Trying to build the world’s best website from the get-go is a terrible idea. You’ll end up investing boatloads of time…into a site you’ll almost certainly have to re-do in the future to address the real needs of your customers.”
– Andrew Yourdarian
At Art Storefronts, we’ve on-boarded hundreds of eCommerce websites within the art and photo printing space, so we can say with some confidence that we understand how business owners launch sites.
Some launch in 3 days, start receiving orders on their 4th day, and are off to the races from there. In fact, several of those businesses are listed on our testimonials page (check out the audio interviews).
On the other extreme side of the spectrum, we’ve also seen business owners struggle to launch in a reasonable time frame.
“Time to launch” may sound trivial (take all the time you need, right?), but let us assure you – it is not. This is a metric we track at ASF, and our data shows that it is directly tied to what the business owner will eventually generate in terms of revenue and growth trajectory.
While it’s true that some business owners are more technologically savvy than others, we find the core of the issue when it comes to launching an eCommerce website in this (and any) industry is really more a difference in psychology.
The truth of it is, you could be an expert in your craft, an originator in the art and photo printing industry for 20 plus years, and still have little to no experience in the jungle of eCommerce, let alone the jungle of art and photo printing eCommerce.
Because of this, some of the best and most experienced printmakers are actually the most likely to fail. This is because they enter into a segment of the market with an attitude that they are already the best and don’t need any help, even when they have little to no sales.
“I’ve been doing this 20 years! I don’t need advice from anyone on how to run my own business.”
If you think you know everything about eCommerce and you aren’t interested in leveraging expert eCommerce advice and data, it is unfortunately likely you will waste your time and money trying to add eCommerce revenue as a printmaker.
On the other hand, if you are willing to concede that surrounding yourself with eCommerce experts is a good business decision, and you are further willing to learn from and leverage that expertise, you’re going to be in a great position.
This is because the strategy of launching an eCommerce website must be very deliberate and strategic. Simply showing up with your brand new website is not enough. A phased approach must be used in order to ensure success.
The purpose of this article is to lay out the right approach, so that when you launch an art and photo printing eCommerce site, you are set up to win.
Why does it matter? Because if you have the right overall mindset in approaching eCommerce, the potential upside for your printing business is enormous. By enormous, take a look at our top art and photo printing companies who operate with high conversion rates and have exceeded $1 million in eCommerce revenue in their first year.
As all sorts of industries grow online, artists and photographers (with digital files ready to upload) are increasingly taking their business to companies that offer a self-service ordering option right on their website. This trend will only increase. Take advantage of it!
So let’s get started. Here’s what we’ve learned about eCommerce in the fine art and photography printing industry.
Please, please, please – don’t go into this with the mindset of trying to duplicate every detail of your offline business online.
While your setup and options may make sense for all your customers who currently do business with you, it likely won’t make sense to anyone else. In fact, all it will do is confuse them.
If you concentrate exclusively on bringing your existing business online, you’ll only be making your ordering process efficient for your existing customers. What you’ll fail to do is provide a system to acquire new customers.
Remember, when doing business online, you don’t have the opportunity to explain everything to your customers over the phone or in person. Your business has been relying on that crutch since you began.
You probably have all sorts of of quirky things that you offer and do that are easy to explain when you are given the chance. But now that you are going to operate in the digital world, you don’t have that same opportunity. You need to communicate your offerings in a simple and stream-lined way that is consistent with the expectations of customers who are already buying online.
This means you need to understand the vast competition that is well-established and has been playing in the online art and photo printing market for years.
For example, FinerWorks. They are using the highest-end printing technology and ink, offer high-end Hahnemuehle paper, and are just as good as you at printing (everyone we talk to says they are “the best”). FinerWorks is advertising in your market right now to steal your customers (just do a Google search for “fine art printing”).
There are others doing this too. They know eCommerce and are learning more about it every day, and they are capitalizing on the fact that you don’t. They’ve already optimized their sites after years and years of iterations.
To combat this, play customer on their websites – see what they offer, and how exactly they offer it. Compare it to your own, and make sure you aren’t on planet Mars.
Yes, getting your existing customers to buy online instead of over the phone or email is a serious boon to your profitability and we absolutely encourage this. This is well documented in our article on A Print Studio’s Most Expensive Customers.
So, how do you balance the needs and expectations of these customers with new potential customers?
You offer a separate, password protected “Pro” area that has all the confusing options your offline business currently offers, and you guide your current customers there. Overall, you might have an “Express” option for newer customers, and a “Pro” option for existing customers.
It’s time to kill your perfectionist tendencies! Trying to invest in creating the perfect store to address your customers’ needs, wants and problems is almost certainly a waste of time. Instead, get a basic store online as quickly as possible to start interacting with your customers to learn more about them.
What you are about to learn here is absolutely crucial and the crux of this entire article.
If you want to utilize eCommerce to acquire customers (a method we have proven to work for print studios), it is all about finding traction as early as possible.
You know you have achieved traction once the orders start rolling in consistently.
Orders confirm that your site has been set up properly, and your marketing strategies are working. Until the orders are rolling in consistently, you don’t have traction and nothing else matters until you fix this. Period.
Let’s talk about what that means in terms of setting up your eCommerce website.
First, if you have never set up an eCommerce site before, or have not already had a successful eCommerce site as a printmaker (selling at least tens of thousands of dollars annually), realize that right now – you don’t have traction.
