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INTERVIEW: How to Launch an eCommerce Store

By 2020, global eCommerce sales are estimated to reach $4 trillion. With this kind of market opportunity, it’s natural for aspiring online sellers to want to launch a new eCommerce store. We sat down with Atlantic BT Account Executive John Proctor to get his thoughts on how to get started in eCommerce and key principles to remember.

Can you describe your expertise as it pertains to eCommerce?

I’ve been selling and advising customers on eCommerce projects for the last 8 years. During my time at Atlantic BT, I’ve focused on the Magento space because it’s carved out a space as one of the biggest and most used eComm platforms. My Magento developer coworkers have worked with that platform since before eBay bought them in 2011, stayed up to date through eBay selling Magento early in 2016, and they’re still breaking new ground. Long story short, those guys and I work hard to stay current on all the latest Magento plug-ins and customizations so we can provide the best eComm stores possible to our customers.

It’s not news that Magento is a great fit for medium to large businesses. But I never want to neglect startups and smaller shops which don’t need a platform that robust. This is why I’m working with ABT to build up our expertise on the Shopify platform, which is more aimed at smaller businesses. For these growing stores, Shopify takes a lot of the headache out of the online selling process.

Ecommerce storefront
Shopify’s platform makes it easy to launch a new eCommerce store quickly.

Say someone approached you and wanted to launch an eCommerce store. What do you say next? What are the usual questions you ask?

My first question is always “Are you a business already?” In other words, I ask if they already have a brick-and-mortar store or some other selling operation with inventory, pricing, and existing customers, or if they are getting started from scratch.

With a start-from-scratch customer, I’ll immediately start discussing business questions like their marketing strategy, business model, and vision for their operation. It’s always vital to begin with a business focus rather than a technical one. This is because the website and eComm store we will launch can easily adapt to essentially any business plan. The technology is designed to accommodate the business, not the other way around.

It’s always vital to begin with a business focus rather than a technical one…The technology is designed to accommodate the business, not the other way around.

Assuming this new contact has a brick-and-mortar store, my next move is to help them see the connection between the eComm website they want to build and their existing store. In many ways, online selling is exactly like a brick-and-mortar operation—you need to get customers in the door with marketing, make the shopping experience inviting and enjoyable, help them find what they want to buy, and encourage them to come back for more.

So what are the significant differences between online stores and brick-and-mortar stores?

The major differences between online and offline selling are 1) how customers get to your store and 2) the amount of data you can easily gather from online customers.

For the first point, think of it this way: You might wander into a brick-and-mortar store by accident if you passed it in the mall and thought the storefront looked interesting. No one ever goes to an online store by accident—you likely found the website via Google or from an online ad or promotion. Again, this makes marketing very important to getting customers to buy from you.

On the second point, eCommerce stores make it incredibly easy to learn about your customers because they generate data in every action they perform on your site. You can measure and analyze this data to find out how customers learned about your site, what items they looked at, what they bought, what they thought about buying but didn’t, and a lot of other observations.

This is a big advantage eComm has over brick-and-mortar stores—to learn all this from an offline customer, you’d pretty much have to follow them around a store with a video camera and take note of everything they did. eComm gives you lots of good customer insight without this creep factor.

Stacked carts
Imagine knowing what every customer wanted to put in these carts. That’s the power of eComm data.

How different is the eComm launch process for every different site? Is it more the same, or more unique?

Mostly the same, actually. The launch works similarly for any store on the platform because that’s how platforms are designed, to streamline the process. Every launch covers common areas like how customers will pay for things, how you will secure the store, setting up the URL and hosting, things like that.

This means it’s easier to launch an eCommerce store today than it’s ever been, especially on platforms like Shopify which make it easy to get an online store set up quickly. Providers like Magento will also bend over backwards to help you make your store work as well as it should. The 3rd party community support for these platforms is also really active to help store owners make any aspect of your operation (like accounting for state taxes on sales) run more efficiently.

This means it’s easier to launch an eCommerce store today than it’s ever been, especially on platforms like Shopify which make it easy to get an online store set up quickly.

What aspects of eCommerce do you wish your clients thought more about?

Again, the big differentiator for successful eCommerce stores is strong marketing strategy. If your site has better SEO and advertising, you will have more visitors and more sales. Using SEO and PPC advertising to drive traffic to your website is crucial to keeping new people in your store. If you’re selling red shoes, you need to make sure someone searching for “red shoe store” will find you on Google. The nice thing about PPC is data. You pay for it, you measure the results, and it’s pretty scalable. You can fine tune your advertised words as well to make sure you’re getting the best results for the best price.

Email marketing is a good example of a proven marketing technique that every store should do, but doesn’t. As my colleague Matt Deal pointed out, you need to set up marketing automation to follow up with customers who place items in a checkout cart but don’t complete their purchase. If you don’t email repeat customers, you will not get the sales and results you want. And once you use email, keep track of how customers are actually responding to these emails so you can use the data to actually improve your marketing instead of just shrugging and moving on. You always want to be optimizing your efforts.

Security is another element you can’t afford to ignore. Would you build a brick-and-mortar store in a bad neighborhood and not put a lock on the door? I said eCommerce gives you a ton of data, but this data needs to be protected. That’s the flip side of eComm. Someone could hack your site just to get customer email addresses. This might not sound as bad as stealing money, but it’s still up to you to guard this personal information. If your customers suddenly get bombarded with unsolicited emails as a result, you have broken their trust.

Unfortunately, security across the eComm industry really needs to be focused on more. Even for eComm veterans like ABT, we have to work hard to keep our customers’ stores protected and online. If your store isn’t secure, the PCI administrators who process most online payments might audit you. If they audit your store and find something wrong, your store is shut down immediately until it’s fixed. This means zero revenue until you fix the problem. If that’s not bad enough, this can also damage your reputation as well because your customers all know something was up.

If there was one popular eCommerce trend you could kill with fire and have it never come back, what would it be?

Just not putting in the effort! I get disappointed when stores KNOW that they should do more advertising or add security and simply shrug and don’t change. Also, rotating Hero images and banner ads are a really cheesy way to promote the same things to everyone who comes to your site. Advertising should be more targeted so customers will see ads for things they actually want.

Ideally, any customer we work with, we want them to be able to grow and scale. This means asking business and marketing questions instead of just rushing to get their eCommerce store online. Plan for your growth in advance, and we can help with any technology you need. The sky is the limit.

To learn more about ABT’s work in eCommerce, please visit our eCommerce resource hub.