Even though I've always been a very artistic person, for the first half of my life I worked in an office shuffling paperwork and pretty much dying of boredom. After the birth of my third child, I decided to quit my office job and stay home. That's when I began indulging my inner artist.
For four years now, I've been creating jewelry and for two years I've been creating handmade glass beads for other jewelry designers. I sell my work at multiple online venues and have found that online selling is definitely the best route for my offerings. Of course, selling online is much different than working a show, selling through a gallery, or even owning your own storefront. You don't have eye contact, a smile, or a personable conversation one-on-one with your potential customer. So just HOW do you make selling online more personal?
When I first started selling my work, I had two things in my mind: 1) I never wanted to go back to an office job so I needed to be successful, and 2) what could I do to make the online selling process so pleasant, people would come back to me again and again? Believe it or not, those two seemingly random thoughts are inextricably linked.
MOTIVATION & SELF APPRAISAL:
How badly do you want to succeed? How much time and energy are you willing to invest in your success? Determining this is probably the key first step in determining how well you will do in online sales. You have to be committed and yep...a little driven...to truly give yourself the gift of success. Those qualities need to be balanced with finding ways to be "in touch" with your target audience...your customers. It also helps to be very open to suggestions from others as well as open to new ideas in general. So how does this have anything to do with make online shopping more inviting? Believe me, I'm getting to it...lol. Read on.
WHAT MAKES SHOPPING FUN?
Once you know you are committed to your personal success, start thinking about what makes shopping fun for you. I made a list of what I liked about online shopping and what I liked about shopping in store fronts. Below are some of the things I jotted down.
Pros of Online Shopping: Online shopping is convenient. I can shop day or night...any time I want. I can shop in my pajamas while munching on Cheetos and sipping my diet Coke. There is a ton of variety available and I can find obscure things that even Aunt Gertrude would like. I can pay for it quickly and then I just sit back and wait for it to come to me...no hauling packages everywhere, no loading and unloading. And I do NOT have to fight the crowds for hours while looking.
Cons of Online Shopping: I can't touch and test my purchase out ahead of time to be sure it's the right color, texture, design etc. I don't get a warm smile from that salesperson who is eager to help me with my questions. I don't walk into a store that smells of cinnamon and has a warm, cozy feeling. It's not a social time...I can't really take my girlfriends shopping with me. And unless someone I know has purchased from the same online seller, I only have the word of strangers that they are honest and trustworthy.
Pros of Storefront Shopping: I can use all of my senses...hearing, seeing, smelling, taste and touch to decide if my purchase is the right one. I get to enjoy social interaction, either by shopping with friends or family, or by interacting with friendly shop owners and salespeople. I get to bask in my environment. If I walk into a cozy store with neatly organized displays, great lighting and inviting colors and scents, it makes me feel that much better about shopping there.
Cons of Storefront Shopping: They may not have what I want. They may not be able to get what I want. I may waste hours trying to find what I want. The shop owners and salespeople might be cranky, snobby and/or unfriendly, unavailable and unhelpful in other ways. The store could be packed with 25 other people looking for the same thing as me. The store could be poorly lighted, dirty, cluttered and disorganized, making me run for the door. The prices may not be competitive.
MAKING THIS KNOWLEDGE WORK FOR YOU:
Now that you've given some thought to what you like and don't like about different shopping venues, try to think of ways to bring the best of both worlds to the shopping experience in your online venue.
Here are some of the things I do that I find helpful (I'm sure you'll think of more too):
Making the experience personal: Obviously, shopping online can be very impersonal. I don't like that. So I try very hard to make it as personable and friendly as I can. One of the things I like best about shopping in a store front is when I walk into a store and am greeted with genuine friendliness and warmth. Then when I check out, I find that the checkout person is warm and friendly as well. We may joke a bit and laugh, and they always wish me a nice day. I always walk away from an experience like that feeling GREAT about my purchase and GREAT about the store itself!
So, that said, unless you sell so many items per month that you cannot possibly do this, I really recommend NOT using automated messages to your buyers. Send them each a short personal email thanking them for their purchase and letting them know that you will be shipping their items soon. Tell them to have a great day. Be enthusiastic, use exclamation points!!! ;) Sign it with your name first and then your business name.
Oftentimes, my customers will drop me a short note back. As much as I can, I will always correspond with them...and if they tell me any interesting detail about themselves, I keep an address book with all of my customers names and addresses in it, and I will make a note about them in there. For instance, one customer mentioned she was a nurse...so I jotted it down and the next time she bought from me, I asked her how her nursing job was going. She was surprised I remembered...and I have a horrible memory to be honest...but I feel that those personal touches make a huge difference. They do for me...and I really believe in giving others what I like to receive myself.
Another way I try to make it personal is when I package my item for shipping. I always tuck a handwritten thank you card in with the purchase. If it's a first time customer, I will mention that I offer an e-newsletter and ask them to email me if they would like to be included. If it's a returning customer, I still send a thank you card, but I may chit chat about some news they shared with me, or just make other small talk. This, to me, is the equivalent of a friendly checkout.
