After working with so many eCommerce entrepreneurs, talking to other service providers, coming from corporate, and hanging out in lots of eCommerce Facebook groups, I’ve been seeing a lot of patterns when it comes to the trials and tribulations of eCommerce store owners.
What I find the most interesting is that the mistakes and misconceptions are very much the same across every level of business. Whether you’re just getting started, or already doing multi 6 and 7 figures, I see these same issues coming up.
Today I’m digging into the Top 10 mistakes and misconceptions about running an eCommerce business.
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Misconception: If you build it, they will come
This is truer for newer stores but it doesn’t mean those who have been in business for a while are immune to this misconception. After launching the eCommerce division of an already successful brand with a built-in loyal customer base, I can tell you this is just not true.
Having a built-in customer base helps, but it isn’t a guarantee for success
Even though I had a built-in customer base when I opened my brick-and-mortar store back in the day — I worked in the town and had clients who loved shopping with me — I still had to work at getting people to my store, the same as we had to for the eCommerce business.
One of the hardest parts of running an eCommerce business is driving traffic to your site. I see this happen a lot with marketers who either start out on Etsy and want to build their own Shopify store or are trying to decide whether they should launch on Etsy and Shopify.
For years dropshipping businesses have been talking about building Shopify stores and how much money they made without holding inventory. However, they’re not talking about the money spent on Facebook ads or how much profit they actually made at the end of the day. There are a lot of beginners out there that don’t fully understand that Shopify is nothing more than a system to help you run your business.
It’s stories like these that make me so passionate about what I do and why it’s so important that I keep it real with you by sharing the not-so-glamorous side of eCommerce.
What got you here won’t get your there
For those who are already in business and have been for some time, it can be a rude awakening to realize that what got you to your first 6-figures, isn’t what will get you to your next 6-figures.
You do, of course, build some momentum along the way, but it’s also very possible that you will plateau and need to start doing some next-level things to continue to grow.
One of the ways you can do that is by focusing on SEO. It’s definitely a long-term play, but it’s one of the cheapest ways to get new traffic to your website.
For a deeper dive into search engine optimization listen to Episode 6: Why SEO Matters and How To Do It and Episode 12: How to Get More Awareness and Visibility for Your eCommerce Store.
Mistake: Talking to everyone and not dialing in your ideal customer
You’re probably sick of hearing this but it’s the truth. As a business owner, I know you want to say: “Whoever will spend their money with me is my ideal customer.” I totally get it. I run a business too and SAME.
Defining your ideal customer holds people up because they think being too specific means they’ll miss out on sales opportunities. While that may be true to a certain extent, it doesn’t mean quite what you think it means.
Listen to Episode 25: Creating a Great Customer Experience and Building the Know, Like, and Trust Factor for a more in-depth understanding of who your customer is and what they need.
Ideal customer avatars are just a baseline
The point of having the ideal customer is so that you have a baseline to make decisions from. Having an ideal customer profile to refer to helps you decide the content you create, whether you design a new line of products or whether joining the latest social media platform is the right move for your business.
Does that mean if you mainly talk to women that you won’t also attract men? No. Take eCommerce Badassery for instance — I flat out say in my podcast intro, on my podcast graphic, and on my social media channels that I support female entrepreneurs. Does that mean that I don’t have male listeners or group members or that I don’t work with male clients? Nope!
The same will be true for you. You will still get people in the periphery of your ideal customer. Don’t think of your ideal customer profile as a limiting factor to who will spend their money with you, think of it as a tool to guide you through running your business and making your life easier.
Mistake: Being afraid to invest
Honestly, this goes well beyond just eCommerce entrepreneurs. At the end of the day, you’re running a business and it takes money to make money. I’m not saying that you need to go broke to grow your business but it is going to take some sort of investment on your part.
In the beginning, your biggest investment is going to be your time because you’re going to be doing all the things. As you grow, your investments will become more financial. More of your money will go into hiring other people to do the things that were initially sucking up all of your time.
In the beginning, I see most people — MYSELF 100% included — wasting time trying to Frankenstein systems together instead of just investing in the right things.
While you might be saving a few dollars here and there, you end up spending so much more time doing research or getting the damn things to work that, when you break it all down, you didn’t actually save any money. Instead, you’re in the weeds of your business rather than focusing on revenue-generating activities.
Investing in a mentor
This is another thing people skimp on. A mentor can help guide you along the way, give you shortcuts, and help you avoid common pitfalls.
It can be easier to skimp on these big investments when there’s not always an immediate monetary ROI in your business. However, as you step into your role as CEO, and start zooming out and looking at the big picture of your business, you’ll realize that these big investments are what will serve you in the long term.
