Whether you are contemplating creating a new Internet business that sells products online, or already have your e-commerce website established, looking at who you are playing against in the market can be intimidating. How can a minor leaguer possibly compete against the pros?
If it works in the movies, it will work in real life, right?
Actually, in this case it can work like the movies. Even though thousands of locally owned brick-and-mortar stores were wiped out by the viral spread of Wal-Mart, the small business sector pulled through and still thrives. In the same way, online retail giants like Amazon have not completely erased the small business e-commerce sector. Much as those stores had to adapt to the advent of Wal-Mart, there are methods and strategies you can take to make your online store successful.
One of the biggest reasons superstores like both Wal-Mart and Amazon are thriving is because people know the name and trust them. You would be hard pressed to find someone who has never been to Wal-Mart, and someone who shops online has most likely visited Amazon, if not bought from them. This gives them an even bigger advantage on the Internet – they already have an account with Amazon, so it’s easier for them to buy. You don’t have the name recognition and customer information base that Amazon has, but you can instill trust in your visitors using some fairly easy approaches.
Use Visual Cues
The easiest way is through visible badges on your website and especially during the checkout process. By badges, I mean those small image buttons that tell a potential buyer that you are ‘Secured by…’ or ‘Verified by…’. The customer wants to know their information is safe, and you can use that to your advantage by proudly showing the work you’ve done to make your website secure. There are other badges that are also universally recognized, such as a Better Business Bureau approval or a member of your local Chamber of Commerce icon. This may not seem like a very big step, but it’s an important one to gain customer trust.
Find Your Niche
While Wal-Mart may have a little bit of everything in store, what they don’t have are those hard to find products that the avid amateur is looking for, or the perfect 50th anniversary gift. This is where you can stand apart from the big hitters – by finding your niche. They might be good at everything, but they’re great at nothing. Don’t overextend yourself, but demonstrate that you are an expert in your market and the ‘go-to’ source when someone is shopping for products or information.
I bet if you go down to your local R/C car and Train store, you’ll find more cars, parts, and tracks than Hobby Lobby ever thought of carrying. Superstore hobby retailers have more important things to focus on than the niche market that is R/C cars, which leaves it up to these small hobby stores to fill in the gaps. Finding your niche and focusing solely on it without trying to expand outside your reach can enable you to succeed in that niche.
Establish Yourself as the Expert in Your Niche
While becoming the source of niche products, you will also become an expert in that market. The guy that runs that small town hobby store can probably answer any question you may have about R/C cars. Your website needs to be the go-to guy for information regarding your niche. You can do this through writing articles and a regular blog, and through social media outlets such as posting on forums, Twitter, and Facebook. The blog and articles allow searchers looking for information to find your website, and also helps affirm trust and authority to you. Social media is almost like being at a convention or trade show that never ends. It’s quite possibly the best marketing tool ever created.
Think beyond the standard and utilize your inside knowledge of the market and the customer base to find what works for them. Maybe your customer doesn’t like to read very much, but would be greatly interested in a 3 minute How-To video about caring for their garden gnome, or an illustrated guide to assembling their model Star Destroyer. Allow them to contact you to ask questions, and then find a way to answer that question on your website for other people who might ask it. Don’t settle for only the outdated F.A.Q. page.
Most of this work fulfills two needs for you. By creating this content on your website you become a valuable resource to the visitor, but you also feed the search engines additional material. They like content – meaty, useful, original text.
Write Unique Product Descriptions
One of the best things you can do for your e-commerce website is to spend the time parsing through your product catalog and giving the products unique descriptions. Most catalogs are imported from a variety of distributor catalogs. This means your product descriptions are identical to those of your distributor and anyone else who uses their database. The search engines tend to not like showing the same content twice in their search results and will often omit duplicates. Yes, this means your product pages don’t stand out from everyone else’s – if they show up at all.
Adding unique meta descriptions, title tags, and content will help you rank for long-tail search queries. These are very specific, product related searches that most of the time lead to better conversion percentages than broader terms. The enthusiast searching for the Traxxas T-Max 3.3cc is a lot closer to making a purchase than the one searching ‘rc cars’.
These four proven methods can help your small e-commerce business compete with the likes of Amazon, Ebay, and other Internet giants. Instill trust in your visitors through on-page elements and by becoming an expert in your niche. Become this expert by realizing your market and participating in it through the likes of ‘how-tos’, articles, and social networking. Create unique, relevant content on your website through those articles, blogging, and unique product descriptions.
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