Taking the first step is always the hardest — once you’re in a rhythm, making steady progress, you’ll find that things only get easier. At least, that’s what people typically contend about everything from losing weight to learning how to play the piano. It doesn’t really apply to e-commerce, though. There, taking the first step is maybe the easiest.
Think about how accessible online selling has become the e-commerce industry has matured. You don’t need to painstakingly assemble your operation from scratch: you can simply reach out and take advantage of existing resources to get up and running in hours. Use a store builder, choose a template, set up drop shipping, run PPC ads. It’s simple stuff.
No, the hard part of e-commerce is growing. Anyone can trudge through the shallows, but once you dive into the deep end, the stakes get a lot higher. The key to succeeding? Scalability. It’s totally normal for an entrepreneur to have their fair share of failures, but it’s when you don’t take advantage of a golden opportunity that you’re really in trouble.
If you have grand online selling aspirations, you need to be prepared to take action. Here’s how you can scale your e-commerce business to meet market demand:
Work on technical
An often-overlooked element of scaling to meet demand is ensuring that your products are easy to find through Google. After all, market demand will be for what you’re selling, not for your site in particular — and someone wanting your product won’t earn you any money unless they actually find it and have the opportunity to buy it.
In ideal circumstances,
Start automating operations
In the early days of running an online store, a small business team (or a solo entrepreneur) can get away with doing everything manually, but that grace period doesn’t last long. As the sales start to trickle in, the work piles up, and soon there are far too many admin tasks for even the most dedicated merchant to handle. Enter automation.
Automation is all about using software and hardware tools to get through menial tasks quickly and efficiently with no need for manual intervention. You can apply automation to various elements of running an online store, but here are some common examples:
Sending marketing emails. Retargeting existing customers with fresh offers is a huge part of making sales for a growing brand, and then there’s the matter of using abandoned cart emails to turn almost-there visits into conversions.
Gathering feedback. The higher the demand, the more important it is that you get rid of any obstacles that might be discouraging shoppers. Using software to accrue and parse feedback will save you a lot of time.
Handling finances. Scaling requires your undivided attention, so you can’t be spending time figuring out your tax obligations or dealing with invoices. Accounting software will cover all the basics for you, sending out payments and invoices on schedule. Merchants operating in the U.S. should look at Avalara, which helps to automate your tax compliance.
Managing inventory. When do you need to order in more stock, and when do you need to offload what you already have? Good inventory-management software will run the calculations for you.
Run on an enterprise-level CMS
Depending on the platform your store currently runs on, it might not be suitable for massively scaling demand. It may run too slowly, or have capped bandwidth, or lack the type of customer service quality you need when there’s so much riding on the enduring performance of your site.
While there are plenty of platforms that can do the job at that kind of scale (such as WooCommerce with suitable high-performance hosting), the sensible choice for the average ambitious seller is between Shopify and Magento, with Shopify Plus running up against Magento Cloud Commerce.
If your store already runs on a basic Shopify or Magento tier, then it should be easy enough to upgrade without needing to migrate. Otherwise, consider migration if your CMS of choice doesn’t have an enterprise-viable tier. Handling a migration while you’re trying to scale is far from ideal, but it’s better to do it now than wait until your store has grown and the cost of downtime has drastically escalated.
Extend products to existing marketplaces
If you’re already doing everything you can to get more visitors to your store and convert them into customers, you may want to consider making your products available through third-party marketplaces such as Amazon or eBay. The terms aren’t ideal, of course, and you might prefer to think of your business as their direct competitor, but there’s a lot of value in this approach.
For instance, selling through Amazon means you can use Amazon fulfillment. You can store products in Amazon warehouses, and when orders are placed, Amazon staff will pack and ship them for you. Given how readily the shipment process can eat into seller time (and how many issues can arise with returns and payments), this is a huge advantage.
You can also benefit from using existing accounts for instant credibility — buying a seller account in excellent standing will help you sell quickly. It isn’t exactly allowed, but it doesn’t seem to be a problem that Amazon cares too much about, and it’s a short-term win. Ultimately, having your products available through more marketplaces gives your brand more exposure: build your brand up enough, and down the line, you can stop selling through third-party sites.
It’s incredibly valuable to know that the market demand for your products is there, but it won’t automatically translate to sales. In fact, it’s hugely dangerous to build up an impressive brand image while your operation isn’t up to the task of selling at scale.
As soon as you have a compelling reason to believe that you’re going to have all the customer interest you need, you must start adapting your business to be ready. Automate as much as you can, prepare to handle the traffic, and you’ll find yourself in a strong position to benefit from the demand.
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