Of course, everyone’s situation is different and we’re all fighting our own battles so when it comes to deciding whether or not you should invest in something, consider the long-term ROI, not just the next few months.
Your investments don’t have to be forever
To use an example from my own business, when I launched the eCommerce Badassery Podcast I immediately invested in help for the actual production of the show. Could have learned how to edit it myself? Sure, I’m pretty techy like that. Would it have been a good use of my time? Probably not.
The first team that I hired was pretty expensive but it was a higher-touch relationship and a one-stop-shop with custom music and lots of hand-holding because I really wanted that extra support in the beginning.
Now that I’ve been at it for a while and no longer need that same support, I’ve switched editors and it is costing me a lot less. Honestly, if I hadn’t made that commitment, in the beginning, I probably wouldn’t have a podcast right now.
My point is, whatever you do invest in doesn’t necessarily need to be forever. Perhaps you have to make a large investment upfront to gain the knowledge and skills you need. No doubt that knowledge will be invaluable and will continue to serve you moving forward.
Investing in paid advertising
I’m a big believer that you need to prove product market fit organically before dumping a bunch of money into ads. At the very least you should start off REALLY small just to test the product market fit and drive some traffic. But if you really want to grow your business quickly, paid ads will likely be a part of the equation.
Can you do it all organically? Sure… it’s just going to take a lot longer. So you have to think about what is right for you and your goals.
Mistake: Not managing your inventory
If you don’t have inventory to sell, you can’t make money. We’ll dive deeper into this in future episodes but I want to touch on it now.
There is a delicate balance between having your cash tied up in inventory or sitting on dead stock — you don’t want to be caught out in either situation. What I see, especially in the entrepreneur space, is actually not having enough inventory or just not having the right inventory.
If you are always running out of your best-selling items, this is 100% where you should start focusing. You do not want to run out of the items that drive the majority of your revenue or your evergreen items that last a long time in your assortment. Things like exclusivity and urgency do of course come into play and there is a definite time and place for that, but this isn't it.
In-stock is always better than a restock
You can get customers to return with a back-in-stock alert, but not everyone is coming back to buy. How much better would it have been if you just had it available? Instead of signing up to be notified they would have just made the purchase there and then.
This is especially true if what you sell is easily sourced somewhere else. If it’s something the customer needs right now, they’re not going to wait until you get more. Instead, they’ll go buy from someone else.
There are a lot of nuances that go into inventory management, so I’m going to do a series next year to support you through this. For now, I want you to go look at your current inventory and figure out if this is an issue for you. If it is, plan to make that a focus for 2021.
Mistake: Relying on one channel or trying to be in all the places
It really is a delicate balance, my friends. This is going to look different for every business based on your customer, your resources, and what you enjoy doing the most.
Relying too much on one channel or platform
Of course, I’m sure you’ve heard people talk about how you can’t build your entire business on social media because it could all go away tomorrow. That’s why most experts in the space will tout the importance of an email list, for example.
The same can be said for businesses that run solely on Etsy or Amazon. You, as the vendor, don’t own the platform or the customers. If you violate their terms or they just decide they want to shut you down, they can and they will, and you‘ll be left without a business.
Another example is those product-based businesses that rely heavily on wholesale. Once the pandemic hit and brick-and-mortar got shut down, there was little to no business left. These are, of course, all extreme examples, but the concept is important.
It’s the same for those who rely only on SEO. If a business is executing SEO solely for search engines instead of customers, one Google update can have them plummeting in the rankings. Or if you’ve built your entire business on Facebook ads and all of a sudden CPAs shoot up and your ads are no longer profitable, you won’t have a business.
Diversify with an email list and brand recognition
It’s important to diversify and two of the most powerful things you can do is focus on building your email list and your brand. Your email list is owned, it belongs to you. You can take the people on your list wherever you go.
The same goes for building a brand that people know, like, and trust. If they’re already looking for you specifically, they’re likely to find you even if you do lose some Google rankings and they will follow you if you start on a new social platform.
Diversify one step at a time
Brand recognition and your email list are two things no one can take away from you. But, as I said, you have to find balance, especially in the beginning, when you’re trying to do too much,
Go all in on one platform until you have a system and a handle on it. Once that’s smooth sailing you can start branching out to other things.
Misconception: Thinking email marketing is dead or not understanding its value
This isn’t necessarily true for the majority of my audience, especially the OG’s because that was what I started with. But I definitely do see this pop up now and again. Sometimes the problem is not undervaluing email, but rather people not really understanding how to do it right.
Listen to Episode 2: How to Make Money With Email Marketing for eCommerce and Episode 3: Make Money on Autopilot With These Must-Have Email Automations for more in-depth content and guidance on email marketing for eCommerce.
