About fifteen years ago at a mall in San Francisco, a consumer was looking for a pair of Airwalk desert boots but couldn’t find the right color in his size. Frustrated, he investigated the idea of selling shoes on the Internet and launched his online shoe store shortly thereafter. Today, gross sales for Zappos.com exceed $1 billion annually.
The idea of selling products online merits thoughtful consideration, especially in today’s world where e-commerce sales continue to grow year after year.
There are numerous aspects of building and running an online store so you’ll need to take your time and create a solid business plan first. Once you’ve determine the products, pricing, target audience, store policies, and the legalese, focus on the following key action items:
Select a Domain Name
A strong memorable domain name for your e-commerce store is essential so choose accordingly (for tips read How to Choose a Domain Name). Registering a domain name gives you control of your brand, regardless of whether you use it as a web address for your own website or as a web address that points to an existing e-commerce solution such as Amazon, Etsy, or eBay. A domain name also gives you the flexibility to change between e-commerce solutions as your business grows, while still allowing your customers to find you without interruption.
Determine How You Plan to Collect Payment
Knowing how you will collect payment on your e-commerce store will help determine what web presence will work best for you. Online customers prefer to pay by credit card, many existing e-commerce solutions, like Etsy, simplify this experience as the functionality is built in. If you choose to set up your own site, you may need to consider setting up a merchant account to take and process money to your business account. Contact your bank to get more information on how to establish one – for security reasons, they will probably require you to work with a payment service provider (PSP) or “payment gateway.” Another option to consider is an interface with a third party payment service, like PayPal.
Choose the Right E-Commerce Solution
Do you want a store on your own website or do you want a store within an existing marketplace platform (e.g. Amazon)? Are you just selling one product or needing a more complex shopping cart? There are many online solutions that are available based on your business’ needs, like:
- Simple: You’re selling a single product and only need a way for customers to pay, like a Paypal “Buy Now” button.
- Hosted: If you need more than a payment button but don’t have the time, money, or bandwidth to install e-commerce software, you can utilize a hosted solution. A hosted provider like Shopify or Bigcommerce allows you to create a store and host it on their server for a monthly fee. Or you can create an online presence using an existing online marketplace like Etsy, Amazon, or eBay. Going with this solution there are many positives such as set-up is quick and easy, there’s a built-in base of potential customers, and it’s a great way to get started with a low-commitment, low-budget Web presence.
- Do it Yourself: For a robust shopping cart, there are many commercial (off-the-shelf that require a license) and open source products, like Opencart, to choose. When assessing any product though, determine if it supports the particular payment methods you want, what type of support and help is available to you after purchase, and how frequently the product is upgraded.
Write Product Descriptions and Take Resolution Images
Your customer isn’t in a physical store to look, touch or try on your product, you’ll need to write descriptive copy of every item you’re selling. It’s important to provide as much information as you can, like weights and measurements, along with top quality, high resolution images.
Get an SSL Certificate
Online customers want security when it comes to websites. A SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificate provides that by encrypting parts of your website that collect personal information, like credit card and customer form details. Having an SSL certificate not only keeps your customers safe from hackers and identity thieves, but also gives your business credibility.
These are just a few of the important things you’ll need to accomplish to set up your site. So carefully research all of your options to be sure it meets the goals of your business plan. Ultimately, the more time you have to prepare before you begin, the faster you’ll succeed once you go online.