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Have you done your research?

“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” -Zora Neale Hurston

This is the first in a series of in-detail looks at how to avoid your ecommerce business failing before you’ve even started. Research is always going to be the first step that you will take when you are looking at starting your online business. It is the backbone of your business plan and will define the route that your business will take in the future. It will also never ever be something you don’t constantly do. It has perpetual relevance and to neglect research is to neglect your business and its future.

It is true that sometimes you see ecommerce businesses that don’t bother with research and just become a success, but they are a minute percentage and we shouldn’t believe that this will automatically be true for ourselves.

Don’t waste time and resources

When conducting your research it is important you have some form of structure and that you are aware of how to conduct effective research. If you don’t, then you just end up wasting your time, which leads to lost money and missed opportunities. So make sure you get it as close to being right as possible.

It is important for you not to run away with your idea. It can be the best idea in the world and you can be bursting with the excitement of wanting to get the idea of the ground, but short and long term you could damage your business by not committing to the necessary work needed, before you get the business off the ground. The early stages can be the best and coming up with ideas on how you can develop the business and learning more about the market that you’re about to enter can be incredibly exciting.

How to conduct market research

There are many places that you can get the data that you are looking for. We have to divide your research into primary research and secondary research.

Primary research is  very ‘hands on’  and means that you get more of a feel for the subject matter that you are researching as you are getting stuck in. You could be:

– Conducting surveys: You can be using Google forms, Survey Monkey and similar sites, to send out surveys to potential customers.You could also directly hand out questionnaires to people on the street if your main customers will be people that tend to shop on the high street.

Visit your competitors’ sites and see exactly how they are doing what they are doing. Take notes on everything and try and figure out whether it is working for them. Also see what your competitors are doing on their social media sites. You’ll be able to see what customers are saying about them and you can see how well their marketing approach is working for them and then work on improving the way they are already doing things.

– If your business is already off the ground, then make sure that you are finding out what your customers are thinking of you and how they think you could improve. Look at your sales statistics and your customers’ search histories to see what sells the best, what need to be promoted more, where customers drop off and what your customers are expecting to find on your website.

Secondary research is more passive research. You will be looking at data that is already available to you without having to conduct any of your own work. You should be looking at business journals, relevant trade publications in your field, business directories, books and use the internet to find any small piece of information that might be important.

There are countless people working on research on every topic we can imagine, so there is always some information out there. The Office for National Statistics has statistics on almost anything that you can imagine. It is not an easy site to navigate however, so you will have to be patient whilst trawling through the available data. You could also use the British Library Business & IP Centre for a lot of well researched and reliable resources.

Make sure you are able to determine between data that is irrelevant to you and data that is crucial. Sometimes both types don’t necessarily seem as if they are as unimportant or important as they seem at first glance. Be analytical with what you find and then apply it correctly.

Using the Data

Pairing primary and secondary research will give you all the data that you will need to get the ecommerce business off the ground. You can work all this data into your business plan and keep updating it whilst your business grows. Make sure that you keep revisiting your research and that you are keeping it up to date. Now that you have set up your business you will have your own data to analyse, too. Make sure you are looking at your statistics and the feedback that your customers are giving you and keep adapting your business to keep your customers happy and in a mood to spend more money with you.

In the next article we will be looking at how to use this research in a Business Plan and what else needs to be considered in it.

Author: Sönke Dökel is an Online Marketing Expert at ekmPowershop, the UK’s leading hosted eCommerce website solution.

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