In today's Guest Column, Scott Smigler of Exclusive Concepts explains how to get started launching an ecommerce site on the Yahoo Stores platform and includes a list of resources to learn more. Exclusive Concepts is a Yahoo Small Business Partner and has worked with many small merchants to help them grow their business and drive sales to their product listings. You can find Scott's column, "Yahoo Stores for Retailers of All Sizes," in the last issue, where he reviewed the benefits of Yahoo Stores for online merchants and marketplace sellers.
Aim Before You Fire
In part one of my series on Yahoo Stores, I reviewed some of the benefits of Yahoo Stores. As your first step, I recommend setting aside time to think through your business and marketing strategy. Ask yourself questions like:
- What will my product specialty be?
- Who will my customers be?
- Who are my competitors, and what values do they offer?
- What values will I offer to persuade shoppers to buy from me?
- What is my total budget for the first year, inclusive but not exclusive to developing, marketing, and operating the store?
- What is my operational plan for filling orders, providing support, and managing returns?
Make sure you do a deep dive into the fourth question, "What values will I offer to persuade shoppers to buy from me?" Your answer to this question should impact almost every decision you make while setting up your Yahoo store.
Go Big, Go Niche, or Go Home
In the book, "Blue Ocean Strategy," about competition and "value innovation," W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne suggest that companies who do not differentiate themselves compete in "red" (bloody) oceans. Companies who do differentiate themselves, on the other hand, have the opportunity to compete in "blue" oceans where there is much less competition and often a higher probability of success.
In one of my favorite exercises, Kim and Mauborgne plot the values that various companies in a particular category deliver their customers onto a graph. The graph below illustrates how you might put this concept to work for you. I brainstormed 6 common values that online stores offer to their customers. Then, on a 1 to 10 scale (with 10 being the highest), I assigned scores that may be similar to many of the stores that you will compete with. That is what the red line represents. For example, a "10" on low prices means you offer extremely low prices compared to your competition, while a "1" means you do not.
If you decide not to be a "me-too" player, but rather to differentiate your store in a meaningful way, the blue line represents one hypothetical scenario to illustrate just that. Often, the dynamics of operating a business requires offering very low value in some areas where you cannot or do not want to compete, in order to offer very high value in others.
Notice that while your competitors (the red line) deliver average performance across a variety of values, you have the opportunity to differentiate yourself greatly by allowing yourself to "fail" at some things, in order to be exceptional at others.
Price, for example, is a big issue for many shoppers. The truth, however, is that there can only be one company providing the lowest price in any category, and in a red ocean where competitors are constantly slashing their prices, that position is hard to maintain. While your competitors are trying to play the "price" game, you may be able to build a loyal base of customers (and evangelists) by making yourself remarkable in other ways.
Bottom line: Think about the ways in which you want to be, and actually can be, remarkable before setting up your store.
Choosing a "Hosted" Platform
Unlike other shopping cart software solutions that are open-source, Yahoo's solution is a hosted solution. That means you won't have the option to edit all of the source code that powers Yahoo's software, although Yahoo does make it easy to customize most elements of your store. It also means that you are paying Yahoo not only for the software, but for hosting it, maintaining it, upgrading it, and supporting it.
The good news is that because Yahoo hosts so many stores (45,000+), and because so much revenue passes through the platform each year (billions of dollars), the average total annual cost of "ownership" is relatively low compared to alternative software. In addition, the quality of the software itself is very high, and the developer network that supports it is second-to-none.
Here are some important features that you get when you host your store with Yahoo Merchant Solutions:
Uptime: Yahoo hosts your store and offers 99.9% uptime.
Back-ups: Yahoo automatically backs up your site in multiple data centers.
Reaching support: Yahoo offers 24-7 phone, email, and online support from trained Yahoo employees.
Security: Yahoo builds in 256-bit encryption to every store's checkout.
Risk-Tools: Yahoo helps you flag fraudulent orders.
Compliance: Yahoo is PCI and CISP compliant (required by law).
Analytics: Yahoo Web Analytics, top of the line analytics software, is available with Merchant Solutions Standard and Professional plans at no additional charge.
Shipping: Yahoo lets you set shipping rates by weight, price, location, and more with major carriers like UPS, FedEx, and USPS.
