Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Seven Basic Musts For Your Online Shop

Selling online is all about trust. You know you’ve thought about it. We are all basically buying from and selling to complete and total strangers. If you don’t get a warm and fuzzy of trust and happiness from an online shop you’re browsing, will you click and buy? Or click to go buh-bye?

So, how do you communicate that you are a trust worthy online shop? Is there a secret formula to this? Well, there is. Maybe it’s not a big secret, but what I have found is that people generally like to buy from shops whom they perceive to be organized. Whoa. What? Organized?

Yes, organized. Here's a real life example. Walk into a brick and mortar shop. Start browsing around. If you are not greeted, it’s minus 1 point. If there are no prices on the merchandise, another point lost. If the merchandise is not displayed ‘shabby chic random,’ but more like 'college dorm messy,' you will tend to walk away. Organization counts. Being greeted, having prices on items, and arranging the store to be pretty communicates being an organized shop.

Here's an imaginary phone call example.
You (happy): Hi, I was wondering when my widget will arrive?
Seller (confused): Widget? What? Huh? When?
You (now cautious): Um, I bought it last Monday online.
Seller: Oh, yeah (no he doesn’t). I guess I have to find my laptop under this big mess.
You (suspicious): Um, when should I expect it?
Seller (nervous): When I find it, I’ll mail it right away.

Yeah, not pretty.

Having an organized looking shop builds trust and building trust gets you sales. So, how do you communicate that you have it together (at least virtually) and that you are an organized online shop? Glad you asked. 

First and foremost, get your virtual ducks in a row. What are your virtual ducks? On an online artisan marketplace (like etc), these are the blanks that the marketplace provides for you to fill. The more blanks you fill, the more organized your shop looks. If you own your own website, make sure that you have these basics covered.

Seven Basic Musts For Your Online Shop (A.K.A. Seven Obvious Tips)

1. A Virtual Greeting. Have a Shop Banner. People like to be greeted properly when they come into a store. Your online shop banner does that for you. It announces to the potential customer, “hello, you are now in my store.” Now, the banner does not have to be super fancy: just make sure that it looks presentable. As in, you’d never walk into your brick and mortar with curlers on and in your pajamas to greet your clients now would you? Yeah, didn’t think so.

2. Introduce yourself. Fill in your Profile Page. These days, people are savvy enough to realize that they are not shopping from some large corporation. This is especially true when they are on an online marketplace touting handcrafted, indie or small biz (that’s Etsy, people). So, you don’t have to pretend to be some faceless CEO of a company. Be real and simply introduce yourself. Mostly, I am convinced that people just want to know that they are buying from someone real, and not from some robot somewhere.

3. Location, location, location. Fill in your Shop Location. Here’s my take: most regular folk just want to know where their package is being mailed from. That’s it. It’s not like they want to come over, or want to start stalking you. Why do people want to know? I don’t know, they just do. Maybe, it’s from some secret fear that there is an alien run sweatshop on Mars and no one wants an alien made widget in their home. Who knows. All I know is, they do. So, yeah, giving a general idea of your location is good. Even better is your actual town or nearby city if no one knows where “Podunk, SD” is anyways.

4. Spell it out. Protect yourself and your client. Write out your Shop’s Policies. Again, people would just like to know what happens if the item they ordered is sitting at the post office and the post office catches on fire. Or, if the widget they get is red and they ordered one in blue. See? It helps to know. Just write out your policies, return procedures and shipping info.

5. Have STUFF to sell. Again, we are in a blog post labeled “obvious.” You need to show your merchandise online with pictures and descriptions in order to sell them. The stuff laying around your house unphotographed and unlisted? They are going to stay there unless you share them to the outside world.

6. Have MORE stuff to sell. Having lots of stuff to sell communicates being organized. I sincerely believe that even though many people will say things like “Oh, sure I’ll buy from a shop with only 2 items in it,” the reality is, they are the minority voice. My guess is, the silent majority who does not say, will actually not buy. Of course there are exceptions.

Sample Exception Shop:
A shop with two items for sale because they are selling one of a kind never to be found Elvis Presley boxer shorts with his signature on them circa 1960 (of course Vintage) and there’s only five in the world and this shop managed to snag two. Then, maybe.

But seriously, most people would like to see that the item they are purchasing are part of a bigger group, series, whole, or what have you. Or plainly, that you are not practicing the first ever one you made baby carrier on their child. Just saying.

So, the practical advice here is have at least One Page Full of merchandise before worrying about lack of views or sales unless you are selling Vintage Elvis Undies.

7. Correspond. Being an organized shop keeper means responding to inquiries and acknowledging sales. People like to know that the money they just gave you virtually has been received.

I understand that we all get very busy. But I for one think it is a nice gesture to get an actual message from a human being after I just personally sent my money into the “virtual unknown” called Paypal. After all, isn’t this why we chose to buy from a small indie business and not from a large corporation? Maybe it is just me and I am a touch old fashioned, but it is good to know that I am being waited on, even if it is virtually.

Another exception. For all you shops with like 1000 sales a day (and you’re probably not reading this post as you’re probably busy making, packaging, or drinking a margarita on the beach someplace, but I digress ). One suggestion is to add a simple note to the automated e-mail or the message to the buyer after their purchase. This note should communicate that the automated message will be the only acknowledgment that the buyer will get until they receive their actual order. I think this communicates being organized and I believe it is just plain courteous. I know, I live in a world filled with unicorns and rainbows.

So there it is, the secret formula to success just by being organized and having your virtual ducks all lined up.

If you found these tips useful, please share it with your fellow online shop owner friends, or just sit on it until they find it themselves.