The Web is full of opportunities for entry-level retailers to take advantage of “instant” e-commerce stores and boilerplate websites. Affiliate merchants provide their affiliate resellers with the ability to generate an online store in just a few minutes, and even popular retail platforms such as eBay give their members access to a wealth of boilerplate storefronts. It is possible, using these tools, to create an online store presence in five or ten minutes.
It is possible—but is it a good idea? Usually not. The big upside there is the immediacy and ease of use. But while Web technology has indeed made it easier to be a retailer, it’s never painless, and the idea of “making money while you sleep” is largely a myth. There is without a doubt big money to be made online—but you have to work hard and be innovative to get your piece of it.
The lure of overnight profits and instant online shops is exciting, usually coming in one of three different forms:
- “Instant” online shops, provided by affiliate merchants, which provide a boilerplate website with your company name, instantly populated with the merchant’s products.
- Online shops provided by retail platforms such as eBay, which provide a boilerplate website with your company name, but is populated with your own products.
- Design templates included with WYSIWYG toolkits.
All three are poor substitutes for fully unique, individually branded websites, which will always get more traffic.
Two problems with instant e-commerce:
Signing up with an affiliate merchant, and generating a web site to sell their product may take only five minutes, but there is a major downside to that approach. What is being generated is for the most part, a cut-and-paste website, which has your own company name inserted at the top. The very nature of the instant offering is that you are getting the very same website that has been given to thousands of other resellers.
That’s not to say that said merchant doesn’t have some very attractive website templates, but that’s besides the point. But using those sorts of instantly-generated affiliate websites are useful only when accompanied by direct marketing. You will lose out on all search engine related traffic—which for the most successful web entrepreneurs makes up the bulk of traffic. Your site may show up on Google—or it may not show up at all. If it does, it is likely to be so far down in the ranking that it will be irrelevant. That’s because Google, and all search engines for that matter, give priority to unique websites. Points are taken away for duplication.
The second problem is one of branding. Uniqueness counts in all business, and especially online. The prevalence of automatically-generated websites for e-commerce detracts from one’s own brand. Indeed, establishing your own brand is vitally important, especially in the predominately anonymous world of online commerce. Consumers are less likely to make a purchase from a seller or merchant they don’t recognize, and so it is incumbent on the seller to establish a recognizable brand.
This is a common problem within the world of eBay. eBay has gained popularity by making it remarkably easy to “go into business” online, but the default eBay store is generic in nature. When using the eBay default, your own brand gets hidden behind the eBay brand. Make no mistake, the eBay brand itself is valuable, and having that recognition aligned with your shop has value—but even greater value can be derived by distinguishing yourself among the other thousands of eBay sellers that are offering the same thing as you, with eBay storefronts that all look alike. The problem with allying yourself too closely with eBay, without establishing a brand identity of your own, is that you will lose repeat business. That’s because your customers, when they think of the product they purchased from you, will say, “I bought it from eBay.” When it comes time to buy again, they return to eBay, but will they return to your store? It’s the luck of the draw. If you have established your own identity within eBay by branding your eBay store, however, they are more likely to return not just to eBay, but to your own individual eBay storefront to complete their purchase.
Beginning merchants may attempt to solve this problem by obtaining WYSIWYG web design software, which is usually easy to use and inexpensive, and often includes several templates that can be freely used. This too, accomplishes the same result, since those templates are used by many others at the same time. Some headway can be gained by taking the template as only a starting point, and customizing it.
Creating a professional brand for your online store:
There’s only one solution to avoid this costly mistake, and that is to create a fully unique, professional web site, with your own readily identifiable logo and tagline. Doing so avoids the duplication inherent in the “instant” sites and templates, gives you higher search engine results and more traffic, and therefore, more business and better sales. This strategy also establishes your company as a recognizable brand, encouraging return traffic.