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With the surprise announcement that e-commerce goliath Amazon is attempting to buy Whole Foods, it’s clear we’ve reached a no-turning-back moment in e-commerce.

Whatever happens (and it could be a bidding war with Wal-Mart, it could involve other grocery chains, who knows) clearly e-commerce companies aren’t retail disrupters anymore. They are retail’s present, and they will be the major force in shaping how we shop.

But just as some smaller retailers have been able to survive and even thrive in the superstore era, smaller e-commerce retailers will still be able to run successful companies in their own right. You don’t have to be Amazon to master these concepts, you just need to know your business and your customers.

Here are my Top 6 Steps on starting (or growing) your e-commerce business:

Step 1: The customer is still king, queen, spoiled princeling and the boss of you. Know your customer’s journey, but also think about their daily experience all the time. Is your site easy to navigate, and shop? Can they find what they want? Are they delighted by their options? Do you offer suggestions? How pleasant is the returns process? How’s your customer service?

Step 2: Checkout is directly related to the first step, but more critical, so it stands alone. Your checkout needs to be as close to perfect as current technology allows. There are reasons Amazon has so many loyal customers; always remember that in its early years its team had a laser-like focus on checkouts, and constantly improving checkouts.  Leave no full shopping cart behind!   

Step 3: Don’t expect your customers to simply find you. They will not. Design an email marketing campaign to draw attention to your store.

Step 4: Get that data! Learn everything you can about your customers and the impact of your site and its advertising campaigns. Learn from it, and continue to improve your site. Do you have a lot of visits, but few actual shoppers? Do you have many shoppers, but most are abandoning their carts? Find out what is working and what isn’t. Be humble and improve.

Step 5: Make sure your site doesn’t suck by ensuring design elements are tight and checked often. Overall, design is important, especially if you want to stand out. Be true to your brand and your customers. There are a lot of e-commerce sites out there that just look like Amazon. Retail mom-and-pops that are successful look and feel nothing like Wal-Mart.

Step 6: Social media and paid advertising can work in concert to drive shoppers to your site. Different platforms will work for different people, but you must be optimized for mobile. There’s no way around this. When you spend, get more bang for your buck by incentivizing people to spend money with you. Then keep those customers with that stellar customer service you set up in Step No. 1.


John Franklin

John Franklin

John helps brands to better articulate who they are and their purpose through our customer insights and category design work. Before Room 214, he spent five years running marketing and partnerships for eCommerce businesses. He has an MBA from Georgetown University, loves riding bikes, backcountry skiing and gets fired up about baking bread.