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Friday, 18 January 2013

What you need to know before starting an online store.

There are 1,000's of businesses, new and existing, that want to start selling online every month. On one hand selling online and eCommerce is now part of every day business requirements. But for many business owners and managers it is still new and an unknown for them. So we need to reinforce the basics and offer up some information for new comers. But the key thing to realise if you are just starting out is that selling online is NOT "Rocket Science" and although you will hear a lot of jargon it is not complex to get started and to be successful.

Before you get started there are some helpful questions.

You need to have some ideas about what you will be doing online so that you can select the solution or package that will best suit your business. Following are a list of questions that you can start with. To get to the best result you need to have thought through the answers to these questions.

Questions about your business

Guidance on the answers

What type of products are you selling? You can sell anything online but the functionality required may change with the types of products that you sell. If they are physical products like clothes or toys then most systems will be OK. But if it is perishable items like food you might need special pricing. Or virtual items like software or music that needs to be downloaded then you need to ensure the store can support those.
How many products (SKUs) will you have online? The size of the online store and issues like compare and search are affected by the number of products which will also impact cost. There are a number of aspects to package sizes like the number of products, number of categories, how much storage space and how much internet data capacity.
Do you need product variations? Will your products be offered in different colours or sizes. Variations means that you have a master product but then variation products based on an attribute like size as an example. What are the limits on the number of variations and check if variations are counted as products (SKUs).
Where will you sell to (countries, currencies and languages)? If the online store is mainly focused on Australia then you need just support English and Australian dollars. But if you are selling overseas then there are issues like currency, shipping, tax, language and payment to consider.
How will you collect payment? Most online stores accept credit cards and PayPal. You need to have setup accounts with a bank, payment provider and PayPal. If you want to sell overseas or accept foreign currency then that needs to be considered during setup.
How will you calculate shipping cost? During checkout your online store adds a shipping cost to the order. Some stores use free shipping and absorb the cost. But it is not unusual to calculate the cost and add it. Australia is complex due to the size. Australia Post is the normal shipping method but supports up to 20KG only. If you are selling internationally you may need multiple shipping methods based on country.
Do you want to list on eBay and other portals? Using a multichannel approach can greatly improve your chance of success. Some online stores can seamlessly interface to other systems like eBay.
Would you like to send newsletter? Linking your online store to a email newsletter can be great marketing but the system will need to support that.
Cross sell and up-sell? Do you want to be able to cross sell accessories and related products. The online shop system you select should allow you to set products to manually cross-sell. But it is also important to have automatic cross-sell based on what people really buy.
Social media integration and a Facebook shop? Do you want to have links from your products on the store to social media pages like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. This can greatly improve your presence online.
Do you want to sell on mobile devices? More than 20% of sales online come from a mobile device like a phone. This is also growing rapidly. Your customers should be able to search and buy from a mobile device.
Do you want to be easily found on search engines? Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) are important to be competitive online. The online store needs to have smart tools to help you achieve good SEO and SEM.
Do you want blogs and forums? If you spend some time creating good content and blogging about the things that you sell it can help get more sales. Blogs and forums should be part of your online store system.
Do you want to manage your own content and images? Online stores and websites can be set by developers and only they can add or change content. That is OK if you have the budget. But many online store owners want to be able to add, change and delete their own content. Upload new products with images. Create new content at will that means do-it-yourself (DIY) which requires a good Content Management System (CMS).

General eCommerce and eBusiness Costs

When starting an online business selling products or services there are some costs which you can expect before you make your first sale. Your online store is a sales channel and acts like a sales person for your business. Selling online can be very cost effective as there are less human resource and infrastructure costs unlike a "bricks and mortar" business. But don't be fooled selling online is not free and your results will be directly dependent on your investment, quality of service and products.

There are many costs which will not be covered in this article such as cost of products, warehousing, logistics, traditional marketing, business taxes and accountancy fees. All these traditional costs still exist and don't magically vanish if you sell online.

If you are reasonably technically capable and don’t mind doing some work yourself then the budget can be less than $100 a month for an on-demand online store. If you have a professional designer and web developers create a design and add content then your budget will need to start around $2,000 + $100 / month. The more design and functional complexity the more cost and therefore budget required.

But you can start small and add functionality later so the online store and your budget grows with your business. Successful selling online requires as much business acumen and planning (maybe more) as any traditional business. Getting started is not hard but there are so many opinions on the technology that can be confusing to a non-technically minded person. There are also many technical terms and issues which often just confuse. eCorner and all our partners use ePages which is world leading online shop software with all the features for successful online selling. It is a proprietary solution meaning that you pay a monthly fee to use the software or you can buy a license if you are a larger business with the need for dedicated servers. Following is a quick summary:

  • You need a domain name.
  • You need a business email address.
  • You need a website with a shopping cart like our cloud hosted online store package.
  • You will need to have a design and some development for your website.
  • You will need some Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and setup a Google Webmasters account.
  • When your website is live you will need to do Search Engine Marketing (SEM) – pay per click (PPC) with Google Adwords as an example.
  • You may need an SSL Certificate (recommended if you accept credit cards).
  • You will need a payment gateway and maybe an online merchant bank account or you can use PayPal.
  • You will need a shipping company - like Australia Post to deliver products.
  • Don't forget the traditional business costs, taxes, charges etc.
  • You will need some human resources - maybe that is just you. But if you have a full time job remember that the online business will not look after itself.
  • Web analytics to track visitors and business conversion data.
  • Social media accounts - we recommend Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Linkedin and YouTube. Although not essential social media will help you get started.
  • You can also setup accounts at eBay, Shopping.com, Google Shopping and Getprice to sell your products promotion and sales via multiple channels.

Everyone that we speak with that are starting out have questions, generally they are similar to questions that we have been asked before. But we also get new questions from time to time. If you have a question that we have not covered or just need more information then please contact me or visit our website - www.eCornerStoresPlus.com.au were you will find lots of information about selling online.

Check out some places where you can start on online store

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