The key player – the product – as well as shipping, presence and service are vital in eCommerce – but what exactly contributes to the success of an online print store in an age of fierce competition?
I am often asked if I have any useful tips for online print providers on a range of issues. In such cases you can quickly get bogged down in small details. What’s more interesting is advice that is not only useful to start-ups but also to established print providers, who want to enhance their online presence and thereby increase their sales. So for all those, who want to make things happen right from the start of 2017, I have compiled seven important tips, which are essential for a successful online print store, but which do not entail massive investment straightaway.
1. From the start avoid biting off more than you can chew
You should abandon the idea of wanting to do everything yourself at an early stage. Nobody can be a printing press operator, ERP specialist, marketing professional etc. all at the same time. There are specialists for every area of expertise, so don’t make false economies, just concentrate on your core skills. A consultant can help you develop a suitable concept and also find appropriate SaaS solutions for a trial period and for each relevant department or function. A marketable product idea can then be combined with realistic objectives for the future. This then brings us on to the next point.
2. Often it’s details that help you achieve longer-term customer loyalty
What are customers’ expectations and how satisfied are they with the product and the service? The analytical tools, which you can use, are intended to help get a handle on buying behavior as well as on the needs of new and returning customers. That not only applies to companies that are already competing in the market. Newcomers should evaluate how they wish to position their offering in the market and what strategy they need to adopt to achieve that objective before launching. Once initial sales have been made, marketing tools can help to identify what levels of sales are linked to which customer approaches and marketing activities. The level of service can be maintained accordingly and enhanced if required. Get your customers to share their experiences with you. Reviews that repeatedly rate the product and the company (service) as satisfactory or better still as something that triggers a particular experience are the best form of promotion. The probability that so-called butterflies (often one-off and reasonably profitable customers) account for the majority of the customer base therefore decreases. As banal as it may sound – you just need to meet and exceed customers’ expectations. Subjective perception can be positively influenced using a number of methods, e.g. by packaging that is distinguished from the rest. That’s because appropriate (primary and/or secondary) packaging provides the customer with a different receive and unpack experience, compared to a standard neutral box. How about trying a corporate-identity-conform box that includes a friendly greeting or message to the customer?
3. Establish various payment systems
You are on firm ground at the beginning if you offer Paypal, payment by credit card, payment on account and direct debit options. If other payment systems are requested more frequently, these can easily be added on. For the time being, customers should be offered a reasonable and workable choice. Those businesses offering advance payment as the only available option when starting up may possibly not even achieve short-term customer loyalty, but fall at the first hurdle when the customer orders. You will reap the rewards if your customer is not worried about payments.
4. Shipping: reliable, fast, as expected and preferably free
You should only provide realistic details about shipping times – nothing is more annoying than when goods arrive later than expected, especially if they were needed the day before. In the age of Amazon Prime and guaranteed delivery dates, internal and external order processing must be carefully scheduled. The now generally accepted standard of two days after production should also be the rule in your company too. That’s because most customers now just expect it; business customers want to process orders quickly and not incur extra costs for storage etc. Anybody, who orders a gift for family or friends, does not necessarily do so two weeks in advance. If other sales channels apart from a proprietary website are used, the service provider’s or partner’s terms of reference/specifications must be factored in. The value of free shipping should not be underestimated either. The link between free and fast (scheduled) shipping tends to give providers satisfied customers and therefore ones that buy from them again. Any business that is able to offer free as well as reliable shipping generates significant added value for its customers.
“Competing successfully in the online print and eCommerce sectors always involves more factors than you might expect as a start-up. If you lay well-thought-out, firm foundations from the very start, you can always react to changes in the market.” – Bernd Zipper
5. Usability and website design
Clarity, clarity, clarity. Cluttered or overloaded websites, where potential customers tend to lose their way rather than get to where they want to go, should be consistently avoided. For providers that means keeping click paths short and degree of usability high. Even if you have a large product range on offer, it would be rather counterproductive to want to display everything at once without expecting too much of the customer in doing so. How can you manage that? A glance at the websites of a number of successful niche providers should suffice to grasp the essence of this statement. Incidentally the upload times of websites with the appropriate data structure are shorter, which has a direct, appealing impact. You should restrict yourself to content that guarantees both search engine results visibility and that facilitates efficient handling in terms of topicality and level of detail. The fact that companies are operating in a graphic design environment should be apparent to customers when they visit websites – these should always feature graphic examples with images of finished products or videos (e.g. showing production processes) and look as if they have been professionally designed.
6. A social media presence and SEO extend reach
When you mention web search, you usually mean Google. But you should not disregard the other search engines. That’s because, despite the current massive superiority of Google, you should still keep the traffic generated by other search engines like Bing or Yahoo on your radar for overall market coverage purposes. So as far as SEO is concerned, keep an eye on your ranking in these “sideshows”. This enables you to access other, albeit often smaller groups of customers. A decent and regularly updated presence on the larger social media platforms is also vital for that purpose. What’s the story with your other promotional activities? Discount promotions and vouchers on various channels provide you with more traffic and therefore more sales. Match ad texts to your online store and keep your website up to date, especially in relation to mobile requirements (cue the term: mobile centric), and then there is nothing to stop you achieving a good ranking and therefore greater reach.
7. Bundle matching products
The big boys like eBay and Amazon have applied this principle, which is also called bundling, for some considerable time. Even if the customer hasn’t performed a direct search for a particular complementary product, it can still definitely arouse their interest. If you offer products that actually match the customer’s primary buying need and that, in combination with complementary products, provide the customer with genuine added value, compared to separate purchases of the same items, that means more sales. To get the customer “to bite”, the provider can definitely send the customer a free gift that reasonably complements the item ordered. And if a well-priced bundle is offered at a special price when the next purchase is made, then you have gained your next satisfied customer.
The prerequisite for applying all these tips is the fact that you as a print provider have a workflow that functions smoothly, know your product and constantly keep your eye on current developments in other channels as well. They can virtually be harnessed to your skills. The aim of this article was not to name a range of providers for each type of support. I publish in-detail articles about sound, innovative solutions that can help you set up or expand your online print store here at beyond-print every week. I make no claims that these tips are complete – this list can definitely be added to. What should also be definitely mentioned in your opinion?
My take: you need to have patience as an initiator or implementer of a new strategy. Anybody who wants a visually appealing store, should not make false economies and can commission a specialist to design their website with a clear conscience. Editors also don’t always have the maximum range of functions. A proper match with the offering and evaluated customer needs definitely makes sense. So the name of the game for start-ups and expansion-inclined market players is create a professional, broad-based online presence, without overstretching your resources and knowledge. It is anyhow unrealistic to expect newcomers to advance to become serious competition for Flyeralarm et al in a short space of time. But selecting a niche, in which there are realistic opportunities for generating sales, is the right way to go and lays firms foundations for future growth. One topic that I did not elaborate upon in the form of a useful tip is coopetition. Depending on product and complementary services, additional sales, which one provider cannot generate on their own, can be generated in a manner that would require several pages to explain how this concept works. But more about that later…