4 Fundamental Strategies for Launching a Successful Ecommerce Startup
Success is never guaranteed but when we get the basics right, it is much more likely.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Regardless of recessions or great depressions, it remains certain that there's always room for businesses built by innovators willing to continue dreaming. While various industries and markets decline overtime, others rise to take their place. Commerce will always be necessary in some form or another as long as humankind exists and has a hunger for anything.
As entrepreneurs, we are driven to continuously create, innovate and sell; and as technology continues to help shape our behavior online, consumers are leaning towards e-commerce as their preferred way to buy. In fact, almost 70 percent of participants in a UPS commerce study indicate that they preferred shopping online. That's a major clue to the direction of business online.
There's no guaranteed 1-2-3 formula but, despite growing competition and consumer sophistication, startups can gain a competitive edge and build successful businesses. Applying certain ingredients and attitudes will make your startup journey worthwhile, with a good chance of success.
Go the extra mile to realize mobile's potential
Simply developing a mobile app for showcasing your startup's products is not the sum total of a successful mobile strategy. While mobile commerce is booming, with greater usage penetration globally and devices becoming a native part of our daily lives, the average consumer won't use an app simply because it exists. There has to be some motivation, whether it's via entertainment value or usefulness.
Strive to make the mobile experience, whether on websites or apps, an extension of the culture you're promoting with your brand and its usefulness. Therefore, you need to be in tune with customer behavior and what makes them laugh, smile, share and eventually buy. Simply put, it must be more than a storefront experience they can get anywhere.
One powerful example of capturing the heart of the consumer is Warby Parker's online glasses home try-on feature. The tool gives buyers a chance to upload their photo and attach various glasses styles to their picture to achieve the best look and fit. It also allows the user to share the photos with their choices via social media to get their friends' feedback; without going to a store. This is the kind of interactivity that gets customers using and promoting your startup in one swoop while building loyalty through a fun experience.
Integrating a similar experience in your app will set you miles ahead.
Related: Does Your Startup Have a Strategy?
Establish working systems from Day One
"Organize around business functions, not people. Build systems within each business function. Let systems run the business and people run the systems. People come and go but the systems remain constant." - Michael Gerber, E-Myth Revisited.
Focus on building a structured system that defines how each department of your startup -- marketing, finance, HR, tech, etc. -- will be run at optimum output. Remember, you are not your business and the most lucrative companies sold are the ones that can operate out of a box. This creates an internal culture of accountability and direction for achieving more and frees up your time as the business grows.
To make these systems workable and sensible to your employees and potential investors, you also need the right tools to handle your daily activities. Whether it's using Google Apps for Work, a simple project management app like Trello, Buffer for social media or Vend for your point-of-sale transactions, software helps systems make more sense and offer greater impact.
Vend particularly stands out here for the e-commerce startup based on retail. They've built a complete service facilitating the shortest time to launch a complete business through their POS Software, an integrated CRM, APIs to connect with other popular services, inventory management and customized loyalty programs. It's a powerful, integrated solution affordable for the average retail startup.
Your low budget, high impact marketing strategy
There are dozens of ways to market your startup and you probably won't run out of ideas. The key to marketing your startup successfully, however, relies heavily on your ability to tell stories that your target audience will relate to. You could spend a ton on advertising or run a well maintained blog, but nobody will care about what you say unless it evokes an emotional response, aligns with how the consumer envisions and expresses their own style or is a product whose value is amplified by peer participation.
Here are four strategies you can rely on that will offer measurable and substantial returns:
1. Collaboration and strategic partnerships. Align your startup with companies that already have significant clout and reach. Look for opportunities with brands that complement your product offering that would provide unique value for your customers as well as theirs.
2. Growth hacks and sharing incentives. Make sharing an integral part of what makes the buying experience fun, rewarding, meaningful and exciting for consumers. It's a strategy that works for many successful businesses like DropBox and Treehouse that offer free usage of their premium course work to capture the attention and buy-in from users.
3. Build relationships with influencers. As a startup, you're going to be itching to pitch your business and ideas but this shouldn't be your attitude. Instead, build real relationships with people you regard as influential in your industry. They can give your business a push through endorsements, introductions to key decision makers, resources or a publication in a high profile magazine.
The surest way to be ignored by the media, customers or investors is a self-centered attitude towards marketing your business. The most best route to being promoting is being someone they trust and regard as a friend.
4. Put your content on steroids. Assess what your competition is creating and how they're performing with an app like Buzzsumo. Pay attention to the content that performs well, then go a step further to produce something better. Oftentimes, there are gaps in content and opportunities for delivering something your competitors missed or are too lazy to perfect. Spending the time to create useful, entertaining and link-worthy content increases the chances of your startup being discovered and shared.
Ecommerce and brick-and-mortar belong together
Don't let the success of Amazon fool you. There's still room and necessity for the traditional brick-and-mortar setup. Delivering a unique experience for the walk-in buyer just may be the edge you need to remain under the radar from direct competition from the ecommerce giants and carve a lucrative space in a smaller niche.
Foursquare, for example, has proven that ecommerce converges with brick and mortar. They enable users to discover the right locations for whatever they may need while they're up and about through the city or countryside, while also facilitating payments at restaurants. Foursquare's vision is to create an automated tour guide to the world where users are proactively notified of store sales, nearby restaurants and other useful information for the user. Some of these features and refinements in their app produced a 60 percent increase in interactions and increased engagement at retailers. They're converging the digital world with the physical. That should be your approach.
In addition, the in-store experience has great potential for creating an atmosphere that is unique to your startup's style. That will be difficult for others to copy because it's yours and it's authentic.
Launching the next big startup is within reach but requires a structured and well planned approach. A strategy combining the reach and native use of mobile technologies, while satisfying the consumers' need for meaningful experiences, will set you off on the right track and increase your chances of the elusive startup success.