New technologies and ways of shopping and selling are always popping up in the world of online commerce. One of the biggest new developments is the proliferation of devices like the ones in your own pocket or on your work table. Buyers — the people you want to connect with online — are finding new ways to shop and make purchases. Consumers can shop wherever they are in the world. They’re surfing with small screens, using mobile apps, and taking charge of the e-commerce experience more than ever before.
At the same time, those who seek to start or grow an online business have new opportunities to help them along. They can get help from the same engaged customers with whom they engage on social marketing sites like Facebook and Twitter. They can find the funding they need by turning to new resources like Kickstarter. And they can follow the example of the many ambitious small business owners who are triangulating their business processes — using websites, social media, and storefronts to connect with customers from many different angles.
Launching Your Online Business
Keeping up with all the new trends in online commerce is getting harder because it’s a constantly moving target. This chapter gives you an overview of some of the many new and exciting ways to conduct e-commerce. If you’ve heard about e-commerce before and weren’t attracted by the thought of creating a website and sales catalog, take a look at these innovative options for generating revenue.
Consumers now shop with smartphones in hand In brick-and-mortar stores. They compare prices and research the products they see in front of them. They don’t always follow through and make purchases with their mobile devices. But more and more shoppers throughout the world are going through the purchase process on the small screen. But you can increase the chances that they will, as described in the sections that follow.
eBay reported $13 billion in sales volume in 2012; that represents 13.5 percent of its entire volume of $175 billion. The company projects that its mobile commerce figures will grow 20 percent annually through 2015. Find out more at www.ebayinc.com/investor_relations/analyst_day_2013.
DEsigning for Smaller Screens
The first way to attract mobile shoppers Is to make sure your website or online store loads quickly and is easy to navigate. For big companies that have their own IT and web design staff, that means adapting the site they’ve designed to appear on a big desktop monitor so that it works on a 5-inch or smaller smartphone screen.
If you don’t have a designer on staff, you can get your own mobile site by signing up with a hosting service that provides you one for free. You can also turn to a company like Mobify (www.mobify. . corn), which specializes in creating mobile sites for online sellers. Three versions of one home page are shown in the image on Mobify’s home page, shown in Figure 1-1.
Selling mobile, selling local: Two examples
There are many ways to sell online, but one of the newest involve mobile technology and reaching local customers online. Here are just two examples of entrepreneurs who are taking advantage of these approaches. Lisa Bettany, a professional photographer (not a programmer), spent a year and a half creating an app for the iPhone called Camera+. She was pretty much destitute while she was doing this. She hired a programmer to help make her idea a reality. Since it was released, she has generated S4 million by selling 4 million of her apps in iTunes and other locations. You can find more about Lisa at www.most lyLisa . COM. What if you aren’t technologically savvy, but you have a great deal of knowledge, even passion, for a particular subject? Dean Pettit was a worker for NASA in Florida when he was laid off. He loves the outdoors, especially the area called the Space Coast He created an aggregation website called Space Coast Outdoors (www spacecoastoutdoors net), which collects information about a single topic in one place so it’s easy to find. It’s the kind of aggregation of information that has worked since Yahoo( started back in the 1990s.
You’re probably wondering how this kind of site makes money when all you’re providing is information. You build as much traffic as you can, and when you get to a certain number of visitors, you can start to sell ads. Dean Pettit isn’t getting rich from his site, at least not yet. But the extra spending money helps while he’s between day jobs, and he’s hoping to build enough monthly income so eventually he won’t need a day job.
Facilitating purchases and searches
You need to list yourself where mobile shoppers hang out. Make sure you’re on the local directory Google Places for Business (www.google.com/business/placesforbusiness) and places like the review site Yelp (www. yelp . corn), for example. List your products on venues like eBay Local Shopping (www. ebay. com/local). People love to look up reviews on their mobile devices, so make sure you’re there.
Mobile commerce is also about making it easy for shoppers to tap the Buy button on their touch screens. Here again, the choice of service provider is critical. Some specifically focus on making shopping and purchasing as easy as possible for mobile buyers.
Business Processes Are Social
Those who believe in political or human rights know the power a group of people can have. In the online business world, some forward-looking companies have enlisted the participation of the “crowd.”
I’m not talking about using social marketing sites like Facebook to build brand loyalty and boost sales Rather, these innovative companies are letting customers participate in the process of manufacturing and designing products.
Choosing merchandise with customers’ help
At the women’s vintage and retro clothing site ModCloth (www.modcloth. corn), enthusiastic buyers use their smartphones and an internal app developed by the company to provide real-time feedback on how much they like sweaters, other clothing, and accessories that have just been made. The site invites users to “be the buyer,” as shown in Figure 1-2.
ModCloth can gauge the sentiment of Its customer base within minutes and use that information to do strategic purchasing. If the clothing vendor is in its facility while the feedback is being registered, ModCloth can tell the vendor immediately whether it wants an item, and whether it wants to purchase 50, 100, or 500 of that item.
Instead of making such decisions by intuition or by the gut feeling of a few sample shoppers, ModCloth can back up such decisions with user data. The community has even suggested new dress designs and new colors for sweaters, for example.
The coupon and deal company RetailMeNot (retailmenot.corn) was developed In part on recommendations from community members who suggested deals, coupons, and other ways to save money on shopping.
Bringing end-users into the development process
At Quirky (www.quirky com), the user community participates in many critical aspects of creating new products for sale. Customers submit ideas for products; they vote on and rate one another’s products, as shown in Figure 1-3; they name items; they even photograph products. The company can get merchandise online that much quicker because of the use of crowdsourcing.
Bringing the “crowd” into your operations is among the latest and most exciting developments as I write this edition of Starting an Online Business with web design. It goes beyond selling merchandise. Author Hugh Howey (www hughhowey com) brings his audience into the process of writing his highly popular series of novels. He expanded his bestselling Wool from a story to a novel because readers urged him for more. He wrote the novel as a serial, releasing a bit at a time, and responding to feedback as he went along. He encourages others to write “fan fiction” based on his work.
Howey himself participates in a huge reader community he has created on his website. On his home page, he posts progress bars showing how far along he is with writing his books.