This is precisely where the jaded, 20-years-of-fine-art-printing-know-it-all-guy we referenced earlier goes wrong. They come into this thinking they already have traction, but the reality is, nobody starts selling online with traction achieved – regardless of how awesome your offline business is.
eCommerce traction has to be hunted down and earned through an iterative, data-driven process. A process that takes time, thought, strategy, and tweaking. The sooner you start doing this, the sooner you will achieve it.
Since your immediate and only real goal is to find traction as quickly as possible, you want to strategically setup your eCommerce site to do so.
Your setup, in and of itself, contains a lot of variables that can be your biggest roadblock to traction. Pricing is a variable that affects traction. So are product options, so are shipping options, and so is website design and usability. All of these variables have positive and negative effects on achieving traction.
Therefore, your goal is to control these variables in a specific way so that they are not negatively influencing your traction while you are still trying to find it.
One business owner struggled to set up 10 different shipping options before they launched, because they were so concerned about losing a dollar on a shipment. What was the end result of all the time they wasted on this? Their shipping was so confusing, and there were little calculation mistakes made, that it actually prevented people from checking out.
ASF customers can see this in their stats section, because we provide an “Add to Cart Conversion Rate” as well as a “Checkout Conversion Rate.”
What happened in this case was the “Add to Cart Conversion Rate” data was normal and consistent with our other print studios; however, the “Checkout Conversion Rate” was abnormally low, pointing to a problem after someone adds something to their shopping cart and before they follow through on checking out.
We ultimately found that the problem were their shipping options. Shipping options therefore became a variable negatively affecting traction. The business owner thought they were being thorough, but all they did was add more variables into the equation early in the process, and actually made it harder for them to achieve traction. Once we fixed it, the bottleneck was removed, and the orders began rolling in.
So what is the right thing to do in this situation? Set up one shipping option that charges a reasonable rate based on the cart value.
But I’ll lose money doing that!
Yes, you will!
Be comfortable losing a little money on shipping for a couple orders (it takes 5 seconds to modify this). This is a necessary marketing cost of finding traction.
The proper strategy here is to keep shipping costs low early on, so that you know 100% that shipping is not a variable affecting traction.
When you launch a new eCommerce site, you should essentially be in promotion-mode across the board. You will not be losing money; you will be investing into your future. This is the approach you want to take with everything.
Start with more aggressive pricing, or offer a compelling, short-term discount. If you keep your pricing low when you start, you’ll know it is not a variable affecting traction.
In the same vein, keep shipping easy – maybe free – to ensure that it also isn’t affecting your traction.
Use our “Fortune” theme (it has been proven to work well, and converts at the highest clip) to start with, before you spend time or money implementing a custom theme or changing the colors and fonts.
Again, while you are starting out, control the design variable. This can always be adjusted later when you have a good handle on your new online business and can more accurately observe the impact of your changes.
“If you’re a smaller merchant in a niche market, you don’t need to spend big bucks on a super-fancy design. In fact, it could likely end up hampering your efforts.”
– Andrew Yourdarian
Once all your variables are controlled, you are now casting a really wide net to acquire orders, and the orders should start rolling in.
I’m glad you asked, because this is a reality that some print studio owners face. How on earth could the orders not be rolling in, when you are practically giving away your products and services?!?
It’s because you have no traffic.
If you look at your stats section, you will see that hardly anyone is visiting your website, which means you aren’t even giving yourself a chance to get orders.
This is okay – part of this strategic process is using data to ensure you are working on the right problems. If you need traffic, then all your focus should be on marketing. With your site set up to obtain traction, you should now be spending the majority of your time coming up with creative ideas to get customers in the door.
You should not be tweaking your website, messing with design elements, changing your options, or doing anything other than marketing.
As we say here at Art Storefronts, this is equivalent to being a restaurant owner who spends all of his time changing the menu, the tablecloths, the decor when nobody is coming in to the restaurant and you have nobody to sell anything to.
Spending your time changing the menu (i.e. tweaking shipping options until they are perfect) is therefore an absolute waste of time. What you need to do is get customers in the door.
The majority of eCommerce sites fail because they underestimate how crucial early stage marketing efforts are and don’t gain enough traction. Don’t let that be you.
You can now see why our data is showing that “time to launch” is correlated with probability of success.
Those who use a lean and quick approach to launch already know that their first and primary goal is to achieve traction. This process only really begins when you launch and are able to start learning.
So don’t spend time on perceived problems you will have after you have achieved traction, when you don’t have traction.
Once you have traction, you can begin phase 2 of your setup, which is to start dialing each variable back to get out of a promotional stage and more into the normal way you run your business.
ASF makes this so easy, because, like a master orchestrator, you can change anything on your site, from pricing to shipping, within seconds.
You should change each variable one at a time, and let no less than 1 week pass between changes. This way you can see the data in your stats section and measure the results.
If any change negatively affected traction, revert it.
Once you have traction and have therefore completed phase 1, do everything you can to harness it and keep it intact by studying your data with every change. Always keep track of your changes and the times they were made by notating them on a calendar.
Following these 3 lessons, you are now equipped with the same mentality that eCommerce experts have when launching new brands and products online.
Bookmark this article so you can read it again whenever you plan to launch a print studio eCommerce website, or a new product on your site.
If you won’t be the one setting up your site exclusively, be sure to send it to everyone involved so you can all be on the same page about what your short term goal really is – achieving traction.
If we can't teach you, no one can!