I was recently invited by Breanna Bebb with Our Town Belfast to come take part in their ecommerce round table. A mix of business owners and website people would form a panel and talk about ecommerce. The event was organized by Breanna and Mike Hurley.
The small business Belfast crowd hanging out at the Hutchinson Center… They had snacks, as advertised.
What I liked was this came out of a downtown business survey.
“Two years ago in the annual downtown survey it was clear by an overwhelming majority that the businesses that had an active web and social media presence were much more likely to report that business was good or getting better… But less than 20% of downtown stores actually sell anything online.”
It was an excellent premise for a discussion.
Ellie Daniels of The Green Store, talks about her WordPress website and how she uses photos to evoque a feeling. “Your website feels like your store.” someone later said. As it should!
Ellie Daniels, who owns The Green Store has a full featured shopping cart on her domain and has had an online presence for the business for over ten years. Her presentation focused on the importance of creating a pleasing online experience, technical and accurate descriptions for products, and keeping accounts like Facebook and the website up-to-date and complimentary of one another. One of her best selling bumper stickers ‘Oh no, not another learning experience’ can summarize what it is like to operate in this increasingly online world.
Carl at Bay City Cargo uses Ebay (and direct repeat sales from initial eBay customers) to grow business. His focus on customer service and finding customized lettering solutions has earned the eBay store a 99% satisfaction rating (he wants 100%). While he says some people may wonder about using an eBay platform ‘eBay is working for us’. (In case you’re curious, the eBay store costs $45/month plus $0.20/item and both PayPal and eBay take their percentages.)
Terry St. Peter runs BOSS (Belfast Office Supply and Services). To run the ecommerce section of his office supply site, he uses a third party system that specializes in office supplies (Red Cheetah). By letting customers combine shipping, he is able to offer customized service close to Belfast. Their primary online marketing has been to offer Facebook coupons and coupons on a local newspaper website.
‘eBay works for us,’ says Carl Goodwin-Moore of Bay City Cargo. No matter what you use, only stick with it if it works for your business.
Mike Hurley, who runs a variety of businesses including Bay City Cargo, discussed free web tools that allow customers to set up ecommerce themselves like Shopify.
As the lone web developer presenting, I wanted people to know what a custom online store could and couldn’t offer. But mainly I wanted to encourage these businesses to get online in a real way, whether they could afford a custom solution or not.
What I liked most about the panel was there wasn’t one agenda. If there was one formula for success, one of us would have figured it out and replicated it to become millionaires many times over. At least I would have! 🙂
Terry St. Peter and Susan Guthrie of BOSS talk about how they use their online presence to extend local service. They aknowledge that, while their customers are local, they also want the convenience and cost savings online service can offer.
The important thing to do is:
1) Research what you need and separate that mentally from what you want. This will get you the best price/solution.
2) Implement and test.
3) Analyze your data. If people abandon the shopping cart at the third step of the checkout process, figure out why. If you find the paid ad you bought isn’t sending website traffic your way, try another method.
4) Repeat 2 and 3. Over and over.
5) Listen to your customers… but not too much. It’s important to make them happy but understand it’s you who know your business best. But make it as easy for them to buy from you as possible so they will.
6) Be yourself. As I told one woman who runs an amazing book store, Breaking Even doesn’t sell anything unique or at the lowest price point either (which was her worry). But people buy from us because they trust and like us. And as small businesses, that’s what we all have going for us. So work it.
I think this is one of the most useful events I’ve ever been a part of, if only because it showed how different people were ‘making it work’ online, some selling products and some services. The number of solutions was impressive and it was fun, interesting, confusing, and educational. In other words, it was a great night and hopefully those who came out came away with some great ideas about how they could do ecommerce.