Are You Ready to Sell Online?
Ecommerce refers primarily to a business to consumer (B2C) website that allows consumers to place orders for products and services online. It includes everything from the huge major brands like Amazon and eBay, to national retail brands like Nordstrom and Best Buy, privately-owned local stores, Web-only merchants, and individuals with virtual storefronts on aggregate and auction sites.
When you enter the ecommerce world, you are essentially becoming a mail order business. Understand that the internet houses an almost infinite network of competitors, and comparison shopping is incredibly easy and fast. So you’ll need to be ready and able to offer discount pricing and low-cost shipping along with fast and responsive service to be competitive.
To determine if ecommerce makes sense for your business, ask yourself:
- Are my competitors selling online and are they taking business away from me?
- Have my customers asked for online purchasing convenience?
- Am I cut out to run a fulfillment and shipping operation?
- Can my products and services be sold without hands-on, personal sales tactics?
- Do I have space to store merchandise for fast fulfillment and shipping?
- Will the potential profits justify the upfront setup costs?
- Am I computer-savvy enough to perform much of the setup work myself?
If most of your answers to these questions are “yes,” ecommerce may be a good next move in the growth of your business.
You’ll need to set up an e-store website where your customers can find your products and place orders. The site consists of two parts: the consumer-facing store, with product pictures and descriptions, shopping cart, and payment and shipping options, and the back-end admin dashboard, where you track sales, manage inventory, and set preferences for transactions and payments.
You could set up a storefront on one of the large aggregate sites like Amazon, eBay, or Etsy, but you won’t own your own store. This is more like renting a cubicle at a co-op. You don’t control the user experience and have only limited control over visual branding.
More than likely, you’re going to want to set up your own Web store, and for that, you’ll need sufficient server space and ecommerce software. Many small businesses turn to existing ecommerce sites like Shopify or Volusion. These solutions generally don’t require you to have much design or technical expertise to get started, and they will walk you through each step including creating, managing, and marketing an online business.
As you research different ecommerce solutions, look for these capabilities:
- Website building tools. Your Web store needs to look appealing and be easy to navigate to draw people in and keep them on the site long enough to buy. Good ecommerce products offer professionally designed templates, which you can then customize, along with built in search engine optimization tools to help your site get found.
- Administration features. Managing the back end of the store should be simple and include many automated functions. You’ll want to upload products in bulk, utilize live order tracking, and access your store from your phone when you’re on the go. Also, look for quality reporting tools with a range of features, and a variety of payment and shipping options.
- Security. Keeping customer data secure is vitally important to building ongoing trust in your brand. See Securing Your E-store for more on required security functions.
- Marketing techniques to increase traffic. Many ecommerce solutions offer marketing functions to help link customers to your store, including social media connectivity, coupons, daily deals, and loyalty programs.
- Support. Running an e-store is not your primary area of expertise, so if something goes wrong, you need to have help available. Ecommerce software may offer email, telephone, or live chat support. A comprehensive knowledgebase, FAQs, user guides and support forums are also helpful for troubleshooting small issues.