15 Tips for launching an eCommerce website from eBay

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Paul Tiernan started out as a “hobby seller” on eBay in 2006. Since then he has created Savvy Row, a successful, independent website selling specialist high-end vintage clothing. He has also set up his own consultancy, TheRetailDetail, to help other sellers make the leap, oh, and completely changed his lifestyle!

Today Paul shares his top 15 tips to make launching your own eCommerce website a success.

1) Firstly, a health warning!

When you do take the plunge, don’t switch off eBay all in one go. You will kill your cash flow. Not many of us can survive that! I tried it once – not recommended! “Build it and they will come” is not a motto that applies to setting up your own website. Be prepared for (mostly enjoyable) hard work which requires lots of determination.

2) Pick the e-commerce platform that’s right for you

You’ll be itching to get started, but doing the groundwork will pay off. Do lots of research, ask lots of questions, speak to people who already use it, check out forums, and search for user reviews. Creating your products on your chosen platform could take a good few days, especially if you sell one-off items – not something you want to repeat. Think hard about the functionality that you need. I approached this by making a list of essential / desirable criteria. For example, on my Savvy Row site I needed a platform that allowed easy upload of multiple images -very few platforms allow that.

3) Bespoke design is worth every penny

“Out of the box” websites don’t work, they look anonymous and uninspiring. Cheap, possibly, but they’re a waste of money. Worse are website designers who say they will give you a bespoke design but try to fob you off with a generic template “in your own colours” and “with a few stock images” – yes, I got my fingers burnt on this one, too! Find a good agency / designer who is willing to spend time getting to know what your business is all about and think about your core proposition, values, personality and, most importantly, who your customers are.

4) Use your own images

Amazing images are great but most importantly they need to be authentic to you. Don’t be tempted to just use stock photos as you will look just like everyone else, and it says to potential customers that you haven’t been prepared to invest time on your website. Creativity is a perk of owning your own site!

5) Fresh Content is the lifeblood of selling

Think of your homepage as your shop window. Niche e-commerce websites need to be updated with fresh content at least every other day. I recommend 5 days per week. Keep your potential buyers interested with news of latest products, reviews, industry news, offers and featured items. When you update your site frequently, buyers will come back more and more often, blogs may link to your articles, and search engines will rank you better – all proven to increase conversion. In late 2010 I gave mention to a popular Parisian fashion blog in one of my own blog articles. On New Year’s Day I woke up (eventually) to find more than 7 thousand hits on my website from a review of my site by the same blog.

6) Tell people why you’re different

When browsers land on your site they need to be able to quickly see exactly what you are about and why they should hang around! This is called communicating your ‘core proposition’ – why you exist and why you are better / different to everyone else.

7) Show, not tell

Don’t write paragraphs of text about how friendly / quirky / professional you are – show me in the way you design your site, the language you use, and in your all-important customer service policies.

8) Tell everyone!

Your website address should appear on every single piece of communication that you send out. Never miss an opportunity to advertise for free…

9) Make your items easy to find

Name categories with the terms that potential buyers immediately understand and don’t be tempted to over-elaborate for the sake of being ‘quirky’. Put items in more than one category. Give customers more options for how they find items, e.g. shop by brand / price / colour etc.

10) Make it easy to be trusted

Prominently display your contact details including phone number, email and registered address. Post clear and fair return policies, ensure you have a plain-English privacy policy, and publish a Frequently Asked Questions page.

11) Make it easy to get paid

You’ve done the hard work: designed a great site, secured first page search engine rankings for your keywords, made it easy for customers to find your items, built trust – now seal the deal! Use a payment gateway that accepts all major credit and debit cards. Offer alternative payment methods (e.g. postal order, cash on delivery) if they are appropriate to you and your customers. Ensure your checkout is simple and intuitive to use. Don’t make customers register with you just to buy one of your items – make accounts optional, never compulsory. Don’t ask for marketing information at the checkout stage – it might be tempting to do so but it drives customers mad, possibly mad enough to go and buy elsewhere. Lastly, if you have access to details of aban-doned orders, a polite and professional email offering assistance can often “recover” the sale and earn you a new and loyal customer.

12) Check your links

Customers hate broken links, and search engines will penalise you for them, too. Free software is widely available to check your whole site in minutes.

13) Get the Search Engine Optimisation basics right

Relevant site title and description, fresh content, keyword rich text, use of headings, alt and meta tags, appropriate inward links. Search Engine Optimisation is not a dark art, despite what some web agencies might want you to believe.

14) Keep it professional

It’s great to add personality to your site (it’s one of the things that gives you a key advantage against your big volume competitors), but always keep it business-like.

15) Don’t leave altogether

The irony is that once you start to build up a healthy level of business through your own website, you can then start to use eBay even more profitably. I now use eBay for clearance items, items that don’t quite fit with my website, and for auctioning very rare items that I know people will be willing to fight over. eBay now works for my business, not the other way round!

Don’t think of this as an exhaustive list. One thing all this has taught me is to continually seek to improve. So please do add your own ideas and experiences and tips for me!

13 Responses

  1. Great post!

    One thing I would say is don’t believe all the people that phone you up every five minutes trying to sell you SEO, PPC and more.

    When your green with websites you can easily fall into these traps. I always think if they are phoning you for business they can’t be that busy!

    Also go point about ebay, it is still an important place to sell and I find items that don’t sell on the websites often sell on ebay!

  2. tip 16
    be very careful of bandwidth charges
    we got stung for £1200
    from one and one

  3. Great article and very insightful.

    Just visited your site for the 1st time and loved it!

    Even as a b2b marketplace for traders, I read real synergies between some of your useful tips and what we are doing.

  4. This is very useful info.

    #2 Pick the ecommerce platform that is right for you – Go for a platform that is client based and not server based. In the early days I found server based platforms incredibly slow to work with (frustrating is the word!) when updating the website. Client based platforms enable you to update offline and then upload.

    Trust me. Productivity increases by 300% or more if you have a client based (software on your PC) ecommerce platform. And time is money.

  5. I was with Lycos Europe at the time (6 years ago) using their server based platform and I sell collectables so the site was having regular daily updates. For me it was slow and after 18 months I gave up and moved on.

    I can’t say if things have improved since then. But clearly if you spend several hours each day working on the site with images and working through the software menus and drop down boxes then for me server based is a big no no.

    You can access a client PC remotely so effectively you can log in from anywhere worldwide and work on the website if you need to.

  6. Those who are considering server based ecommerce sites should maybe try the ebay listing tool to get some idea of speed. When ebay have free listing weekends it can be painfully slow!

    Then compare this with how quickly you can work with Turbolister.

  7. It wasn’t so much the uploading of data and images to the server as this has to be done regardless of whether the software is client based or server based. Client based and you push. Server based and you pull. Same difference speed wise normally.

    It is about the actual use of the software.

    Those who have a large product portfolio and who generally work with the software for several hours each day will be frustrated by server based software and the random nature of server speed. Also server based software can be a little inflexible and can have a generic look. Whatever you say about servers they will never beat the speed of a PC based quad core intel processor when working with software.

    You can certainly be more creative with client based packages and with some basic knowledge of html and the use of a website design package such as Serif Webplus X5 for example (in my view anyway but I may be wrong).

    In saying that there is nothing wrong with “generic” as a lot of punters do like things to be simple and to KISS an ecommerce website (Keep It Simple Stupid) can be a positive.

    But again I guess it depends entirely on your target customer.

    More mature customers may prefer KISS websites with a clear defined structure.

    Younger customers may prefer “cool” with massive content, flash, background audio and subtle references to product for sale.

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