Checking out those two episodes will give you a really in-depth breakdown of email marketing, but there are two key points to remember:
- Email still has the highest ROI of all marketing activities
- Email is owned media and revenue. Your list is your list and no one can take it away from you so always be focused on growing it.
Mistake: Not digging deep enough into your analytics or understanding what’s normal
This is truly one of the biggest mistakes and handicaps of a lot of eCommerce entrepreneurs. If you’re not already using Google Analytics, please go set that up ASAP.
Make sure you turn on eCommerce tracking — this is a second step you have to do and pretty much everyone misses it.
Use Google Analytics instead of your platform analytics
This is important because Google has so much more information and you can dig so much deeper into your results to figure out what is and isn’t working in your business.
It can be a bit overwhelming at first, but there’s so much power in understanding the platform and what the data is telling you. You can make much better decisions about your business when you use the data to guide you.
Start tracking your numbers on a weekly basis
After you have a handle on weekly tracking, then you can dig really deep on a monthly and quarterly basis. I don’t want you to be super reactive week to week, but it’s good practice to sit down and gather those numbers regularly so you can see patterns and identify anomalies.
I go deeper into this in Episode 7: The #1 Reason You Can't Afford to Pay Yourself and provide a freebie to start tracking your metrics, so definitely check that one out.
Understand industry averages
Many entrepreneurs don’t realize that the average site conversion rate is only 1-3%, or that the average cart abandonment rate is 68% so they end up focusing on the wrong things in their business, such as the design of their website and emails or other trivial things. The truth is they just need to drive more traffic or better manage their inventory.
If you want to know whether your site is doing well or not, check out Episode 19: eCommerce Benchmarks to Gauge Your Success which covers eCommerce benchmarks so you can assess your performance against the industry standard.
Focus on what’s working
When it comes to understanding your analytics one of the most powerful pieces of information is seeing what marketing channels are having the highest impact. This information allows you to double down on what’s working and pull back on what is not.
Mistake: Giving your customer too many options
Have you ever heard about the jam experiment? There was a study done where they ran a comparison test at a food market. They alternated between offering six and 24 different varieties of jam.
They found that, while presenting 24 varieties did create more interest from the passersby, it did not result in more purchases. In fact, presenting only six varieties led to 10x more purchases.
The paradox of choice
This doesn’t mean you have to immediately cut your product assortment but the paradox of choice can be integrated into a lot of different areas of your website.
For example, take advantage of a mega menu in your navigation bar if you have a wide assortment of products. This will allow you to keep those top-level links pared down. This is also why when creating emails you want to keep it to one, maybe two, calls to action per email.
If you’re a subscription box, having too many options, like monthly, 3 monthly, 6 monthly or a year may just be too many options. Consider which ones are the most popular and narrow down your choices.
Mistake: Not being clear enough
Just the other day in the eCommerce Badassery Facebook group, someone who just launched her subscription box posted her site for feedback.
She had a few different subscription options, each one a different length of time. She listed the total amount the customer would spend for the entire length of each subscription along with a call out of how much they would save.
This seems like the right setup because people want to know how much they can save. However, it wasn’t clear how much this was going to cost per month. One of the things I’ve learned in my 20+ years in retail is that people either don’t want to do math or they can’t — I blame the latter on being raised on calculators!
I suggested that she change the focus to what they would pay per month with those longer subscription options and boom she went from 0 to 15 sales.
Be clear, not clever.
Another way clarity issues show up in our business is by trying to be too clever with product names. I always advocate for being clear over clever. Not only is this better for SEO purposes, but it helps your customer too.
People like being told what to do
Not being clear enough also ties into those choices we were talking about earlier, especially in regard to calls to action. Surprisingly, people actually do like being told what to do, so when you’re creating calls to action in emails and on social media make sure it’s clear what you want the customer to do otherwise they might not take any action at all.
Mistake: Spending too much time watching your competitors and comparing yourself to others
You’ve heard me say it before, and I’m definitely going to say it again. You’ve got to keep your eyes on your own paper.
Check out Episode 9: How to Get More Done in Less Time for more tips on how to avoid comparisonitis and focus on your business.
The short story is, comparing yourself to others is a waste of your time and it’s keeping you from doing more productive things. Plus, just because your competitor is doing something doesn’t mean it’s working for them and it certainly doesn’t mean that it’s going to work for you.
You never actually know what’s going on behind the scenes of that business. For you all you know they are actually broke or are barely turning a profit.
Your best bet is to lean into your customers and figure out what they want. Go back to your ideal customer avatar and ask yourself, what do they need from me?
Don’t feel like you have to fix all the things tomorrow — we’re all a work in progress. Soak it in, identify which of these you need to work on, and come back at the beginning of the year to tackle them one by one.
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Learn More About the Jam Experiment