Previously, I shared about how I launched our private label product on Amazon and how I used free press to help spread the word. While Amazon is a great source of traffic and revenue, it does have a few downsides.
- You are playing in Amazon’s sandbox and they can shut you down at any time and for any reason. We’ve no doubt all heard the horror stories of sellers who are shut down without provocation, given no clear explanation, and are suddenly stuck with thousands of dollars in inventory they can’t move. Yikes!
- You don’t own the customers, Amazon does. There are strict guidelines that prohibit sellers from driving customers away from the Amazon platform to their own website.
- Because Amazon owns the customers, you cannot contact them directly (except when following up on an order) which means you cannot offer them discounts on related products, announce new products, give referral bonuses for friends, etc.
The way around this is to create your own eCommerce website. This will allow you to collect your customers’ information, contact them, foster a relationship, offer discounts, advertise new products, build a referral program, and much more. You’ll also find that with the right combination of discounts and shipping you’ll get bigger orders AND more profitable orders! Here’s a comparison of my sales for the week of July 2-8, 2016. First, let’s look at Amazon:
This was my best week ever (so far!) as it came on the heels of an article about our company and our product in a major metropolitan newspaper. (You can learn more about using free press to build your business in my previous post.) Notice we got an average 1.27 units/order with an average sales of $15.16/order. Now let’s compare this to the sales from my own website over the same period.
We only had 41 orders on our website compared to 171 through Amazon. That doesn’t look too good until you look at the average order size. On Amazon we sold 1.27 units/order but our website had an average of 2.56 units/order. This means we sold TWICE as many units to each customer on our website compared to Amazon. But the real kicker is that our website sales are twice as profitable as Amazon. So while we only had one-fourth as many orders as Amazon, because they were twice as large and twice as profitable, we netted nearly the same amount!
Think about that for a second – We made the same amount of money with ¼ the customers!
PLUS, we have their email addresses so we can follow up and give future discounts, advertise new products, offer referral incentives, and much more. This will lead to more sales over the long-term; something that is impossible with Amazon because those customers are theirs, not yours.
Where to Start
First, let me say that in my opinion it only makes sense to build your own online store if it can operate as passively as Amazon does. That’s where a magical plugin called NS FBA comes in that automates all of your website orders through Amazon’s multi-channel fulfillment service. But more on that in a bit!
There are really three options when building your own online store.
- Hire someone to build it.
- Use a shopping platform like Shopify
- Build it yourself
Sometimes it makes sense to pay someone to do what they’re good at (building websites) so you can do what you’re good at (creating products). Sure it costs a little money, but it saves you a whole lot of time and as the saying goes, time is money! If you decide that hiring a pro is the way to go (and I certainly don’t blame you!), then check out Upwork. Upwork is the #1 one place to hire freelancers. You can post a description of your job, interview candidates, and read reviews of their past work before ever hiring someone. I’ve used it many times for help on projects. Even if you do decide to outsource this, it’s probably a good idea to read the remainder of this post so you have some ideas of what you want and what’s possible. For example, you’ll probably want to ensure they use the NS FBA plugin so your store integrates with Amazon.
Option #2 – Use a Shopping Platform Like Shopify
Shopify is a platform that makes it easy to build a store. You answer a few questions, choose a theme, enter your product(s), and that’s it! Shopify offers numerous apps that can give your store additional functionality. Some are free, but most come with a monthly fee. They also integrate with Amazon so all of your Shopify orders can be processed automatically! Pricing starts at $29/month for a basic store or $79/month for more bells & whistles. If you want a done-for-you solution with great customer support, Shopify is the way to go.
Option #3 – Build It Yourself
While Shopify is a great option for most people, I have experience with creating websites and wanted something a bit more customizable than I could get out of the box with Shopify. So I took the extra time to build my own. Along the way, I discovered some great plugins that really make my store a beast. I’ll share those, along with some other recommended resources, below.
eCommerce Website Resources
1. Mailing List
Before you start building your website, realize that one of the best things about having your own site is the ability to build a mailing list of customers. This is simply not possible when you sell through Amazon. You can also create a separate mailing list of potential customers, or leads, by offering them something such as a discount on their first order or a PDF guide in exchange for their email address.
My personal favorite email service provider is MailChimp. I’ve used it since 2012, and not only is it easy to use and powerful, it’s also free for your first 2,000 subscribers or 12,000 emails/month. If you decide you need additional features, like an autoresponder series (which you will – see below!), it’s only $9/month when you enroll in autopay. Click here to sign up for a free MailChimp account.
2. Domain Name
Your domain name is your address on the internet. It’s the part that comes between www. and .com. I’ve used GoDaddy to register all of mine. If your name is easily misspelled, then I recommend registering those as well. For example, if your domain is www.hottamales.com (plural) then you might also want to register www.hottamale.com (singular).
The first thing you need is a place to host your website. A host is really just a computer on the internet that holds all of the files that compose your site and shows them to people when they visit. Since you’ll most likely be building your site using WordPress (the #1 platform in the world), you’ll need a host that supports it. There are two host companies I’ve used and recommend depending on your needs.
