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Top Online Sales Tips For Food Entrepreneurs: Part 2

More Food For Thought!

Have you been thinking a little more about launching your food product online? Did our recent Five Top Tips for getting started in online sales well and truly whet your appetite?

Judging by the excellent response to our initial ‘Dos and Don’ts of Launching Your Product Online’, we believe that quite a few of you are impatient to get started.

Today, we want to give you some more food for thought!

Again, before we start… a quick, bite-size reminder…

Of course, every business has its own unique requirements, so the following Do's and Don’ts comprise broad guidelines rather than a one-size fits all approach. If you have queries about how an online product launch should be managed within your own business, The Dirty Apron & Co. is here to offer individual advice – just drop me an email and we can arrange an initial one-to-one business consultation.

So, let’s tuck in the ‘Dos and Don’ts of Launching Your Product Online’ – Part 2.

6. DO: Pay Attention to Presentation:

In recent years, the opening of a run-of-the-mill online package delivery has become a little akin to opening a birthday or Christmas present.

You unpack your replacement printer ink cartridges and, along with your order, a cute packet of jellybeans or vintage-style hard-boiled sweets pop out of the package. Your sleek new business cards arrive and, alongside your print order, you find a stylish free keyring and a ballpoint pen (now, that’s kinda handy!). A few days later, the slightly rare second-hand book you ordered from eBay arrives… you’ve been excitedly awaiting its arrival. You’re not disappointed! It’s a treat to open up the package – the book is wrapped in a delicate vintage-style tissue paper and there’s a simple handwritten note (written in ornate cursive with what appears to have been old-school ink and a proper oldie-worldy fountain).

This trend for finding unexpected treasures amongst your online purchases has mainly been driven by the numerous super-creative homespun sellers who inhabit eBay, Etsy, RedBubble, Depop and similar non-corporate, community-based websites. And it’s a popular practice worth noting.

For the owner of a newbie online food store, there’s plenty of scope to learn from the savvy sellers who surprise and delight their customers with the quirky side dish of an unexpected treat.

Is this concept an approach you’d like to include in your online sales strategy? If so, it’s worth considering the following:

Remember that any free gift that arrives alongside the items that you’re selling should be brand-appropriate. If your product range is positioned as a high-end, exclusive brand, then cheap jellies in garish colours are hardly the best match as a free gift. In fact, if you’re selling food online, you should probably think long and hard about whether adding a free gift of food really adds anything to your offer…

Think about samples and tasters: Following on from the point above, it’s worth thinking about instances when adding a free gift of food genuinely does add value to your offer. Say, for example, you’re selling delectable handmade cookies via your online store; you’ve recently developed a recipe for a new white chocolate and raspberry variety which, while it might not be everyone’ cup of tea, you believe will be a huge hit once your customers are aware that it’s available.

Well, yes, in this case, it makes sense to offer a free gift of food (your new recipe cookies) alongside the customer’s online food purchase. Including samples and taster portions of new or soon-to-be launched products can be an astute way to market diverse product options to a captive audience.

Don’t go to an enormous amount of expense: Surprising and delighting your customer doesn’t need to cost the earth! Nicely wrapped, nicely packaged products that arrive on your doorstep on time and in perfect condition is often enough to keep your customers returning for more.

You can also think about writing a straightforward ‘thank you for your custom’ note and including it in the delivery. Sometimes, the simple things work best.

Most importantly, ensure that online deliveries are prepared in a manner that’s consistent with your brand and brand values; and, don’t forget, you need to include a business card or flyer that the customer can pin to their noticeboard, stick on their fridge or give to a friend… remind them of the URL that they purchased from and how they can repeat their order.

7. DON’T: Neglect Stock Your Control Responsibilities!

Have you ever been shopping in one of your favourite online stores and carefully selected a product…? You add the item to cart and then…. Oh, the disappointment, it’s out stock and not available for another thirty days. Or, was there ever a time when you purchased an item without a hitch; then, a few hours later an email arrived in your inbox telling you that the product you bought was listed ‘in error’? The item you’d chosen had been discontinued!

