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Monday, May 19, 2014

The Business Chat - 5 ways to sink your online shop

Recently I joined a new online marketplace and it’s been... interesting. As with all new ventures there are hiccups and glitches and this has been no exception. 

Since I sell on my own website I don’t usually participate in marketplaces, (that’s a discussion that we should have soon, the difference between the two). As this is the online front to a very large show that I participate in I figured what the heck. 

What has been interesting is not just the process of seeing a new marketplace start up but seeing how others sell online. All of the vendors in this marketplace are successful vendors in a traditional craft show setting, most of them professional full time crafters. Yet many of them do not sell online and are making some really bad mistakes. 

Here’s a list of 5 mistakes that will kill an online shop.  

Bare shelves
Imagine walking into a brick and mortar shop and seeing empty shelves. Me, I’d politely smile and walk out. It’s the same thing online. You need a decent amount of work for people to look at or they will leave and find another shop. If you’re selling in an online marketplace such as Etsy this is really easy for a customer to do. 
How much work is enough? There is no magic number however I would aim for 100 give or take 25. With a large number like this you have a better chance of being found by a search engine and when people do come into your shop they will take you more seriously as a vendor they can trust. You will look more like a business. Also when you have a decent number of listings you have more of a variety of prices and work so an interested customer can always find something to buy. 
If the idea of filling several “pages”  seems overwhelming, don’t panic. And don’t let that stop you from opening a shop. Do let it be a kick in the pants to get more items online as soon as possible. If you only have 10 listings, put those up to start and then schedule in adding 2 new items a week. Every week. 

Disastrous Photos
You might have the most awesome work on the planet, the best story about it, gorgeous packaging and great prices, however if your photos suck it won’t matter because no one will get past them to buy it. 
Think of a brick and mortar store. If the front window is dirty, the work in it messy and poorly lit, would you go in? 
When you click through to an online shopfront if the photos are blurry, cluttered, too dark, too light, too small, well... would you stay to read the description or click somewhere else? 
There is no hard and fast rules to good photos. Some people style them by using props, some have white backgrounds. You have to experiment with your own work and find what is best for you. 
What is a rule is this: the photos must be sharp and in focus. The items must be the priority in the photo, make sure you can tell what is for sale (ie. to show a necklace don’t take a full length photo of a model in a really patterned dress from a distance). The lighting must be such that you can see the item. 
Product photography is a skill just like making your work is. Digital cameras are cheap and there is a ton of tutorials online on taking better product shots. The best advice I can give you is to spend some time reading your camera manual and then taking thousands of photos. 

No Policies
Customers always have questions. In a regular store it’s easy to ask a question, just find a sales clerk. In the online work you have to send an email, wait, maybe send another email. This takes time and too much time means the customer can walk off and forget about you. The best thing you can do is to answer all those pesky questions in advance. 
Every online shop should have a FAQ. You also need to detail out your shipping policy and your return policy. If the customer buys your item as a gift what if the recipient wants to exchange it? 
Writing down all your policies in advance it super important for your customers, AND for you. It makes you think of all the possibilities in advance so when someone asks you a question you aren’t sitting there wondering. 

No About Page
People choose to buy handmade because they are looking for a connection to the maker. If someone just wanted a pair of earrings they could go to the mall (and most of the shops in a mall are online too). The reason they are seeking out handmade is because they want to know the hands that made the work.
That’s you. Your hands. 
Your about page is where you tell the customer about the hands that made the work. It’s about the process, yes, because people are interested in how the work is made. More importantly it’s about you the artist. It’s where you get your inspiration from, what makes you laugh, why you do what you do. It’s the little things that help your customer feel like they know you as a person. 
The About page in a shop is one of the most important pieces of the shop. It adds a dimension to the whole experience and makes people want to come back to visit (and buy). 

Horribly written descriptions
The first thing a customer sees are the photos. Next, they read your description. 
Your written description does two things. 
First, it makes them feel like they want your item, they can see how it will improve their life. Remember, people don’t buy things, they buy solutions. 
Second it tells them all the details, like how big is it, what colours does it come in, what options do you offer (like chain length on necklaces).
Never assume that a customer can tell everything by the photos (like size). Like with your policies, writing everything down means that there can be no misunderstanding. 
Write a description that tells a story about your work. Maybe a bit about the inspiration behind it. Make the customer feel that it is more than just a thing. It’s something they can’t live without. 

If you’re selling online but not making many sales, it is because you’re committing one of these mistakes? If you’re thinking of selling then read this and make sure you don’t make them. Even if you’re selling successfully, maybe you can increase your sales by improving some of these areas. It’s a never ending process, we can always improve. 

Now go and practice taking photos. 

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