Looking back, starting an online wine club (mine is called Uncorked Ventures) having never sold anything online, nor a single bottle of wine, was silly. Or stupid, depending on how honest I’m willing to be.

One thing that I definitely knew too little about, was the actual process of selling online. Here’s five parts of selling online that I know now, that I wish I knew then.

Affiliate Marketing

Ok, so let’s start with the basics, affiliate marketing is when you pay a website for a referral which leads to a sale. Take your favorite brand, Google that brand + coupon and you’ll find a list of the best affiliate sites for that brand. Or at least some of them. There are millions of other ways of finding good affiliates, but that’s literally the entire point. At launch, you can pay people a percentage of each sale you make. Sounds appealing right?

Ok, so back at the beginning we literally joined Share a Sale the first day we were open, then got virtually nothing. We needed better creatives (easy enough) and better affiliates (difficult). While I no longer handle our affiliate program myself, any ecommerce that doesn’t put any time or effort into their program, is literally costing themselves hundreds of thousands in sales every year. To put the entire thing in perspective, at least in terms of size, affiliate marketing makes up about 1% of the GDP in the UK.

Online Marketplaces

We were late to this game. Take Amazon as an example, Statista has them at about a third of the ecommerce market as it stands currently, growing to about half by 2021:

That’s huge. Epic maybe.

The problem for me? Amazon doesn’t allow wine brands to sell wine on its platform, without being the owner of the brand. IE, I have to be the actual winery, otherwise it’s a non-starter. Before you ask, no there isn’t a work around available.

The result? I’ve moved onto other marketplaces that seem happier for my business, specifically spots like Cratejoy which provide their own software and a marketplace, where they’ll deliver a few customers every month. Plus, in an era where social proof continually counts more and more, they have a robust system of reviews on the site. So it’s a good fit for me and allows me to get into an online marketplace that seems likely to grow as time goes by.

Of course, I wish I could find a way to effectively sell on Amazon.

Building an Email List

This is one that we started, then fell by the wayside. It was the first thing we did while we were applying for permits. We had a short blurb on our homepage that attempted to collect emails.

We got our family and friends.

Some even ordered some wine.

We got exactly zero other emails.

Really, we needed a more targeted approach. It’s something I am still working on but one thing I’ve learned—simply writing blog entries about what I find interesting, doesn’t work. After all, what people within the wine industry are geeking out about and what the general public is asking about wine, aren’t nearly the same thing.

So, I take a different and more targeted approach. Using ahrefs I now look at some of my competitors, or even just others in my industry, to see how they’re driving traffic.

In ahrefs, there is a wonderful category of “top pages”. Basically you get to see the pages on competitor sites, which deliver the most traffic to them, along with the top keyword delivering that traffic and the number of links to that page.

Here’s Wine Spectator, perhaps the web’s busiest wine property, with almost 300k monthly visitors:

Instead of writing about small scale wineries, with only a handful of monthly searches, I now can effectively target higher search terms, which are less competitive. As an example, never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that 800 people a month would be asking, “Do you chill red wine?”

Having all those additional people on your website will allow you to more effectively build an email list. When it comes to email list building, traffic is still king!

So there’s a list of 3 spots to focus on as an eCommerce business. Build yourself an email list because that’ll never go away. Get yourself on every available marketplace because they have built-in customers already and don’t forget about affiliate marketing, those are conversions readily made for your business.

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Mark Aselstine owns the Uncorked Ventures Wine Club, an online wine club based in the San Francisco Bay Area. A dad, husband, sports fan and political neophyte you can find him on Twitter, usually talking about anything other than wine.

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