If you’ve ever encountered one of these infuriating scenarios you’ll understand the frustration that poor stock control and careless website maintenance can invoke!

We mentioned stock control very briefly in our ‘Part 1’ blog post. However, because good/bad stock control and good/bad website maintenance can mean the difference between a customer returning to your website or bad-mouthing your online business to all willing to listen, we decided we’d draw your attention to the significance of conscientious inventory management.

For small businesses managing a slow turnover of web sales, things are pretty much easy-peasy. Most basic e-commerce systems provide two options for managing inventory attributes:

  1. a box to enter your current stock quantity or

  2. the option to list an item as ‘always in stock’.

If you enter the exact quantity of units that you have available to sell, your e-commerce system will automatically decrement your stock levels. So, as sales are processed through your site, your stock levels will decrease unit by unit. Once your stock levels reach a very low level, e.g. just 3 units are left, you’ll receive an email warning letting you know that your inventory levels are almost depleted.

Alternatively, option 2 ensures that, no matter how many units you sell, the products you’ve marked as ‘always in stock’ consistently remain on your website. Once again, returning to the handmade cookies example, the ‘always in stock’ option would be relevant here – if you’re baking to order and turnaround times are short, you can comfortably tick the ‘always in stock’ box, knowing that as soon as an order arrives, you can immediately get baking and ship within a tight timeframe.

Of course, your stock control interface may differ slightly depending on the e-commerce platform you’re using (but you get the gist!).

Once your online business really starts to take off, you’ll need to talk to a web developer or accountancy software expert who’ll be used to dealing with companies that bring in hundreds or thousands of website sales every week (or every day!). At that point, you’ll need to allow your online inventory control system to ‘talk’ to your ‘real world’ accountancy and inventory management system. Keep an eye on sales – online orders might just ramp up more quickly than expected!  

8. DO: Invest in Good Website Photography

Let’s face it… no matter how good you are at taking photos of friends and family on nights out or at family get-togethers, website photography and, in particular, product photography, is a whole other ball game.

Yes, you might have an amazing collection of pics of your niece and nephew at Hallowe’en, awesome shots of your parents’ at their anniversary party and you may have received innumerable Facebook likes for the pics from your recent hiking trip to the mountains; but that doesn’t mean that you’re ready to take on responsibility for the photography on your web-store.

Participation in an excellent quality training course and the purchase of what could well be a camera worth thousands of dollars, would be the first steps to putting you on the road to becoming a self-sufficient photographer who can look after his or her food business’s product shots. Did we mention that you’d also need pricey lighting rigs, props and a light box….?

Well, if you were ever wondering why companies with even the slimmest of budgets choose to invest in photography, you have some of your answers right there: it’s due to the significant expense and the intimidating learning curve involved in getting to grips with new photography equipment.

But the biggest motivation for investing in photography…? The key push factor…? That would have to be the fact that beautiful high quality photographs can be the make or break in terms of establishing a successful web-store.

We buy with our eyes and, more importantly, we eat with our eyes. Without impressive photography your online store will be selling itself short. Consequently, you need to make a super-human effort to impress your potential customers with gorgeously enticing photography – particularly when your brand is not (yet!) a household name.

Points to remember:

Use a specialist food photographer: There’s a particular ‘art’ to food photography and if you’re going to invest in high quality shots for your website, you need to know you’re working with an expert.

View the photographer’s portfolio in advance: Does his/her style match you look you’re aiming for? Check out your photographer’s recent work so you can get an accurate impression of whether this person can provide you with a style of imagery that will compliment your brand values. What’s more, you may want to seek references or testimonials from the photographer’s previous web-store clients.

If you’re photographing a large quantity of products ensure that you provide the photographer with a ‘running order’ for the photo-shoot.

