About this iReport
  • Not verified by CNN

  • Click to view Paulamooney's profile
    Posted August 1, 2014 by

    More from Paulamooney

    The secrets of successful e-commerce websites – and how to start your own


    Whether we realize it or not, most of us visit huge online retailers every day. I’m talking about large e-commerce websites that share a main focus of delivering quality products to consumers at competitive prices – and not merely those dot coms that are in the business of disseminating news and publishing essays or celebrity gossip to pass on to their readers.


    Perhaps you, as a customer, admire and use big retail sites like Amazon, Etsy, CellularOutfitter or Fabletics and love the way they operate, causing the business-minded entrepreneur in you to wonder if you can emulate their successes. An in-depth study of the top retailers can provide hints and clues.


    Another great example is the invitation-only website called Gilt, one that was launched in 2007, and changed the shopping model by offering flash sales that last a specific number of hours – creating a sense of urgency for their 6 million-plus members to buy the discounted designer goods featured therein. And then there’s Flipkart, a gigantic e-commerce website that was launched by two former Amazon employees in 2007. The Wall Street Journal notes that the India-based site recently raised $1 billion in a new round of funding.


    Well, by reviewing the way prominent web stores are run and imitating common themes uncovered in the “secret sauce” of the aforementioned sites, we can unveil quite a few good tips to help launch our own.


    Offer a wide variety of products


    Whether you decide to bill yourself as “the everything store” like Amazon, or choose to narrow down your niche to the cell phone industry like Cellular Outfitter, or even offer handmade delectable goods like Etsy, one important factor is to provide your shoppers with a big selection of options to choose from to increase your chances of making a sale.


    For example, the cell phone-focused site has plenty of wholesale phones and accessories to present to potential buyers based on a wide array of phone brands. To get a clearer idea of how large the mobile device related site actually is, type site:cellularoutfitter.com into Google’s search engine. That helps us learn that Google estimates the website has about 150,000 results. That’s quite a lot of inventory for the specialized e-commerce site. Performing the same experiment with any other online store you’re researching will reveal a great estimate of how truly large their inventory tends to run.


    In contrast, Flipkart began as strictly a bookseller, but now sells a large array of goods, from diapers to hand tools to curtains. Its founders apparently took the same route as their former employer Amazon, transforming the online marketplace into one previously only focused on books – which limited their growth potential – into a web store with categories ranging from home and kitchen appliances to shoes and clothing for men and women and beyond.


    Use a reliable supplier


    If you’re going to have a nearly endless supply of goods to recommend to your online customers, it helps to ensure that you can deliver on those promises by finding great suppliers. The proliferation of sites like Alibaba and Flipkart these days makes it easier than ever before for average business owners to find verified global suppliers of goods that can ship products from all over the world to become a part of your inventory.


    In fact, Alibaba Group has become such a massive supplier that the China-based e-commerce giant has launched a new invitation-only site called “11 Main,” which features California clothing suppliers like Featherweight Clothing and Recoverie. The “11 Main” site enjoys more than 1,000 merchants and plans to add more – however, the company says it chooses only those merchants that meet certain criteria concerning the quality of the products, which is a good rule of thumb to use when you’re narrowing down your own suppliers.


    Make your product photos pop for attention


    Gone are the days when a fuzzy rendering of a product on a website would suffice. During these Information Age days, customers expect to see high-quality images of the items they intend to purchase – even multiple photos showing various angles of the same product. Therefore, spend the time and expense that it takes to garner photos of all the items in your stock to deliver the visual information that web surfers seek when deciding to buy from your company.


    The dynamic photos on Fabletics truly help to sell the workout gear, because hovering over an image gives users several vantage point views of tank tops from the front and behind – showing intricate back details – and vistas of the models striking several poses. Amazon has taken it a step further, and in some instances displays video footage of their models wearing the clothing so that customers can gain even better angles of how certain dresses flow and how tops and pants would look in real-life circumstances.


    Another example of a popular website is Fab, whose tagline points to their “everyday design” feel of their products – yet their fabulous photos prove that the e-seller is anything but ordinary. Their high-quality images sell their unique and eclectic offerings better than any words, such as this HDR rendering of a sunset at Baker Beach in their unframed photography section. Because of the newness and outlandishness of some of the items for sale on their website, images of the concepts become more than a nice selling feature, but exist as the main kit and caboodle.


    Including images that make users do a double take at your products is the way to go these days, and shows your customers that you understand we live in a world ruled by photo-sharing sites like Instagram.


    “Always be” building buzz


    Who can forget that infamous line in the 1992 movie Glengarry Glen Ross, when Alec Baldwin’s character advised his colleagues to “always be closing” their real estate deals, even when engaging in innocuous dinner conversation with clients. The same logic holds true with running a successful e-commerce website, because the focus should continually remain on increasing the site’s positive recommendations and word of mouth.


    By adding apps that allow users to shop Gilt sales via their mobile devices, as well as a Facebook shopping section, Gilt Groupe broke the mold in the way they increased their popularity naturally by using social networking to the best of its advantages. Their “secret sales” way of operating encouraged users to want in on the invitations, and the success of that business model brought in its wake similar invitation-only sites, such as Haute Look and Zulily.


    Or, by turning to crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter, you could perhaps gain attention for your e-retail site’s main manufactured good, like the so-called “Sense” product by Hello, which blew through the San Francisco-area company’s original goal of $100,000 to go on to raise more than $1.4 million from the campaign. A quality sales video featuring their CEO and founder helped to explain to donators how their “Sense” aims to help them sleep better.


    However, building buzz doesn’t mean you have to come up with a similar type of extraordinarily new paradigm shift. It could mean you should simply begin to focus on a positive customer experience by offering exactly what you say, when you say it. Gaining good vibes from others can also come via providing merchandise so unique and useful that buyers naturally tend to share information about your site via their social media accounts.


    In the end, as the old adage says, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – and by adapting a plentitude of the same tactics that these successful retailers are using, you too might find your e-commerce site running in the big leagues some sweet day.

    Add your Story Add your Story