- Bluehost – When you’re just starting out and don’t have a lot of traffic, or money, this is a great host. Plans are only a few dollars per month, making them a great deal! I still host several of my low traffic sites where speed isn’t an issue on Bluehost.
- WP Engine – This is the Cadillac of WordPress hosting. It’s all they do and they’re quite possibly the best in the world at it. When you’re ready to move to a blazingly fast host with outstanding technology and best-in-class customer service, WP Engine is the way to go. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve frantically called them at some odd hour on a weekend and found a patient, helpful engineer willing to walk me through my issues. They’re definitely more expensive with a single site costing $29/month to host, but for $99/month you can host up to 10 sites making it only $9.90 per site for world-class hosting and service. You literally cannot go wrong with them.
A theme is the basic template that tells WordPress what your site looks like. There are thousands available, including numerous free ones, but for a professional-looking site that includes regular updates and customer support, you’ll want to spend a few dollars. ($29-$59 is typical.) I buy all of my themes from ThemeForest which has nearly 7,000 WordPress themes to choose from! The one I currently use for my store is called Flatsome, but there are many other good ones. I like to sort the themes by Best Sellers or Best Rated then look at the demo sites to get an idea of what my site could look like.
These are what makes running a site on WordPress so powerful. Plugins are prebuilt pieces of code that give your website additional functionality. For example, there are plugins that display your Instagram feed on your website, add a mailing list sign up, and so much more. Here are few essentials:
- WooCommerce – This is the plugin that turns your WordPress site in to an ecommerce store. It includes everything you need to begin listing products, selling them, taking payments, etc. Best of all, it’s FREE! (They make money by offering additional plugins that increase the things your store can do.) When you search for a theme on ThemeForest, be sure to look at ones that are WooCommerce compatible.
- NS FBA – Magic! This plugin integrates your store with Amazon FBA so that all of the orders taken through your website are automatically fulfilled through Amazon using their multichannel fulfillment services. I was so happy the day I found this plugin! You send all of your inventory to Amazon like normal, connect your ecommerce store, then any orders that taken are automatically submitted to Amazon and fulfilled by them. It’s completely automated! This is what makes your ecommerce sales just as passive as your Amazon ones. Best of all, it’s surprisingly cheap – just $12/month when you pay for a year in advance!
- YITH WooCommerce MailChimp – Automatically subscribes customers to a mailing list you’ve created in MailChimp. I recommend setting up a separate list just for customers. The free version does most everything you’ll need, but the premium (paid) version adds some nice features.
- WooCommerce Stripe Gateway – WooCommerce comes integrated with PayPal, but if you want to offer customers a way of entering their credit card information directly, then try this free plugin. You’ll also need to setup an account with Stripe, the credit card processor, but that’s free too.
Those plugins will get your store up and running, and only NS FBA costs anything! But eventually you’ll probably want some additional functionality to really build out your store and maximize your profits. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Facebook Pixel – Even if you’re not running Facebook ads yet, it never hurts to start collecting data on your visitors by installing a Facebook pixel. This free plugin makes it super simple.
- Ninja Popups – Using popups to offer a discount code or other offer when people visit your site is a great way to build your mailing list. This plugin also lets you display what’s known as an “exit popup” when users attempt to leave you site. This is a great way to offer another discount in order to keep them around and not lose the sale. It’s easy to use, extremely customizable, and integrates with MailChimp. Visit CodeCanyon and search for “Ninja Popups”. Price is $25.
- Recover Abandoned Cart – If a potential customer adds a product to their cart then leaves without completing the purchase, this plugin will email them a reminder to complete their checkout. You can even include a one-time coupon to incentivize them. Visit CodeCanyon and search for “Recover Abandoned Cart”. Price is $29.
- Sponsor a Friend – This plugin allows customers to refer a friend. Typically, the friend will get a coupon for a % off their first order while the referrer gets a voucher good for store credit. Visit CodeCanyon and search for “Sponsor a Friend”. Price is $19.
- YITH WooCommerce Affiliates – With this plugin you can create your own affiliate program. Affiliates will receive a unique link they can share that earns them a commission on each sale they send your way. This is a great way to gain new customers! There are both free and premium versions.
There’s much more you can do with plugins, but these will get you started!
6. Get Help
If you get stuck, here are two places to go for help:
- Upwork – As I mentioned earlier, I’ve used Upwork numerous times to hire freelancers for projects both big and small.
- Fiverr – This is a great site to get smaller tasks done such as designing graphics, editing photos, or creating an autoresponder email series. I’ve hired freelancers in the past to remove the background from images, design business cards, and other odd jobs.
Control Your Own Destiny
While building your own website takes time, effort, and money, in the end you’ll have a second stream of income that YOU control, not Amazon. You’ll also have a customer mailing list that in itself is a valuable financial asset. Yay, you!
To make it easy to refer back to the resources in this post, I created an eCommerce Website Checklist for you. Click the link below to download the free eCommerce Website Checklist.
Got a question or comment? Let me know below!
[Disclosure: Please note that some of the links included in this post are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase through them. If you do decide to use them I truly appreciate your support, so thanks!]