Phil Rothwell of SellerDeck offers eight practical insights into the essentials of setting up your first e-commerce business.
Learn before you leap
Part of your planning has to be learning about how to run an online business. The best way is to read about e-commerce online (on sites like The Profit Club) or in books and chat to people who are selling online already – maybe via a forum, or by contacting the owners of sites you like (provided they are not big retailers).
Learn from your own shopping experiences too. What do you like/dislike?
Attending a few small business and e-commerce exhibitions will help as well.
Know the competition
You can see what the competition is like by searching on Google for some of the products that you plan to sell. You could even test their service by buying something.
Get your proposition and pricing right
Why would anyone want to buy from you? What can you offer that’s different to other sites? Beware of competing just on price – it’s a mug’s game. Add value instead and charge more! Eg offer related consumables (like batteries) for a bit more, suggest associated items, offer a gift-wrapping service for a small fee, or free P&P if they spend £X.
Control your costs
Make sure you keep a tally of your outgoings and income on a spreadsheet or accounts package, and that you understand cash flow and profit and loss. Review these weekly, so you can spot when things are going awry.
Pick the right technology
Don’t spend lots of your start-up funds on technology; in fact save the majority for attracting visitors and converting them. By all means go for an e-commerce platform that is low cost and has all you need to begin with, but check it offers an upgrade path for the future as you grow and want more sophistication.
Avoid paying for a bespoke site at the start; use technology that has a track record and plenty of existing users who provide an additional support network.
You may want to consider selling from a Marketplace like Amazon, eBay, Etsy, etc, but do research carefully so you know the pros and cons.
DIY – or not
If you decide to run your own store, then you need to decide whether to set this up yourself or to use a web designer. An e-commerce package enables you to create a good-looking, fully functional site, quickly and at low cost. A web designer will add a professional finish and enhanced features that can generate confidence and boost sales.
Make sure everything works
Make sure the finished site is easy to use for both you and your customers. Ask friends to test it (maybe watch as they do).
Your online store will be able to take orders 24/7 – but only if it is available. Depending on whether the cart is desktop or cloud-based you may need a third party to host your website. Either way, make sure that your store will be reliable. Get a personal recommendation, or ask the supplier for their availability figures.
Nowadays, it’s vital to be able to take card payments. For those with limited business experience, the best place to start is with PayPal. Though originally designed for individuals selling and buying goods on eBay, PayPal can now meet the needs of businesses of all sizes and is a standard feature of almost all ecommerce sites.
You can’t take card payments yourself since the introduction of the PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) as card details have to be encrypted and stored securely. All reputable provider are now fully equipped in this area.
In this article I haven’t covered a topic that is key to the success of your business: how customers will find you and how you will persuade them to buy. This is a good review of the various marketing channels you should explore: Marketing your e-commerce site.
E-commerce is constantly evolving
David Duke, chief marketing officer, at e-commerce digital marketing agency Visualsoft says the e-commerce landscape is constantly evolving, as increasing numbers of consumers turn to the convenience of online shopping to fulfil their daily needs.
Recent figures show that over half of traffic to retail websites is now coming via smartphones and tablets and mobile commerce now accounts for 54.3 per cent of UK e-retail sales – so the potential for new brands to get in on the action is huge.
The instantaneous nature of online means e-commerce is fundamentally fast-moving, so staying ahead of the curve and, more importantly, ahead of your competition can be tough. Setting up as a successful online retailer in 2018 is therefore all about making your business stand out from the crowd.
Three bonus tips to setting up an e-commerce site
- Work hard to identify your target audience and how you sit among your competitors. Unless your business is truly unique, it’s likely that there are already a number of e-commerce sites offering something very similar, so if you can speak directly to the people most likely to buy your brand, you’re far more likely to succeed. Spend time creating a relevant tone of voice that resonates with your chosen key demographics and be targeted in your communication with them.
- Ensure you’re taking full advantage of social media, to widen your potential audience and highlight why they should buy from you in particular. Define which channels are best for your offering and audience, for example, clothing for young consumers lends itself well to Instagram while DIY products for homeowners may work better on YouTube. Set up business accounts for these key channels and use them. Regularly posting relevant, aspirational or simply useful content that links back to your site and engages target audiences is an invaluable way to grow your brand.
- Don’t miss out on the mobile opportunity. Since 2017, over half of online sales are now made through mobile (tablets and smartphones), so it’s more important than ever to make sure your site is optimised for these type of devices. In 2017, smartphone mcommerce sales in the UK were forecast to outpace sales on tablets for the first time, due largely to consumers becoming more accustomed to making both higher-value and on-the-go purchases via smartphone. Therefore, offering a fully responsive mobile experience can pay dividends and help you stand out from the competition.