Scale: Yahoo hosts tens of thousands of small stores, but also hosts more Top 500 Internet Retailers than any other provider.
Being a novice: Beginners can utilize Yahoo's design wizards to customize a professional, search-engine friendly website.
Being more advanced: Yahoo works for you too. You can hire an Authorized Yahoo Small Business Partner to help you build a more custom store. Or, use Yahoo's proprietary programming language called RTML to build a custom store yourself.
Here are some things that you may want to think about:
Inventory Management: Yahoo has inventory management tools built in that will be sufficient for many small stores. Stores who have an existing inventory system, however, will want to make sure that it integrates with Yahoo. Most leading inventory management solutions do work with Yahoo because Yahoo is an open platform and offers APIs.
Adding Products to the Site: Yahoo allows you to add up to 50,000 products using their step-by-step wizard, or through a database upload. To save yourself time, you should try to attain feeds from your suppliers in "CSV" format. In addition, building expertise in a spread sheet program like Microsoft Excel will probably save you a lot of time.
Organizing Your Store into Sections: Give a lot of thought to how you will organize products on your website. You probably want to avoid having a long-list of dozens or even hundreds of menu options, which is often the result when merchants don't plan their site navigation well in advance.
Creating Unique Copy: Search engines regard web pages that have relevant, useful, unique copy very highly. All things equal, the pages on your website that have content meeting that criteria will be much more likely to achieve high rankings than those that don't.
Accepting Payments: Yahoo allows you to accept credit, debit, and PayPal payments online. If you want to integrate credit card processing into your Yahoo Store, setup a merchant account that is compatible with First Data Merchant Services (FDMS).
Creating Your Store
First, contact me, and my team will tell you how to get 2 months of Yahoo Merchant Solutions for Free. Go to Exclusive Concepts and enter "Scott's coupon offer" in the "Here's An Overview of My Needs" field on our contact form.
Second, sign-up for your Yahoo Store, and indicate the name of your store and your domain name. If you already have a domain name, Yahoo will give you instructions for configuring it to work with your new store. If you don't have a domain name, you will be able to register for one during the registration process.
Once you are signed up, Yahoo will walk you through a five-step process that will make it easy for you to open for business. If you find that you need help setting up your store, you will be able to reach out to Yahoo support (24x7). If you have more advanced needs that include programming, design, marketing services, etc, visit this list of Authorized Yahoo Small Business partners who can help you. Note that Authorized Yahoo Small Business Partners will have the following badge on their homepage.
Additional tools and resources to help get you on your way:
The Source - From Exclusive Concepts: Each day a member of the Exclusive Concepts marketing team posts a new 5-minute video that teaches you how to increase your revenue. Sign-up to receive daily updates as new videos are posted for SEO Monday, PPC Tuesday, Conversion Wednesday, Email Marketing Thursday, and Wildcard Friday. Link to blog
Feed Wizards - From Your Store Wizards: This is a full-service solution for syndicating products on your Yahoo Store to comparison shopping engines including Google Product Search, Shopping.com, and more. Link to website
Conversions On Demand: A new brand offering a suite of tested and proven hosted conversion applications that help you turn browsers into loyal customers. Each plug and play application comes with a control panel that gives you the control to easily and quickly configure enhancements. Link to website
Promo Manager - From King Webmaster: The Promo Manager helps you to create advanced promotions on your Yahoo Store. Examples include offering free shipping on certain days of the week, or only on certain items. You can also offer special promotions based on a zip code, a range of zip codes, state, country, and more. Link to website
One Two Punch - Free Webinars: OneTwo Punch live sessions promote strategic thinking to ecommerce entrepreneurs. They conduct live site reviews, and are frequently joined by special guests like Mike Ober, Senior Manager, Merchant Development for Yahoo Merchant Solutions. Link to website
DearShirley.com: Shirley Tan founded AmericanBridal in 1997 as a Yahoo store, grew it into a multimillion dollar success, and sold it to a public company in May of 2009. Along the way, Shirley learned a lot about growing and "operationalizing" an ecommerce business, and now shares her insights, tips, and advice on the DearShirley.com blog. Link to blog
About Scott Smigler
Scott Smigler is President of Exclusive Concepts, a Yahoo Small Business Partner that helps online retailers to increase revenue, get smarter and do more with less. Services include advanced search engine optimization services, conversion optimization, and more.