Chris Barling is the author of The insider's guide to ecommerce: 440 business insights for the ambitious online retailer. It's full of useful tips and essential knowledge. Here's an extract...
First, get informed
The more you know, the better your decisions will be. Look for ecommerce articles in the press, attend trade shows and talk to people who are selling online already. Shop online whenever you can and keep your eyes open when you do. Find informative websites and improve your knowledge.
2 Make sure ecommerce is right for you
If you're selling goods that customers do not need to touch, taste or smell before buying, at a fixed price, the web is the place to be – especially if your products are hard to find. Customers can shop when it suits them, without having to travel or queue. And it offers a level of automation and low start up investment, so you can offer keen prices. Check out the competition by searching online.
3 Get your offer right
Think about why people would buy from you. You need to provide them with something they believe will offer more value than the amount they pay, and which you can supply at a profit. It's as simple (and difficult) as that.
4 Keep control of the cost
The less you spend on technology, the more you can spend on promoting your site. So if you are just starting up, look for a solution that is low cost and can do what you want now, but that can be upgraded in the future.
5 Use technology that already works
Why bother debugging software when you could use an application that is already working on thousands of online stores?
6 Make sure everything is reliable
You may need a third party to host your website. Get a personal recommendation from someone you know or ask the supplier for their availability figures, and how they make sure they stay high.
7 Consider ownership
If you buy a fully hosted solution, you are dependent on your provider, which means the business you painstakingly build could be gone in a flash, for example, if the supplier has financial problems or falls out with you. Search thoroughly online before committing to someone who might not be trustworthy. The lower start-up costs you should achieve with a hosted online solution make particular sense for brand new businesses, but need more careful consideration if you are already established. Assess the track record of the supplier before deciding.
8 Make security a priority
You and your customers need to feel confident you have adequate protection against hacking and fraud. Choose an ecommerce solution that has a well-developed track record. The industry standard is PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard), so make sure your provider is fully equipped.
9 Choose a payment solution
In virtually every market, it's vital to be able to take card payments. Look for a range of well-priced options.
10 Marketplace or own online store?
You can use eBay and Amazon marketplaces to sell straight away. They can deliver visitors from day one. Huge numbers of merchants have started selling online this way. Many merchants with their own websites also sell through Amazon, eBay and others. The benefits are clear:
- Cost, where listing and transaction fees will take a significant proportion of revenue.
- Control, where you must adhere to strict policies and your business can disappear overnight if you are deemed to have stepped out of line.
- The disadvantage is ironic. Because it's easy to start up, there is a constant stream of new competitors, many running their business in the evenings. Their most common approach is to compete on price, which puts pressure on margins for everyone. While some don't last long, new ones continue to replace them. For these reasons, we will mostly consider running your own store here, but marketplaces should be considered and some of the advice applies equally to running marketplace-based businesses.
11 Do it yourself – or not?
If you run your own store, decide whether to set this up yourself or use a professional. The decision whether to go it alone will depend on: budget; your technical knowledge; availability of technical staff within your business; amount of customisation required; time available; and whether you enjoy technology. An ecommerce package can enable you to create a good-looking, fully functional site quickly – at low cost. A web designer will add a professional finish and enhanced features that can boost sales. Either way, make sure the finished site is easy to use.
12 Don't forget sales and marketing
It is all very well opening an online shop, but you need to think about how customers are going to find you and how you will persuade them to buy.
If you would like to read more, you can buy a copy of The insider's guide to ecommerce: 440 business insights for the ambitious online retailer from the SellerDeck website.
Chris Barling is chairman of SellerDeck, a company he co-founded in 1996. An ecommerce expert, enthusiastic entrepreneur and business angel, Chris has a passion for helping small businesses take advantage of new technology. He has over 30 year' experience in the IT industry.