How To Increase The Barriers To Entry For Your Online Store

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Lately, I’ve been receiving a number of emails from readers asking for the easiest and fastest way to open up a cookie cutter online store.

I’ve also been asked to critique several newly launched online store websites and unfortunately, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. People have this tendency to do the least amount of work possible while expecting the largest possible payoff. Lesson #1, doing little work for a large payout just doesn’t happen very often in this world.


Photo By Nevada Tumbleweed

First off, I hate it when people ask for a “cookie cutter” solution because it implies that the design is exactly the same as someone else’s and there is no originality involved.

Some of the stores that I looked at didn’t even bother to change their look from the standard website template. So I wasn’t surprised at all when I heard that these stores had not yet made a sale.

The advantage of having access to free open source shopping cart solutions is that almost anyone can throw up an online store in a short amount of time for absolutely no cost.

There is little or no coding involved and you can have a fully featured store right out of the box. The disadvantage is that anyone can do it. The barriers to entry are extremely low.

When everyone and their mother can open an online store with similar functionality, you need to put in some extra work to make sure that it’s hard for others to enter your target market. You need to make your store stand out and I’ll describe how below.

Add Your Own Expertise

Most people just throw up a store, add products and pray. If you are selling products wholesale that many other people are selling as well, do NOT copy the same product descriptions that are provided from the manufacturer.

Chances are that someone is using these descriptions already and this will negatively affect your search engine rankings because of duplicate content.

Once you have written original product descriptions for every product that you are selling, don’t stop there. Continue to add additional content that may help the customer.

Give product away to your friends and acquaintances and have them write an honest review. Add product tutorials to your website. Demonstrate your product in action. The more content you create, the better. Eventually, these efforts will serve three purposes.

  • Your content will get indexed in the search engines which will increase your chances of getting organic search traffic.
  • Your customers will find your content useful and will be more likely to make a purchase once they find your site.
  • You can promote your content pages on various social media outlets without it coming across as spam.

Sell Difficult To Find Products

It continues to amaze me how many people are reluctant to import their items from a different country. Sure, it’s a major pain in the butt, but the upshot is that you’ll be selling products that very few other people will be selling!

Think about it this way. If you feel more comfortable selling products from wholesalers within your own locality, then chances are other people feel the same way. Do you want to be like everyone else? The key is to change your mindset.

Instead of looking at importing goods as a major hassle, you should view it as a competitive advantage. Once you have your processes and vendors in place, very few other people can replicate your efforts. Have an open mind and take the road less traveled.

Add Value To Your Offerings

Anyone can contact a wholesaler and simply sell their products out of the box. Instead of selling products directly as is(which is the easy way to go), consider adding additional services on top that may add value to the product.

For example, our online wedding linens store offers embroidery and personalization services at an additional cost. Even if other stores offer our exact same products, people who want an extra special touch will buy from us.

Purchasing or leasing the machinery and gaining the skills required to perform these services is fairly high which prevents other people from doing the same thing.

If you have special skills or artistic talent, take advantage of it and let your talents shine through your products. People will definitely take notice.

Reach Out To Your Customers

Once you’ve made a sale to a customer, don’t stop there. Make sure that you keep open lines of communication with your customers so that they’ll come back again or refer their friends.

With our store, I used to hate taking customer calls and inquiries. But after a while, I began to realize that taking these phone calls was the best way to show off our excellent customer service.

It’s rare to be able to get ahold of a customer who is actually willing to talk to you and provide feedback. Find ways to continue the relationship either through email or newsletters and you’ll slowly establish a loyal customer base.

Once this loyalty has been established, no other competitor can take these customers away from you even if they sell identical product.

High Barriers To Entry Is Good

One of the most important things to remember with any business venture is that you want to offer goods and services that are hard to replicate.

So don’t always take the easy way out or the path of least resistance. If something is extremely hard for you to implement, then it will be difficult to implement for your competition as well.

Sometimes the path of greatest pain is the correct one. Have faith that your hard work will pay off and don’t be lazy or afraid of the consequences.

