Hiring the Retail Blind
Most new online retailers don't have their own in-house e-commerce programmers. A common solution is to contract a "web designer" to build out your website.
Many of these web designers are talented, and can build a visually appealing and functional website. Most of them build sites for clients in a wide variety of industries. They don't specialize in any particular type of site. As a result, very few have any more than a rudimentary knowledge of online retail.
If you mention a retail phrase like "keystone markup" they’ll be lost. Ask them how to reduce shopper fallout, negate shopping cart abandonment, or what an ideal merchandising strategy is for your retail venture...and you'll get little more than a blank stare.
Your web designer may be a talented artist, programmer or both - but that doesn't make them qualified to guide you through the labyrinth that is online retail.
Generally speaking, most web designers are to an online retailer what a landscaper is to your house. They can make your site look pretty. If you were to let your landscaper work on your home's electrical systems...your house just might burn down.
A good web designer is a talented person, and can be a valuable asset to your venture. But, it's almost always a mistake to lean on them to lead your online retail endeavors.
Even the sharpest web designer that has developed multiple "e-commerce sites" is unlikely to have practical online retail strategy knowledge. Not only will they be unable to lead you in the ideal direction, their value as a sounding board for your ideas, and ability to advise is very limited.
No single person knows everything there is to know about online retail. It's an industry still in its infancy, turning new leaves every year. You'll either need your own staff of retail gurus to bat around ideas with, or you need to ensure that your internet consultant is *truly* experienced in online retail.
At Suite Spot Commerce, online retail is all we do - and we've done it for a long time, with countless case studies of retailers we've made highly profitable online. If you don't hire us - make sure the firm you do hire has similar experience and focus.
If your retail website has been "online" for more than a few months, odds are you've tried to market it to bring shoppers into your site. Maybe you've done some do-it-yourself marketing, or perhaps you've even hired someone to help you.
With the growth of the internet, online advertising has boomed. There are thousands of relatively new companies in the marketplace that define themselves as "internet ad agencies" or "interactive marketing" firms. It's important to know that the majority of these companies are little more than web designers who saw a demand for online marketing and decided to "specialize" in online advertising. Very few have any formal education, or solid experience in marketing, or even business management for that matter.
Search engine optimization is another consulting definition coined by the internet community. Search engine optimizers (or SEOs) work to shape your website's content in order to get you listed highly on the major search engines for specific search terms that internet shoppers might be using to locate your products online.
The rapid growth of the internet has resulted in a great demand for this type of service as well. Thousands of web designers saw opportunities here also. There are some great SEO companies in the marketplace that perform valuable services with a high return on investment - but there are far more "snake oil salesmen " in this niche than there are truly talented consultants that deliver strong value.
Online retail marketing is a science all its own. While many online marketing consultants value their work simply by the quantity of visitors that they bring to your site - you don't have the luxury of valuing it the same way. Visitors who leave your site without a lighter wallet have lightened your wallet in the process. Simply getting visitors to your site won't keep you in business - you need to get buyers to your site.
As with any service, you generally get what you pay for. Any company or consultant advertising an inexpensive service that promises to deliver huge results is probably a scam, or so inexperienced they don't realize what it will take to actually deliver on what they're promising. In either case, it's money down the drain.
You don't have to spend a fortune to get your marketing started, but you will have to make a reasonable investment, and anticipate growth incrementally over time.
How to hire the RIGHT People
Whether you're hiring a marketing consultant or a web designer for your retail site there is some basic due diligence you can perform to make sure you're getting someone who can help you:
1. Always find a firm that specializes in online retail. If they're building or marketing retail websites every day for years, they're certain to have more knowledge about the topic than a “jack-of-all-industries” firm.
2. Hire a consultant or firm that has *years* of experience. Your sister's boyfriend's just-graduated-college son will rarely pay off.
3. Insist on references to companies they've performed online retail work for. Not just a list of websites - actual contact names and numbers. Call those references, and just don't focus on whether or not the reference "liked" the consultant or if the consultant's rates were fair - ask the tough questions...exactly what DID the consultant do for the reference, and did he/she have a measurable impact on revenue.
4. Ask for case studies where, as a result of the consultant's services, the retailer experienced significant results. Then call those companies and get verification that you've been given accurate information.
5. Explain your product and target audience to the consultant, in detail. Make sure that they have not just grasped the crucial dynamics of your business, but also evaluate the feedback you receive. If they don't have some constructive advice or feedback that seems well thought out and specific to your business, you may want to explore other options.
6. A good consultant seeks first to understand your business. What is your product? What's your unique selling position? What's your gross margin based on average anticipated price point? Who is your target market? If a consultant doesn't ask these questions, or show any interest in that information...run.