Getting Started with E-Commerce
Steve Strauss, founder of www.theselfemployed.com, offers guidance for setting up an e-commerce store for your business.
Q: I know this is late notice, but it occurred to me recently that if I could put up an e-commerce store, I might really increase my sales this holiday season. I have a website but how do I make the leap into e-commerce?
A: You are smart to be jumping on the e-commerce bandwagon because it is going nowhere but up, up, up. Consider this statistic I read in a white paper, "E-Commerce is the next frontier in global expansion” by the global consultancy firm AT Kearney:
“Global e-commerce has grown by 13% each of the last five years.”
Wow. Where else in the economy, especially in the past few years, do you see growth at a 13% clip year over year? Answer: Nowhere. The upshot is that “As online sales skyrocket in developing markets, an online presence is a low-risk way to test new markets and complement existing store footprints.”
So yes, e-commerce is hot, and maybe even better, fairly easy and affordable to get into. The other cool thing is that, not only does it allow you to sell more locally, but e-commerce also offers you the ability to sell 24/7 all over the world.
If you want to get involved in e-commerce, it is essentially a six-step process:
1. Do your homework: Shop online and notice what works. Analyze which sites you like to buy from, and why. The likely answer is that shopping there is intuitive and easy (aside of course from having products you like). Whether it is Amazon or eBay or some other big online retailer, what you probably find is that the sites that do e-commerce right are attractive, easy to navigate, and engaging.
And keep this in mind as well: The Internet is a culture of discounts. You don’t have to sell for less online, but you probably should.
2. Get an e-store: An e-commerce store consists of two parts: The front-end store and the back-end dashboard. The store is what everyone sees when they come to your site: Your inventory, deals, shopping cart, checkout system, etc. The dashboard is what you see: Sales made, inventory, that sort of thing. So you need to find an e-commerce partner/solution/host that enables you to easily have an attractive e-commerce store and an intuitive back-end dashboard. Some options you can consider are:
- Shopify: A simple all in one solution
- Prestashop: A free solution
- Yahoo Small Business: Easy and trusted
3. A merchant account: The solutions above will enable you to post products and take orders, but if you are going to be able to actually take credit card funds from someone, you need to have a merchant account, i.e., an account with a financial institution that allows you to process credit cards or other online payments. Check with your bank, Google “merchant accounts”, or use PayPal.
4. Add your products: If you already have a business, then this is simply a matter of snapping pictures of your products and loading them, along with good descriptions, through your e-commerce dashboard.
5. Consider drop shipping: If you don’t have products or don't know what you want to sell, there are thousands of wholesalers and distributors with products to choose from. As you research this, consider locating a supplier that offers drop shipping.
Drop shipping is where you offer a wholesaler’s products on your site but don’t actually physically stock the merchandise. When an order comes in through your site, both you and the supplier get notice. They ship the products (using your labels!) and you spilt the money. Drop shipping is amazing in that you can offer a ton of products online, not stock any inventory, not have to handle shipping, and yet you still can make money.
You can find drop shippers for most any product by searching for “drop shipping” or “drop shippers” and the type of product you want to sell.
6. Shipping and service: If you don’t drop ship, you need to ship the products you sell in a timely fashion, and don’t underestimate (literally and figuratively) what it will cost you to ship those products. You also need to be able to handle inquiries, returns, refunds, and so forth.
Today’s Tip: If you have ever joined a LinkedIn group, you know that not all LinkedIn groups are created equal: Some actually offer camaraderie and help while others are nothing more than a spam dump. So I was happy to recently learn of a brand new small business LinkedIn group that looks to be a winner. Hosted by LinkedIn itself along with Staples (a company I have done some work with), the group is called SUCCEED: Small Business Network. Steve says check it out.