So you have a some great products and wondering how many more sales you can make by selling online. You may have already made that decision to open an online store and are looking for expert guidance.
eCommerce is certainly an attractive option as it offers a whole new sale channel, opening up new markets, allowing you to sell to clients otherwise out of reach.
Here is a beginner's guide to selling online - answering all the most important questions that you the business owner may have.
Before you start
Should you sell online?
Selling online has some huge advantages such as a worldwide customer base and 24/7 selling, but can your business succeed?
To sell successfully online, you must be able to satisfy the points below:
- You must have the rights to sell a product.
- A guaranteed supply. If you're buying from one producer, you are gambling on a reliable supply. What if the products are discontinued or the supplier goes bust? You must have a contingency plan.
- Competitive prices. Online buyers are fickle and shop around. If they can find your trainers for a tenner less elsewhere, you're unlikely to see them again.
- 1 person available per website language to manage your store, blog and market your products. This will allow you to compete.
Where do you want to sell - National or International?
The beauty of eCommerce is that it is borderless. Some of the first major decisions to make are which countries you want to target and whether your website will be multilingual. Your target market will largely determine how your website needs to be set up and configured.
I want to sell online, what are the options available?
to start selling online, you have two options:
1. Sell on a market place such as Amazon or eBay
Selling through a market place is a great option if you are unsure where to start, or if you would like to test the waters before jumping head-on into your own eCommerce website. You can quickly and easily create a store front and start selling on marketplace websites such as Amazon, eBay, Etsy or Blomming.
Advantages: low setup cost, and the huge number of people who shop on these platforms.
Cons: you pay large commissions on each order; lack of professional branding; you are never completely in control of your shop (terms and conditions change often on Amazon and eBay).
2. Open an eCommerce website
Alternatively you can open your own eCommerce website. You will need an eCommerce expert to set up a store for you. You will then have a control panel where you can manage your catalogue, pricing and orders.
Advantages: professional; you have complete autonomy in running your store; independent - the future is in your hands; no commissions.
Cons: higher set-up cost.
A recent survey found 43% of shoppers start searching on Amazon. Once your eCommerce is set-up, you can also offer your products on Amazon and eBay to increase your reach.
Is your business logistically viable?
Shipping heavy or fragile goods can be expensive and risky. Selling £5 products and sending to the other side of the world is probably not viable. Before jumping in carefully consider the logistics of where you want to sell, can you transport it, and what happens in case of damages or returned products.
Are your products and services competitive?
How do your prices compare to international competitors? What about the standard of service you provide? Compared to domestic competitors you are probably already have extra costs and delivery times due to shipping - so how you are going to have to go that extra mile to beat them in other ways.
Will there be a market for your products?
Just because your products sell well in store, it does not mean that they will sell well online and in other countries. Different cultures, different tastes and even lack of product awareness must be considered.
Check out the competition
Well established competitors with an army of followers are hard to displace. Is there room for you in an already crowded market place? What can you bring along that is new or different? Analyze all major online competitors and work out how you can beat each one for pricing, quality of service and marketing.
Setting up your eCommerce website
Should I choose a .COM or a country domain?
- If you are only selling nationally, a country top level domain such as .CO.UK, or .IT is best for website optimization.
- Small-medium international eCommerce are usually best off with a .COM domain.
- Large international eCommerce will probably have a separate website for each target country
Unsure which to choose? This guide will help you.
Choose a good domain name
Here are some tips for choosing a domain name:
- Short and memorable (1-2 words without hyphens).
- Internationally recognized - easy to write and understand by speakers of your second website language.
- Include a keyword if possible. This will help with help customers find you and have a positive effect on your SEO.
Choose the right eCommerce software for your business model
Magento, Prestashop, Shopify and WooCommerce are all great choices. There is no perfect platform, and the choice depends largely on your business needs:
Magento is the most complete eCommerce and popular among large businesses.
Pros: endless possibilities, loads of eCommerce features.
Cons: expensive to set up; the most difficult to administer - so you either need to know your way around or hire someone who does; can be slow.
Best for: large companies with the budget and resources to run the website.
Prestashop is also a powerful purpose built eCommerce with a huge number of eCommerce features.
Pros: Prestashop has lots of eCommerce functionality, is easier to set up and maintain compared to Magento and quicker to run.
Cons: Prestashop doesn't have a brilliant blogging platform, so it can be hard to grow your client base through your blog.
Prestashop is best for: small-medium eCommerce single that need lots of features.
Shopify is a great platform for small shops or for beginners looking for a DIY eCommerce. The platform is essentially rented so you never really own the website
Pros: quick and easy to set up, easy to administer, great support, stunning templates to get the look you want even with no programming knowledge.
