As with many sectors and industries today, new technology tools and platforms are leveling the corporate playing field. Before the digitisation of business processes and the arrival of Cloud solutions, for example, it took decades for startups and smaller players to scale and compete with big and established rivals. Now, decades have turned to years, and in some cases, even months – as agile startups leverage technology to take on well-funded but cumbersome companies.
Within the emerging sector of e-commerce, this trend is starting to come into play. Armed with off the shelf online solutions such as Shopify, coupled with slick and safe payment gateways, e-commerce entrepreneurs can be up and selling within months of inception.
New entrants quickly discover, however, that simply having goods to sell – and a flashy website – is no guarantee of even modest success. E-tailers need to find a way to differentiate from the well-known brands that have simply extended their offerings online. Such differentiation needs to go beyond price.
Kevin Tucker, founder of price comparison website PriceCheck, believes that there is a major opportunity for smaller e-commerce businesses and startups that can specialise.
“The real opportunities for small [e-tailers] are not within ‘verticalisation’, i.e. differentiating themselves from general merchandisers,” explains Tucker. “We’re seeing growth from the smaller stores that choose to specialise in a particular niche, and that really understand their product. This understanding often leads to a more personalised and rewarding customer experience than the general merchandisers can offer.”
Tucker cites the example of photography as a ‘great vertical’, with niche retailers offering expert advice and service for passionate and aspiring photographers.
“Specialising in a particular vertical also serves to reduce your advertising costs, as you can be very targeted and specific with your campaigns,” he adds. In addition to offering in-depth product knowledge and expertise, Tucker underscores the importance of making the entire customer experience – from browsing to delivery – both unique and tailored in some way.
Where many new entrants are going wrong, he notes, is their lack of attention to the minor details. Although merchants may have expensive websites and slick digital marketing, poor product photography or badly written content and descriptions can quickly lead to failure. However, Tucker says that many newcomers are making the most of new technology and harnessing it to launch successful e-commerce ventures.
“We are seeing small players really push the boundaries when it comes to using Cloud-based services, for example,” says Tucker. “From targeted and customised emails to product recommendations, these services are really helping smaller stores stay relevant. We have seen, for example, many smaller players expand their payment options on their websites by easily integrating things like SnapScan or bitcoin.”
Tucker has the following tips for e-commerce entrepreneurs:
1)Make sure you know your product better than anyone else;
2)Invest in great content;
3)Focus on optimising your advertising spend;
4)Build up a social media presence that allows you to communicate with your audience cost-effectively;
5)Get to know your customers;
6)Personalise the customer experience.