When back at his/her studio, the photographer should be able to easily name all photos using product codes or references that you’ve provided. This will make it easier for both you and the photographer to review and critique the best shots and separate various photos into relevant folders for archiving.

Cover all angles: Ensure your photographer takes both close-up photos and wider angle shots. Give your customer the opportunity to get a complete overall impression of the product they’re about to purchase. At an absolute minimum, aim to achieve three different high quality images to post alongside each product.

As a final note on product photography: We’re not saying that a DIY approach to website photography is impossible (and you can certainly try your hand at it!), but you will need to take a cold, hard and honest look at the results; you’ll need to decide if you can really do your product range justice without engaging the services of an experienced professional food photographer.

9. DO: Give A Little Love, Get A Little Love:

There’s hardly a café, deli, boutique or bookshop that doesn’t operate a loyalty scheme these days. Whether is a ‘rough and ready’ scrap of dog-eared cardboard that you present at the till, or a fancy-pants digital swipe-card, we’ve become accustomed to getting a little something back when we remain loyal to our regular retail haunts.

In the realm of online retail, we need to remember that it’s equally as important to show your customers some love. In return for their brand loyalty and return custom, consider creating an online loyalty scheme or offering customers:

Online discount codes (these are easy to generate and process when using any of the most popular e-commerce platforms), special offers for those who sign-up to your e-newsletter, entry to exclusive competitions (for online customers only), VIP invitations to ‘real-world’ product launches or seasonal events, exclusive downloads (recipes, serving suggestions, digital ‘printables’ etc.) for customers who have made more that 5-10 purchases… 

Get creative - give a little love, get a little love!

10. DON’T: Forget That The Devil is in The Detail:

In a delicatessen, food hall or café, your customer can quite often pick up your product to read the specific details on the packaging. Alternatively, he or she can ask one of the friendly staff for additional information about ingredients, allergens or serving instructions.

Naturally, this isn’t the case online. It seems quite obvious, but many online retailers neglect to provide detailed information about their products when creating their online product listings.

Don’t skimp of the detail, however – if your customer can’t see clear information in relation to the product they’re about to purchase, they’ll just open another tab and move on to a competitor website. The customer has gone; it’s a missed sale.  

Online shoppers are infamously impatient; when the details they require to make a buying decision aren’t at their fingertips, then they’ll dismiss your website and move on without a second thought!

To avoid missed sales, always include the information that’s found on your packaging in your online product description. If the text gets too unwieldy, investigate whether you can split your product description into a ‘short description’ (key info only) and a ‘longer description’ (full ingredients, ingredient sourcing info etc.). For example, this structure is available on the WooCommerce e-commerce platform whereby customers are initially presented with key product information, but need to scroll down the page and click on various tabs to view additional product data.

Plus, don’t forget to include an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section and an online contact form in case customers can’t find the info they’re looking for!!

We hope you’ve found The ‘Dos and Don’ts of Launching Your Product Online’ (Part 2) as helpful as our recent initial post if you missed Part 1 you can find it here.

Here, at the Dirty Apron & Co., we’re delighted to share the experiences we’ve had helping our clients set up their web-stores. If you have positive or negative experiences of your own to share with us, do let us know!! Once again, just tug on our apron strings, we’d love to hear your story!

If you have any questions, make sure to ask inside my Facebook group, Bite-sized Marketing Morsels with The Dirty Apron & Co. This is one of my favourite places to hang out! On this sounding board, I get personal and raw while introducing you to other food industry movers-and-shakers, bringing mini-trainings right to your feed for delicious results. 

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The Dirty Apron & Co. is a one-stop shop that turns delicious dreams into reality. Rachel and her team are specialists in food marketing for retail or wholesale food businesses, cafes, restaurants and caterers.

They are passionate about all

things food, and have the know- how, experience and industry contacts to help new food businesses get started.