As I mentioned above, I also offer an e-newsletter. It's basically just an email that gives my customers a "heads up" on upcoming listings, any special sales I am running, or contests that I direct only to my subscribers. I run contests and games frequently through my newsletter, as I feel like my committed customers deserve rewards for their loyalty. They are a great bunch of people! In my newsletter, I also have a small "personal" blurb where I tell them about things I've been up to either alone or with my family, or share thoughts about life. I attach pictures of my family from time to time, if we've gone on vacation or other such things. I really believe this creates rapport, and it's that "human connection" that is so hard to achieve in a sterile, online environment. My newsletter subscriptions are voluntary only...I do not add people to my email distribution without their consent. And I have an "out" clause at the bottom of each newsletter that allows them to opt out of the distribution at any time.
Another important part of online sales is being readily available. No one can babysit their computer 24 hours a day. But I do try to log in frequently and respond to any questions as quickly as possible and always with warmth, enthusiasm and friendliness. In my way of looking at things, this is the equivalent of being a personable and helpful salesperson.
Making your shop inviting: So I think we all know how it is to walk into a store and find it cluttered, the lighting is terrible, the decor is frenetic and you just want to quit before you start because your head hurts just looking at it. But think about walking into a cozy store with warm lighting, neat and artistic displays, maybe some soft music in the background and a nice scent lightly threading through the air...ahhh...now THAT is the way to shop, right? :) So how do you translate that into your online store?
I think one of THE biggest selling points in any store is your pictures. There can be no doubt...if your lighting is bad, your background is busy, and your pictures are blurry...your sales are going to reflect it. Remember, your pictures are the online equivalent of a storefront layout. Whether you like it or not, committing yourself to being an online salesperson commits you to learning how to get good pictures...how to be a good photographer. There are tons of resources out there, and you certainly do not have to invest in thousands of dollars worth of equipment in order to get good results.
I would, however, recommend lots of research on photographing your specific type of item and buying whatever props you may need to show off your item to it's best advantage. For instance, if you sell clothing, you can get an inexpensive bust mannequin for 30.00. Well worth the investment! If you sell jewelry, consider buying a bust or earring mannequin for showing off necklaces and earrings. There are online instructions for creating your own light box...and it's extremely inexpensive and works wonders for your pictures.
If there is one thing I cannot stress ENOUGH, it's keeping your background simple and clean. A busy background makes the human eye wander all around instead of keeping the focus where you want it...on your product! A simple white, grey, or black background works wonderfully for most items...but even if you decide to use a colored background, be sure it's a solid color or gradient of a solid. If you use checks, clashing colors or other busy patterns, it really detracts from your product...it's sort of the equivalent of walking into a store with a crazy making color scheme and lack of organization. Your eyes can't focus and it's distracting instead of attracting.
Another great helpmate to pump up the overall look of your shop and your listings is to have a photo-editing program. I personally use Adobe Photoshop. I took an online class for 65.00 about 5 years ago to learn how to use Photoshop and it was worth every penny! I can use either the levels or the brightness and contrast adjustments in Photoshop to lighten up a picture and get the best, most realistic and "touchable" look for my items. You can also add text, borders, etc to your pictures in Photoshop, which can really help convey the "feeling" behind your items, and give them a clean, polished and professional look. This is what I consider the equivalent of your "display" in a storefront.
Finally, since you and I both know that a person isn't standing there fondling your wonderful product, they can't use all their senses to experience how great it truly is. So how do you convey that in an online setting? WORDS. This is 12th grade English class all over again. Break out those descriptive words. Paint a picture in their minds that enhances the actual physical image they see with their eyes.
Let me give you an example: Let's say you are selling a floral scented body lotion that is a light pink shade. So you have two pictures of it - one sitting on the edge of a sink, unopened, showing the packaging and another sitting on the bathroom countertop opened, with a close up of the pink color and consistency of the lotion. You write below in your description: "This is a great moisturizer with a floral scent made from all natural ingredients and tinted to a light pink color." Yeah, that tells you the basics. But what if you write it more like this?
"This creamy lotion has a light, silky texture that saturates dry skin with coolness and leaves you feeling moisturized and refreshed. The light, floral scent is a mixture of sweet morning roses and delicate honeysuckle that brings to mind a walk in a beautiful spring garden and awakens your femininity. A soft, blush pink color is both peaceful in tone and pleasing to the eye. My products are made from only the best all-natural ingredients and are guaranteed to be gentle to the skin."
In that brief paragraph, you have entertained the person's sense of touch, smell, and sight. You have also connected your item with things they may enjoy...flowers, springtime, and feeling feminine. And you've done all of this while still stating the facts. It engages the emotions and senses both - which is much better than just stating the basic facts - especially in an online venue where you cannot reach those senses literally.
INVEST IN YOUR PRODUCT:
For most of us selling online, competition and getting our name out there are challenges we face daily. So as you look at this daunting list of objectives, you may feel like you don't have the time or the energy. And this is why I mentioned motivation at the very beginning. How important is it to you? How passionately do you want to succeed? Sure, you CAN succeed without doing these things...but I truly believe that these suggestions are strong stepping stones to a successful and enjoyable online business. You don't have to kill yourself to make this happen, believe me. I probably spend a little more time than average, but I am quite happy with the results...and to me, it's well worth it to establish myself as a friendly, trustworthy seller with desirable, high quality products.
I wish you the best of success in your own venture, and I hope that you find some of these tips and suggestions helpful for your business as well! Feel free to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions!
May your journey be a rich one, in every way!