Should you open an online store? The beginner’s guide to e-commerce

If you are considering opening an online store, read this piece to find out if you are ready and how to maximise the opportunity.

Are you considering opening an online store? Whether you are planning to leave your job so you can work for yourself from home, need to supplement your income, or are simply looking for a project you can do on the side, an online store can be a great way to do it.

Did you know that 95 per cent of British people buy goods via internet retailers, and that in one year, more than £100 billion can be spent online? It just goes to show that this could be a very lucrative venture. But, before you start seeing pound signs, there are a few things you to consider…

First, can you afford to invest in this?

The first and most important question you need to ask yourself is “can I afford to do this?”. Before you start making any money, it will cost you. This could be worth it in the long-run, but you will have to take a few gambles along the way. If you invest all your money only to find the product won’t sell, you could be stuck with a mountain of stock and no money in the bank. Take your time, save up and do your sums – make sure you are financially ready.

What product are you going to sell?

Once you know you can afford to do it – what are you going to sell? Perhaps you already have something in mind? If so, you might want to do some research to see if anyone else is selling it – how well are they doing with it, and how can you be more competitive?

If you are selling something you have made yourself, you need to consider how easy the product is to make, as well as the supplies you need to determine the price. Also, how easy will it be to keep up with demand if the business suddenly takes off?

You’ll need to source your products

At the same time as considering what types of products you want to sell, you need to be thinking about where you will source them from. This could be either the product itself or the supplies you need to make it.

Where can you find the best deal? How quickly can they get it sent out to you? What quantity can they send out? A good place to look at is Alibaba, where you’ll also find inspiration if you haven’t decided on a product yet.

Where will you store these products?

You really need to think about storage early on… you may have enough space in your spare room for the first couple of boxes, but as business grows you will need somewhere much bigger. A storage unit is the perfect solution because it will give you peace of mind know your stock is safe, you can scale up or scale down the space as required, and can access your stock whenever you need to. Plus, you can even take advantage of extras such as the receipt and dispatch service which takes care of deliveries on your behalf.

Then, you need to choose an e-commerce platform

If you are selling something you are making, then Etsy, or you own website are your best options. But perhaps eBay or Amazon would be a better option for the type of product you have chosen? To help you decide where to sell, consider things such as the product you’re selling, what level of admin work you want to do, how much money you have for website hosting and management, and how much of a commission you’re prepared to sacrifice to sell your products through established sites.

Finally – shipping, customer service and marketing

The last part of the process (but one you need to be thinking about all the way through) is figuring out how you’re going to ship your products to the customer. Consider the size of your item, the most cost effective way and how professional you want the service to be. How you will deal with questions and complaints? What about refunds, exchanges and returns? And, how will you market the product – will you have social pages, for example?

It’s only once you’ve considered all these things that you’re anywhere near ready to open an online store.

8 e-commerce mistakes made by small business owners

E-commerce sites that people love happen when business owners understand how customers view, browse and use their site, says iWeb Solutions managing director Nick Pinson.

Does your site match up to the kind of sites that customers love to use for shopping? If the answer is no, then you’re not alone. To help remedy this situation, we are going to look at eight fatal e-commerce mistakes made by small business owners.

They’re not pretty, but remember, they can be avoided.

  1. Bad choice of domain name – The domain name you choose must be memorable, easy to spell and reflect your business name or category. It is one of the first things people will notice when they come across your site through a search engine, so it pays to paint an accurate picture. A short domain name can make it easier for people to remember, thus aiding direct visits, but this isn’t always the case. There is no one size fits all, but logical branding association should take priority.
  2. Poor checkout process – You have aided your customer’s journey all the way to the checkout, so why ruin it by having a poor or confusing checkout process? Customers must be given a smooth checkout process if they are going to buy your product. Otherwise shopping cart abandonment will occur. This is one factor where it certainly pays to test. This will allow you to identify problems, trial different fonts and buttons, and to find the solution that works best for your brand and your customers.
  3. Poor product imagery – If you use poor imagery then you are creating a poor user experience and most likely losing potential customers. A picture informs visitors about the look of products and tells them if it would suit the decor of their home, if they would look good wearing it on a Friday night, etc. Getting quality images on your site can be costly, but quality is vital if you are going to sell your products.
  4. Lack of confidence messages – You are not Amazon. They are a household name and don’t need to do much to prove their trustworthiness. Your e-commerce business however needs to reflect your honesty and reliability, if visitors are going to make a purchase. Top of the trust convincers for visitors is product reviews. These clearly demonstrate situations in which you proved your worth and should be on your site. Other factors include an up to date design, rather than one stuck in the dark ages, and security logos to show users they can safely buy from your site.
  5. Lack of a clear value proposition – This is something many sites fail to properly communicate to visitors, maybe because they don’t know what separates them from their competitors, or because they’ve not given this area the attention it deserves. It is however imperative that you communicate the value of your service if a customer is going to buy from your site. This message can be told through clear, concise copy and supported by effective images. Good value proposition will include a headline with a promise of value, copy explaining why you are different, images that showcase items, and other benefits that set you apart.
  6. Lack of clear shipping costs/return details – Customers don’t want to discover unexpected costs when they proceed to the checkout. This will only increase the number of shopping cart abandonments. One of the things they do want however is clear information on your return policy without having to go round in circles. Make sure you keep this in mind when optimising your e-commerce site.
  7. Poor customer service – Customer service should be a strong foundation for any online or offline business. It can be your best product or it can be so bad that customer loyalty is a distant dream. Don’t lose sight of this immensely important factor amidst the product images, checkout processes and testing. Give it the attention it deserves. Respond in good time to questions, help customers with problems, engage users with content that goes beyond slapping them in the face with another product, and reward customers for their loyalty to your brand. Show that you care.
  8. Not testing your design – The design of your e-commerce website needs to be optimised for the customer journey. If it isn’t, you are most likely losing customers. Testing can be something as simple as trying different fonts, or it could be more sophisticated and include testing product descriptions and the checkout process. It is something that should be done frequently to ensure your site is meeting the needs of your customers, who are more online savvy and ruthless than ever before in their decision making. Test everything that might negatively impact your site, but make sure to keep your main goals in mind when deciding where to begin.

    See also: Building blocks to maximise online revenue

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of and from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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