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15 thoughts on “How To Increase The Barriers To Entry For Your Online Store”

  1. Hi Steve,

    Great info. I would extend your idea a bit and say that an online store needs to give the customer a reason to buy and a reason to come back. Maybe the reason is online reviews of products (like Amazon), or great customer service, or personalization.

    I think that personalization is a big one. Any way of personalizing products creates value, and new technology is making it easier. M&M’s can now say whatever you want them to say. And you can even put a picture on them. How awesome is that?

    As far as the store design goes, I think that functionality trumps beauty. A very artistic store is not going to make people want to buy, and the cost is huge compared to an off the shelf solution.

    Just some random ideas…

    1. @George
      You make excellent points. It actually helps to do all 3. As for store design, if you are using an open source cart, the functionality will all be more or less the same. My point was to do a little extra work and make your storefront unique instead of using the out of the box template. People are more likely to make a purchase if your site is aesthetically pleasing as well as functional.

  2. Kamal says:

    i love this website and your advise and the newsletter! this article was just what i needed to read as i am about to embark on finding wholesalers overseas and am a bit intimidated. thanks Steve!

  3. i just wanted to mention a CSS theme website that has really nice designs and lots of themes for under $20 that look very “web 3.0” —

    i just found this today, although i will probably design my site myself i’m using a lot of these themes as a baseline and to generate ideas. i’ve done graphic design and some web programming; i’d highly recommend using a site design based on CSS! this is because you can then switch the complete theme and layout of the site easily while keeping the content and structure the same. good designers should be savvy to fully or mostly CSS designed sites. please know that i am NOT affiliated with the above website, it’s just that i think $20 for the quality of themes they have is cheap. i looked a lot of places and this one looks sweet. if anyone else has suggestions let me know because i’m looking for theme inspiration 😀

    p.s. also, also i apologize if i put this in the wrong place–is there a forum or proper place to post things like this?

  4. ok, last post i promise! i highly recommend donating/loaning some money via and then making this known on your website. when/if my online store becomes successful i plan on doing this to help other entrepreneurs out…but i’m not there yet :-) but when i am able to donate i will and i will post up a link to kiva on my website because i bought something today from an online store after seeing this link and seeing that they were giving back to the community…

  5. Top Quality Blog Design And Layout

    Absolutely Amazing Information

    I Will Be Visiting Your Blog Often

  6. I am a web developer, and my with my wife’s design talents, we intend to get her site off Etsy. Etsy is great for ecomm and design, but there are so many others offering similar product. Some things in the interm to get an idea how her site is doing is to use Google Analytics, Google Adwords, and Google Docs. I recently found out is that Google Docs offers a survey form you can build and send out. This was fantastic, as I was expecting to wait until her new site was built to do it. This is something “hidden” to me that your readers may want to know about.

    1. @TexasT
      Thanks for the heads up. I’ve never used google docs to take surveys before. I’ll check it out

  7. Great tips!

    I think putting a little of your experience and personality into the site or product reviews is what brings people back; they tend to feel a connection to you.

    For me, I only shop at sites that sound too stuffy and mechanical when there is a deal too good to pass up. I would rather spend a couple extra bucks at a site where the people writing it have a similar personality as I do.

    Don’t be afraid to be yourself when you make your site.

    1. @Trevor
      Same here. Even if the store offers the lowest price on the net, I’m always hesitant to make purchases from bland and uninspired stores.

  8. Google docs forms is super easy to use. I have had decent sucess using it in the newsletter I send out for my employer. Its well worth a try.

  9. Really found this useful even though I don’t have a specific hard good to sell right now, but as I try to mix and match providing service and digital goods on my website (and have always been interested in selling hard goods)…these are solid things to have in my back pocket. They seem basic and fall under, offer good value…but it’s so easy to let these fall away. Thanks!

  10. Anon says:

    You mean how to “decrease” the barriers to entry. Why would you want to increase the barriers lol

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