What's Wrong With My eCommerce Site Part 1: Product Selection
This is a part of a new series of posts to help eCommerce merchants figure out what’s wrong when things just aren’t working.
What’s Wrong With My eCommerce Products?
You’ve read the expert articles. You’ve listened to the podcasts. You’ve followed the gurus. But now that your site is set up and you’re getting traffic to your site, you’re still not getting any sales.
We like to think that internet and online eCommerce success are simple formulas. Do this, don’t do that, add a little more of this other thing and you will soon be minting eCommerce gold while sipping mojitos on the beach. That’s not how it works. The internet is a powerful equalizer. It brings opportunity to everyone. But opportunity does NOT equal success. You are still going to have to put in the work.
This article assumes that your site is set up correctly and you are getting traffic to your site. We will write other articles for the times when your site is not set up or getting traffic in future posts. But for now, you have visitors and you are just not selling anything. In this scenario there are several things that could be wrong, and we have to check each one of them. Let’s start by trouble shooting your product selection. Ask yourself if you are violating one of these cardinal rules of eCommerce product selection.
Rule #1 – Don’t Chase an eCommrce Fad
I was recently helping a Shopify merchant out on their site. They were selling fidget-spinners. Well … more to the point, they had fidget-spinners on their site and weren’t selling any of them. They had red ones and green ones and blue ones and all kinds of other ones. Nothing … nada … bupkiss … they hadn’t sold a single one yet and wanted to know why.
For this merchant the answer was in the fact that they were selling lots of other products in their store, but they had heard that fidget-spinners were the “hot thing” and so they added them to their line up right away to cash in on the trend. So now they had traffic and an inventory of a hot-selling product without any revenue. Turns out that this was a symptom of a larger problem.
They started their site to market Army Surplus style merchandise and had found some loyal customers. But they were impatient for more sales. It wasn’t long before they had added other things to their inventory like kids play pools and farm tools. They did that because they got a good deal on them and wanted to turn a quick profit on them.
Sometimes that can work in the short term. What the merchant wasn’t aware of is how those items were actually hurting their brand. Core customers had just started to come to them for the kinds of camping and survival gear that they expected from an Army Surplus vender. The play pools and tools actually started to distract new customers arriving for the first time in search of their core offers. So even though the toys and tools temporarily bumped up sales as impulse purchases to existing customers, it made it harder for new customers to find what they wanted – the army surplus merchandise that the expected to find.
The fidget-spinners were just one more distraction.
I am not saying that you don’t pay attention to trends and even fads when they are in your wheel house. Neither am I saying that you shouldn’t be flexible enough to change direction when the market shifts. I am only saying that chasing the whims of every trend raging across the interwebs is treacherous when you are trying to build a brand long-term. Having the latest, hippest thing can actually hurt sales if you are “just” trying to grab at some quick, easy bucks.
And this is related to our next rule ….
Rule #2 – Remember Who Are You Selling To Online
You read a lot in the marketing blogs about creating “personas.” If you are new to the idea, creating a persona is way of defining your target customer – the more detail the better. The point is, if you can picture a real person in front of you as your prototypical customer, that image will inform everything that you do in your eCommerce website.
Even if a business doesn’t have a formal, written persona description, I have never seen a long-term successful business that didn’t understand their customers on that kind a level. It’s that simple.
You can prove it to yourself with a simple thought-experiment. Close your eyes and imagine your mother of father standing in front of you. Got it? OK, now describe your core product to them in fifty words or less. Now imagine a five-year old child and describe the same product. It’s different, right?
You talk to people of different ages different ways. You talk to blue collar workers differently than you talk to business executives. You talk to a church pastor differently than the guy sitting next to you in a sports bar. It’s natural to you. You do it every single day in every conversation that you have … you probably just never thought about it.
In eCommerce, you never get to “see” your customers. They arrive at your site and click through your pages and processes. The only evidence that they were even there is an order report and a blip in your Google Analytics … maybe a registered tracking pixel. And because you never actually “see” them face to face, the process is a lot more impersonal than retail sales used to be.
And that’s OK for the most part IF that impersonal distance does not reflect itself on your website. If you are selling product to a father who likes to take his kids camping and fishing, everything about your site and emails and images and text – and even the product you sell – need to be created while thinking of that guy. If it doesn’t, it can be really hard to persuade him to make a purchase.
Rule #3 – Would You Buy It and Why
OK … this one is going to be a problem for a lot of you out there. But the truth needs to be said. Even though it seems like people will buy just about anything and everything online, that can be deceptive. On eBay, you can get away with a little bit of that because that’s the purpose of the platform. On a modern, professional eCommerce site it’s completely different. Let me explain this by telling you my personal investment philosophy.
I have a small (very small) retirement account. It’s my future and I manage the investments in the hopes of growing it faster. I am old enough to have been a working tech pro during the “dotcom bubble” of the 1990s. Folks were buying stocks when they had no idea what the products were, or if there even was a product. It was crazy. I have seen other people manage their investments and get caught up in in hype and trends like that, and I have seen those folks lose as much money as they made.
Here’s the point … I have a rule to never ever invest any money unless I have personally used and like the product. It’s that simple. This has caused me to miss out on a few high flyers. But I haven’t picked that many duds either. Sure, I look at other things like growth and profitability. I even watch a few investment shows. But even if EVERYONE else thinks that a stock is going to rocket to the moon, if I do not personally like the product made by the company – if I wouldn’t actually buy it myself because of its good quality and a good value – then I will not invest.
You should stock products in your online store for the same reason. No, I am not saying that you avoid stocking products in the color orange because you don’t like orange. That would be silly. And I am not saying that you don’t stock a variety of products, even some where you “prefer” something a little different. I am saying that if a product is not good enough for you, it’s not good enough for your customers.
Even some passionate entrepreneurs lose sight of this. They add products to their catalog because they’re easy, or have a nice margin, or just to fill out the selection. But the lack of your engagement with your product catalog gets communicated to your customer in funny ways … ways you might not expect. In the language and images you use and in the way you support the product. And worse, if you are positioning yourself as an expert in cool widgets, but you are selling poor quality or lame widgets, everything on your site starts to come off as a lie. Your customers might spend all their visit time looking at your low-quality offerings and the bounce back to a Google search before ever seeing your really good stuff.
Sure, there are successful eCommerce businesses out there that will sell you just about anything and everything. But they are few and far between. Most of us are specialty retailers. If you are one of those, hopefully you like the products you sell and – most importantly – the people who use those products. You care about all of it. If you care, your products will be better. You may even personally try them out for yourself before you publish them out to your site.
Yep, it’s hard work. No, there are no real short cuts.
What Else Could Be Wrong With Your Online Inventory of Products?
When it comes to products there are a lot of other things to consider as well. Style and fashion do impact everything. Having enough and the right kind of variety is important too. Having good descriptions and product images are vital these days (read our article on the subject). But there are a lot of online resources for those kinds of things already, we’ve written some good stuff ourselves that you should look at. But they take a back seat to the three rules I’ve just laid out.
If you have followed all the product rules and your site is still not performing, it’s time to look at the next thing on our list.
Stay tuned to this blog for our next post in this series:
“What’s Wrong With My Site Part 2: My Traffic Quality Sucks”