The Forest Mori
All works by Claudia Lam
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Five Things You Should Know Before Running An Online Shop

I love running my online shop. I have flexible work hours, I can do things the way I like and it’s very rewarding when you receive recurring orders from people who genuinely love your work. I started selling online in 2015 and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing - it took 7 months for me to receive my first order! Looking back now, I wish I had someone who could give me a few pointers on what I could have done better because I actually gave up on my shop at one point and felt like it wasn’t going to work out. If you are interested in starting your own online business and have no clue where to begin, this blogpost is what you need!

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1) Find the Right Platform

I started off with Etsy, which I thought was quite ugly in terms of its interface and orange themed templates. However, it is such an art and handmade product focused platform. People who shop on Etsy actually understand and appreciate handmade products and a lot of artists I love were also using Etsy at the time. Starting out with Etsy did do its magic - I started receiving lots of orders when I posted listings of my handmade pins. Using Etsy also allowed me to participate in the Etsy Made Local markets, which helped expand my audience significantly! It is so important to find a platform that gels with what you are selling, especially when you are just starting out. Etsy tends to promote artistic handmade products a lot and shoppers who use Etsy expect to find artsy goodies on there. Many early customers of mine actually stumbled upon my shop unexpectedly when browsing through Etsy! Unfortunately, Etsy had made changes to their fees and policies at one point and it was too expensive to run a shop with them (They started charging sellers 5% of their shipping fees!?). Many artists (including myself) have had to switch platforms, which explains why I am now using Squarespace. I would recommend using Tictail or Big Cartel if you wish to start an online business from scratch, because their fees are low and they support a large community of small business owners! Some people also prefer to sell directly on Facebook or Instagram, which dodges the sales fees but would mean that you need to produce your own invoices and shipping notifications! What platform you need really depends on what you are selling, and do take time to look into the options because it makes a huge difference in sales if you find the right one!

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2) Learn to Take Product Photos

It is so so important to know how to take good photos when you are an online seller because customers literally depend on what you showcase to make purchase decisions. I use a Canon M5 camera but smart phones nowadays have such good cameras you don’t actually need a professional camera if you are on a budget. I like to use natural lighting for my photos because I find artificial lighting to be too harsh and blunt - it changes the real colours of my products and photos are less comfortable to look at. So I only do my photoshoots in daytime! As my products are quite small, I simply use A4 colour papers as background and take multiple shots of each product. Make sure the photos are clear, not distorted and have good white balance (not too blue or too yellow). Always edit your photos to achieve even lighting and consistent colour tones. I seldom use Photoshop for my product photo editing because I am LAZY (´﹃`) In my option, Snapseed is quite sufficient for the minimal editing I need for my product photos. I highly recommend this app as it is super user friendly and can directly modify my original pictures, so I won’t have duplicates on my phone (Extremely handy feature as I update my shop quite often and I don’t want a huge clutter of duplicated photos on my phone).

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3) People Like New Things

As someone who likes online shopping, I can relate to the excitement of seeing emails titled ‘NEW ARRIVALS’ from my favourite shops. I love shops that update frequently because I crave the amazement and I want to see something different. And that’s what drives sales! Even if you are just starting out, having a varied range of products in your shop gives you a better chance of making a sale, it makes your shop look fuller and more interesting. Some people find the need to constantly create to be very burdening and it pressures them into an artist block, whereas for me it is the exact opposite. I like the pressure of a deadline because that’s how I can be productive. I always have a list of ideas ready for the upcoming weeks and I work on a very regular timetable so as to make weekly shop updates work.

4) Get Shipping Right

A lot of people have this concept of how they should start off by selling within their home country, then expand to shipping worldwide once their business grows bigger. I would recommend that you ship worldwide no matter what because from my personal experiences, 80% of my orders are international. There is nothing to lose shipping worldwide as long as you get the shipping right!! I am giving this advice as someone who has had many failed experiences charging the right shipping fee. There are so many rules to how each letter or parcel is charged and with every product packaged differently, shipping costs for each order are bound to vary. I have learnt to design product packagings that cater to the cheapest shipping options (make products as flat as possible) and to always include packaging fees in shipping fees. If you have a new product, it is so important to take it to the post office and ask for the most economical shipping options because postage calculators online are quite inaccurate :/. You’d be surprised how much time and money you save if you inquire directly at post offices! (Some post offices offer discounts if you ship in bulk) Oh and don’t worry about international shipping being too expensive - if someone loves your products enough, shipping should not affect desire to purchase!

5) Yes Ad? No Ad?

Social media platforms nowadays are pretty commercialised. In my opinion, I find ads on social media to be quite a turn off and ad features are becoming SO EXTRA. I mean the ‘Tap to view and buy item’ function just makes my phone crash, and my once joy of seeing the behind the scenes of artists and creators I like have become a bombardment from accounts I don’t know saying ‘Swipe up to buy this!’ & ‘Tap to see profile!’. It actually makes me want to buy a product less if it appears while I am scrolling through my feed or stories on Instagram. I don’t even have my Instagram account set as a business account and I just run it as a personal one. I think paying for ads is really a hit or miss so unless you are keen for a really commercialised business manner, I think you can drive sales in other creative ways.

Claudia Lam2 Comments