Marketplaces such as Ebay or Amazon.com offer a solution to the most fundamental problem of new online businesses—how to put their products and services in front of potential customers at minimal cost.
Just like real marketplaces, however, these online channels offer limited opportunities to develop a customer base that is loyal to you rather than to the venue.
To grow your business so that you can eventually break out of a marketplace and sell on your own, you have to create direct connections between you and your customers. Pay attention to your product packaging and final presentation to the customer after the sale is complete.
For instance, if you sell a service, make sure you send a warm, professional welcome message reminding the buyer of the smart decision they just made and how to maximize its value. If you sell a shipped product, remember that receiving and opening that package may be your best—and last—opportunity to make a great impression.
Here are three more quick tips:
Use your own packing slip. Even if you outsource your shipping or use a drop-shipper, ensure that you can include a packing slip that prominently displays your logo or name.
Don’t settle for a generic packing slip with cryptic barcodes plastered all over it—your packing slip should confirm the details of the purchase, list any separately shipped items, return policies, your Website address, and provide a place for gift messages or other customizations.
Put marketing materials or memorable inclusions in your packages. Most outsourcers will drop inserts or catalogs into your outgoing shipments for a reduced price—this is a great way to get a mailer, promotional coupon or offer into your customers’ hands without additional shipping costs.
One retailer I know of drops a small stuffed dinosaur into every package. The item costs the company very little, but serves as great packing material and definitely makes the order deliveries memorable!
Customize your boxes. If you ship U.S. Postal Service Priority Mail and meet its volume qualifications, you can even get free boxes from the USPS for your shipments with your custom design or text printed on the outside of the box.
This is an incredible deal for those who can take advantage of it. Even if you can’t do it on your own, you may be able to find a third-party fulfillment shop that would be glad to “sponsor” you with the USPS.
Every communication with your customers is an opportunity to establish and strengthen their perception of you as a brand and a trusted source. Whatever direction you take your business, taking every opportunity available to connect with your customers as a brand identity rather than an anonymous “seller” in a marketplace will give you a head start on breaking away from the pack when you’re ready.
Thomas Unterseher is founder/CEO of One World Direct, a provider of direct-to-consumer e-commerce fulfillment services.