this for a fact. But it’s also very frustrating, with hundreds of potential land mines to avoid, especially early on. Nonetheless, if you avoid the most basic and common mistakes, you might be one of the lucky few who skirts the three-quarter failure rate.

Related: 4 Fundamental Strategies for Launching a Successful Ecommerce Startup