Many retail business owners are being pressured into setting up shop online. But is this a realistic anticipation or is it an exercise in futility. There are some very important key questions that have to be answered before considering the move to online sales.
1.Are your products qualify to mail, phone or online sales?
You might think that every product can be sold online and, to some degree, you would be correct. However, should every product be sold online? The answer is no. Many products just do not sell well online because they are not conductive to impulse purchases, the demand is low, or the product itself has a long sales cycle. Given that most people will be making purchases online using a credit card, the products or combination of products should be easily purchased with a credit card that has a limit of $ 1,000 to $ 5,000.
2.Are you prepared to sell your products online?
This may seem like a very basic, but it will validate your motivation to succeed online. If your motivation to sell online is driven by a belief that "everyone else is doing it and so should I", then you should seriously consider the implications of selling online. Once you have made the mental decision to sell online, you can begin to form your strategy for doing so.
3.Do you have the resources to sell online?
Are you prepared to handle five, ten, a hundred, five hundred orders a day? Do you have the staff to fulfill orders, manage online customer service, and make updates to the website. Do you plan on doing this work yourself? If so, have you considered the impact this decision will have on the rest of your business? Create a plan that sets definitive goals for your online storefront, as you would for any business opportunity. Remember, managing a successful e-commerce website is a full-time job.
4.Who will build your site?
One of the biggest myths about e-commerce is that anyone can build and run an online store. The truth of the matter is that anyone can build and run a store online, but only a select few can do it well. There are many online store builders, shopping cart programs, and hosted applications that let you build a site and start selling your products online, but realistically you get what you pay for with most of these services. Consider hiring a company who specializes in developing online commerce sites for you. The result will be superior to a home grown site and will ultimately result in increased reliability and sales.
5.What is your budget?
Get quotes from a variety of vendors. You will find that the quotes you get back will range from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars. A reasonable amount to budget for your new website is around $ 10,000 for a full build out including custom web design and software, and ongoing server and maintenance fees of about $ 300 to $ 500 per month. When you consider your budget, take into account that the more you spend upfront, the less likely you will be to change the site. On the Internet, keeping your website fresh and updated is critical to your credibility.
Now that you have answered the fundamentals, you will want to ensure you take the following steps to get your store set up-up correctly and efficiently:
1. Set-up an Internet Merchant Account
This is a must. You may be tempted to use Paypal, 2Checkout, or some other low cost online payment solution, however, in the end, when your site becomes popular and you start generating significant revenue, you will find that the discount rate you pay with a true merchant account will be much less. Although there is a little more work involved in setting up an Internet capable merchant account, your credibility, not to mention your payment tracking, will be greatly simplified.
2.Purchase a Secure Certificate
This is also a must. Securing your site is mandatory in order to avoid possible issues with credit card theft. All merchant account providers will require you have a secure certificate installed on your server before they issue you the account. Secure certificates range in cost from around $ 80 CAD to $ 500 CAD depending on the level of security and authentication you require. For the most part, a basic certificate is all that is required for online sales.
3.Organize your product data
Having your product data organized in a spreadsheet will go a long way to speeding up the set-up of your store. It will also help you organize your store layout and determine what products will sell best online.
4.Take good product photos
Since your online customers will not be able to hold or touch your products, a good photo is your next best option. Your photographs should be bright, with good contrast, and show the product either alone or in combination with complimentary products. For example, when selling a pair of jeans, take a photo of a person (preferably someone who looks attractive in the jeans) actually wearing the jeans. Have the person wear other complimentary products from your store like a popular shirt, shoes, and a purse. Customers will be more inclined to buy the jeans if they can see the jeans in context with other products.
5.Set-up a newsletter
Permission based newsletters are an excellent way to keep your customers coming back to your store. Sending a monthly newsletter that highlights new products, sales, or promotions can be a great way to retain and attract new customers.
6.Visit stores that you like and make notes
Do your research. Look at the sites that are at the top of their game and find out what they do. How are their products displayed? How does their shopping cart work? How often do they update their site? The more information you can provide to your web designer and developer, the closer they will come to meet your expectations.
In summary, do not rush in to anything. Like all good things, a high quality revenue generating website takes time, money and effort to build. There's nothing wrong with starting small, but remember to constantly re-invest in your online store. Make improvements whenever you can and keep it fresh. The days of "build it and they will come" have long been over. Talk to a marketing expert and plan your strategy accordingly.