Starting Up? Think about your products carefully…

NOTE: This post was originally published on a different blog of mine in 2007 which no longer exists, I have transfered it here as I feel the content is well suited to this new home.

From time to time I visit an Internet forum for business owners and start-ups. One of the areas available for posting is a ‘review my website’ area, you’ve probably seen them before, somebody with eCommerce issues or business problems asks for a critical review of their website.

Having some time to kill (waste), I decided I would have a look through some posts and see if I could offer some advice to a fellow business startup.

THE BUSINESS IDEA

The website I picked to ‘help’ was attempting to sell software packages such as Windows Vista, and Adobe Creative Suite to the general public.

My first thought before even visiting the site is: ‘Do people even pay for Vista?’ Perhaps my way of thinking is warped, but would I personally hand over in the region of £170 for the privilege of installing Vista on my PC? Not a chance! I am more than happy to wait for my next PC upgrade where it will probably be bundled at a (seemingly) lower cost to me.

I do understand that being a little technically minded I may not represent the average consumer so I plough on anyway.

THE WEBSITE

Upon visiting the eStore first impressions where not exactly brilliant. The logo and site header were poorly designed, obviously without the input of a skilled designer, and the overall colour scheme chosen for the site was basic at best.

It only took a second to see that the site was based on a popular free eCommerce template called OsCommerce. While this in itself is not a bad thing, it had undergone very little customization from the basic installation. The net result of this is that the site looked basic in its layout, and mirrored hundreds of other websites on the Internet, and not the particularly good ones either.

THE PRODUCTS

Next, I began to browse through the products on offer.

The first product displayed on the homepage is Microsoft Vista Premium Upgrade edition. Now, I have already established the fact that I probably wouldn’t be rushing to the tills, credit card in hand, trying to purchase Microsoft’s latest offering , so I better do some research on pricing.

I think to myself ‘Where would I go if I wanted to make a software purchase online?’ Two seconds later I’m on the Amazon homepage looking for the software department, right there on the software homepage is a nice green image of a Vista box, one further click and I can see a list of all the Vista editions including pricing.

Unfortunately you can probably guess what’s coming next…

Within roughly 15 seconds from leaving the test site, I have found the exact same product cheaper.

Not just a by a little bit, but a massive 28% cheaper!

This is from a retailer which:

  • I have used before successfully in the past
  • I already have an account with
  • Has a certain level of trust already established with me

Checking a few more items between the two sites confirms the initial discoveries, pretty much everything that the test store supplies is available at the same, or better prices from Amazon.

THE PROBLEM

For me the critique has finished, in my mind I have already found enough reasons why this business is failing without going further than the homepage.

I haven’t even needed to check basic things like returns policies, checkout processes, product images and copy, etc…

To me, running a successful ecommerce venture is simple (in principle)

  1. Find a product that people will want, with enough of a margin to make it worthwhile (probably the hardest task)
  2. Create an ecommerce store which is well designed, builds customer trust, and offers the consumer savings over your competitors
  3. Attract as many potential customers to your site as you possibly can

For the site at the subject of the review they failed at tasks 1 and 2 miserably.

The problem is that this isn’t a one off, there must be hundreds if not thousands of similar businesses out there, throwing money into something that is never going to be a success.

Even though the website is poor, and had obviously been constructed without the help of a professional web designer, this guy must have spent a certain amount of money on it. You can guarantee he has spent lots of time and energy too.

At some point surely a friend, relative or contact must have raised concerns with the business idea, maybe he should have listened.

So, thinking about starting up? Take advice, do your research, and use your common sense, if you can’t even closely compete on price for branded products which are widely available elsewhere then is your business really going to succeed?

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