We are often approached by business owners who want to sell their products online. The advantages are quite compelling:
- Access to a global pool of customers
- Adds another stream of revenue to your business
- Gives new and existing customers a convenient way to purchase your products
- Digital payment/ordering records are created automatically with an online shopping cart
- With each new customer that places an order, you’re building upon a database you can use to remarket and cross-sell in the future
Most people who approach us think that selling online will be an easy way to add an extra source of revenue to their business. Setting up an online store can be a very effective way to generate extra cash for your business, but I would caution you not to get too comfortable associating the term “easy” with “selling online.”
From a consumer’s perspective, shopping online often is (and should be) an easy experience, so I certainly understand the mindset of thinking that selling online should be easy too. In fact, once your website and shopping cart are setup and launched, managing your store and orders should also be a painless experience for you.
Where does the hard part come in? Well, a lot of work goes into building and promoting a successful eCommerce website. You as the business owner will handle part of the work, and you’ll likely need to hire an outside web developer/designer to handle part of the work.
Selling online can be a profitable tool, but before you get started, try to get a good idea of what you’re getting into. After years of trial, error, and success with setting up eCommerce websites, I’ve put together this list of 6 questions to ask yourself before you begin selling online.
1. Why (and what) do you want to sell online?
Any of the advantages I listed above are good reasons to sell your products online, but what will make your online store so desirable to your potential customers that they will choose you over your competitors?
- Is your product unique? If your target customers can purchase your products from another site (e.g.- from a competitor or directly from a manufacturer) for the same price or cheaper, then you’ll find it difficult to get their attention, much less the attention of Google and other search engines.
- Are people looking for products like yours? If your product is unique, but your target customers do not know that it exists, then you will have a hard time getting tons of traffic to your website without investing in heavy promotional tactics.
If you answered “yes” to both of these questions, then your products have a good chance of selling successfully online. If you answered “no” to the second question, but you still think you have a great product, then you might consider partnering with other vendors or online marketplaces to get your products the publicity they deserve.
2. Will you need to track inventory?
If you currently manage a large amount of physical inventory, how will you reconcile online sales with offline sales to calculate accurate inventory? The first step I suggest taking is to inquire with the company that developed your inventory system and see if they offer an eCommerce solution that will tie in inventory with your online sales.
If you’re working with a small pool of items, you can possibly get by with managing inventory “by hand” by marking items off your inventory in both your online catalog and your inventory system each time an online purchase is made.
Of course, if your items are made to order (e.g.- food products, custom gifts, etc.) inventory tracking is not an issue. The same goes if you are selling online only (you can manage inventory within your eCommerce system), or if you’re selling digital products (eBooks, music mp3’s, etc.).
3. Do your products have a lot of variations/customizations?
If your products come with many variations or customizations, integrating them into an eCommerce shopping cart is usually not a problem. However, the more customizations are involved, the more work will be involved in configuring the products in your eCommerce platform. It’s also important to keep your customer in mind. Will it be difficult for them to select the right product for them if there are dozens of options from which to choose? In some instances like these, it might be better to show a general catalog of your items and then direct the visitors to contact a sales rep for a customized quote.
4. How will you manage shipping?
Most eCommerce platforms allow you to calculate live shipping rates and pass shipping costs along to the customer. Before getting started with your eCommerce store, you’ll need to know which shipping provider(s) you want to use, and which shipping method(s) (ground, express, etc.) you want to offer. On the back-end, you or your developer will need to setup an account with your shipping provider and integrate that account with your website so that live shipping rates will be automatically calculated.
5. How will you process payments?
Your main purpose for selling online is to gather revenue from online payments. To do this, you will need to setup a payment gateway that integrates with your website and bank account. The “Big 2” payment processors are Authorize.Net and Paypal, although there are hundreds of others from which to choose. If you are currently using a point-of-sale/inventory tracking system, I would first check to see which (if any) processors integrate with that system. If none are available/applicable to you, I usually recommend Paypal because it works with almost all eCommerce platforms and offers fairly low transaction fees.
6. How will you promote your eCommerce website?
Once you have your site setup, then what? Unfortunately, we’re not living in the Field of Dreams (where “if you build it, they will come”). After your website is built, you will need to have a plan in place for promoting your products.
- Email marketing (Related article: Email is Crushing Facebook and Twitter for Selling Stuff Online)
- Social networks
- Word of mouth
- Promotion of online purchasing as a new alternative to your existing customer base
- Ongoing organic SEO campaign
- Pay-per-click (PPC)
If you want your eCommerce website to play a big part in your business, don’t rush into this process uninformed. You will need to invest your time, and commit to investing in outside resources to make this project successful. If you would like help starting your eCommerce website project, contact us here anytime.