The retail industry is in turmoil. Traditional brands are struggling to make a profit as customers increasingly turn away from brick and mortar stores in favor of online shopping. The digital age has revolutionized the way we do shopping and businesses that fail to adapt are left behind to face financial ruin. For big brands, these are difficult times, but for budding entrepreneurs, it has never been so easy to start an e-commerce business.
Online businesses offer a number of advantages. Overheads are low and in most cases, an e-commerce store takes very little time to set up and run. You don’t need previous retail experience or a massive amount of startup capital to run an online store: you just need time and determination. Anyone can have a go, and stepping into the world of e-commerce is a great way to become a successful entrepreneur.
To help you make your dream into a reality, here are eight steps you need to take in your quest to start a successful e-commerce business.
1. Decide on a Niche
What do you want to sell? This is perhaps the first question you need to answer. You can sell pretty much anything online these days, from pet accessories to rare books, but not everything that is available to buy is popular with consumers, so choose your niche carefully.
Think about whether you want to buy stock from a wholesaler and sell it on for a profit, or create your own products and sell them online. There is an important distinction between the two, so think carefully before you make a final decision.
For most people, buying stock from a third-party and selling it is the easy option, but if you think there is a gap in the market for a particular product and you believe you can bring this product to market, develop your ideas further and investigate whether there is sufficient market demand to warrant the cost of investment.
2. Choose a Domain Name
The domain name is your web address. Choose carefully because you can’t change it at a later date. Ideally, a domain name should evoke the business niche in some way, as this makes it easier to market the business. For example, if you want to sell pet accessories, you might choose “PoshPooches.com” or similar. Brainstorm a few ideas and then visit a domain registration company to see if any of your choices are available.
3. Buy a Web Hosting Package
The next step is to pay for a web hosting package. Your hosting company rents you space on the internet. Many web hosting packages offer a free domain name as part of the deal, so it’s worth taking advantage of this offer so you don’t have to redirect your domain to a different provider. If you already have a domain name, you will need to change the DNS settings and point it to your web hosting provider.
Read a few reviews before you sign up for web hosting. Whilst cost is undoubtedly important, it shouldn’t be your main priority. Instead, look for good customer support, low downtime, and fast page load speeds. The last thing you need is for your new online store to be offline for significant periods because your web hosting company is having “issues”.
4. Choose a CMS or E-commerce Platform
Larger businesses have custom-made stores created from scratch, but these cost money and are probably outside of your budget. The good news is that you don’t need to spend a fortune building an online store. Instead, you can install WordPress and WooCommerce or use a purpose-built e-commerce platform such as Shopify.
People often ask “what is Shopify?”; the answer is simple. Shopify, Magento, and other e-commerce cloud-based platforms are designed to make selling online a simple affair. You can choose from one of a number of templates and have your store up-and-running in a few hours. WooCommerce, Shopify, Magento and other platforms support popular payment gateways such as PayPal and Stripe. People trust PayPal and will be happy to buy from an online store that offers PayPal. In time, you may want to open a merchant account with a different provider, as PayPal has its limitations, but for now, it’s a quick and easy way to get your business up and running.
5. Design Your Store
Store design is important. Customers won’t come back if they don’t have a good experience in your store. Think about branding, navigation, and anything that makes it easy for customers to find what they are looking for. Poor store design negatively affects SEO, which is the kiss of death for any online business.
Look for templates that enhance your brand and display your products in the best possible light. WordPress and Shopify have hundreds of free templates to choose from, so spend time browsing through the options until you have found one that best fits your vision.
6. List Your Products
Once you have the bare bones of your online store in place, it is time to add your products. Don’t rush this stage of the process. Organize your inventory into easy-to-find categories. The harder you make it for customers to find what they want, the more likely they are to click away.
Write compelling product listings filled with essential details and useful information. Add attractive images for each product and include video if it makes choosing the right product easier for customers.
7. Customer Service
Customer service is important for any online store. You need to build trust. Customers need to know they can talk to someone if they have a problem or query. LiveChat plugins are useful additions to an e-commerce store, but you should consider adding a contact telephone number so customers can talk to a real person.
8. Market Your Store
Once your store is “live”, it is time to implement a marketing campaign. Use all available channels, including social media, to draw customers in and create a buzz about your products. Talk to a marketing expert if you need help in this area.
It will take some time to build a successful e-commerce business, but this is something you can work on in your spare time until it takes off.