Cons: poor blogging software; not suited to multi-language websites; monthly rental fees; your are "Locked in" with Shopify - if you ever decide to switch to another software, migration will be messy.
Shopify is best for: small businesses with a single-language website looking to self-administer and grow their online businesses.
Woocommerce is different to the rest as it is not a stand-alone eCommerce but an add on to Wordpress. What it lacks for in eCommerce tools, it makes up for in it's blogging and content marketing abilities.
Pros: fairly cheap and easy to set up; it will tag on to an existing Wordpress website; one of the best blogging platforms (Wordpress)
Cons: WooCommerce lacks the advanced eCommerce features of Prestashop and Magento; not suitable for a big eCommerce store with 1000+ products.
WooCommerce is best for: startups and smaller businesses who either already have a Wordpress website or require a powerful blogging platform with their eCommerce.
Already got website? Use an eCommerce Addon
If you already have a successful website then the best option may be to add on an eCommerce extension rather than starting from scratch. Both Joomla and Wordpress have great eCommerce extensions (Hikashop and WooCommerce respectively).
Advantages of using an extension instead of creating a separate eCommerce website:
- Cheaper to set-up
- Easier to run and maintain as you have just 1 site rather than 2.
- The eCommerce will integrate seamlessly with your blog.
Should You Hire a Web Designer?
Yes. Online stores are complicated to setup so you will need to hire an eCommerce specialist to get you up and running. As well as saving you an enormous amount of time, you will also get off on the right foot with a professional tailored to your business requirements.
Stunning high quality photos only please!
We shouldn't judge a book by its cover - but everyone does! Professional product photos help your shop to gain trust and convince visitors that buying your product will be worth it.
Add your products
This is one part that you can certainly do yourselves with the guidance of your web agency. Unless you have a unique patented product or exclusive rights to sell in your country, write unique product titles and informative descriptions to set your products apart from competitors.
Select your Payment Gateway
Now the fun really begins - allow your customers to pay you.
Payment gateways vary in pricing. There are a number of Payment Gateways each charging different monthly fees and commission on sales. Paypal is the most widely used for payment method for shopping carts, not because it's the cheapest (it's not), but because it is well-known and trusted. Online shoppers are wary of using a payment method that they have never heard of.
Here are some of the major payment gateways.
- Paypal: easy set-up, well known, trusted and widely accepted. Downside - not the cheapest. Paypal is a good starter, but you may want to switch later as your sales grow.
- Stripe: flexible, widely accepted. Downside - less well known.
- Authorize.net: low monthly fees to use the service, lower transaction fees than PayPal, but only available in a handful of countries.
- Sagepay: trusted, slightly cheaper than Paypal.
Get a blog integrated with your eCommerce
A blog is the most effective way to bring visitors to your website and send them down the sales funnel.
Test your website
Excellent - your new store is ready to launch! Rarely is a website perfect out of the box. Most web agencies will offer a testing / trial period for you to get used to your new site and make any final changes - collect feedback and act on it!
Eyeball your website
Test drive your new shop. Is it easy to navigate? Does it load quickly? Is it easy to buy products and manage orders?
Test on tablet and mobile devices
Here's a biggie - mobile now accounts for roughly 50% of all search traffic and advancements in responsive design and mobile friendly user interface have meant that many shoppers now buy on their phone. If your website has a great mobile usability with a quick payment process, then you can leave your competitors behind on mobile.
Browse your site on your phone and tablet and make a few dummy payments. Can you make the buying experience any easier?
Gather feedback and act on it
Continually monitor your Google Analytics reports and website usage statistics - seek ways to improve. Encourage constructive client feedback - and act on it.
FAQ - Selling online
I already have an eCommerce store - should I sell on Amazon or eBay?
A study of 2000 US consumers found that 44% of online shoppers start their search on Amazon. So yes - setting up a sister store on Amazon or eBay can help broaden your brand reach. A little research will help you determine where your target customers shop.
How much does an eCommerce store cost?
The cost of building an eCommerce depends on lots of factors including the number of products, languages and quality of the finished store. Click here for a rough estimate of eCommerce Costs.
Where can I find out more?
Here are some of my favourite resources for finding more about selling online:
eCommerce Fuel - in depth discussion on all things eCommerce,
Copy Blogger - grow your website through your blog,
Neil Patel - advice on growing your online customer base.
Product photography tips - boost sales with these tips.
eCommerce is a major commitment. Before jumping in, take time to decide if it is right for you. Go through the questions in this post and write down a clear plan of what you want to sell, where and how. Once you're ready, choose a web designer with track record of building successful eCommerce websites.