The most recent statistics from the US Department of Commerce report that online sales exceeded $390 billion in 2016, a 15 percent increase over 2015, with the National Retail Federation projecting further growth in 2017 of up to 12 percent. Efficiency, timeliness, and profitability have prompted many business owners to ply their trades via the internet. However, as simple as setting up an online shop may seem, there are still a number of steps, important to any business, that must be taken before you’re ready to throw your website open for business.
As easy as it may seem to do business online, there are a number of mistakes that people often make. If you’re the owner, don’t fall into the trap of trying to do everything yourself in spite of your investment and sense of personal ownership. Always pay close attention to legal matters, such as copyrights for names and logos, and always do your research before you start branding. Avoid personal productivity issues by setting your office up away from distractions, which will be very common during the early stages of your business. You’ll need plenty of energy, so select a room that’s well-lit, and consider purchasing a standing desk to avoid back pain.
Identify Your Platform
A careful consideration of your business model will be your guide in selecting the most appropriate e-commerce platform. Selecting the right one will have a lot to do with how successful you are. Many new business owners find it easiest to go with a hosted platform because it provides ready-to-use, customizable website templates and navigational tools — BigCommerce and Squarespace are two of the more popular hosting sites. Or, you could create your own site using open source software, though this typically requires a certain amount of technical know-how. You can also elect to do business through a third-party source such as Amazon, a convenient choice though one that will obscure your own online identity.
Thinking through your shipping strategy is one of the most important first steps because it will directly impact profitability and the bottom line. Free shipping is an attractive benefit for customers, but you’ll need to pay for it out of profit margins or raise product costs, an important decision. Will you be doing business overseas? If so, make sure you’re prepared to pay higher shipping costs, adjust for exchange rates, and cope with administrative headaches like customs forms. Consider variations in size and weight in your product line, your shipping destinations, and available options (i.e. carriers) when developing your shipping strategy. Above all, be certain you’ve got it all worked out to avoid shipping snafus once you start processing orders.
Stand Apart from the Virtual Crowd
One of the great advantages of the internet for consumers is the range of choice that’s right at your fingertips. However, the vastness of the web can make it difficult to differentiate between companies, which places a premium on marketing. If you’re in a business niche with many direct competitors, it’s important to establish an identity that accentuates your expertise and experience. Providing extensive background information about your industry and how customers benefit from it can put you ahead of the competition in terms of know-how. Authoring online content, publishing case studies, and writing regular blog posts will go a long way toward establishing eminence in your particular niche. It may be worthwhile to hire a professional writer or engage a contractor if you lack the skill to write effective content.
Consider establishing a feedback loop by inviting customers to share their product experiences on your website. It’s an excellent way to build trust through transparency and give existing and prospective customers new ideas about how to use your product. There’s more to making an online business successful than launching a snazzy website and watch while the orders roll in. You need to think through the entire process, from order entry and fulfillment to shipping and customer service. Thinking through the entire scenario will help you avoid many of the pitfalls to which new business owners are susceptible.
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