You have no shortage of options when it comes to ways to grow your business: You could add a new product line, open a new location, hire a salesperson, get a loan or expand production.
However, you would be hard-pressed to find a better, more lucrative, and faster-growing option than e-commerce. Total online shopping has seen double-digit growth each year for at least the past five years in a row. There really is nowhere else you can look to in the economy and expect to find this kind of growth for as far as the eye can see. According to the consulting firm A.T. Kearney, “an online presence [has become] a low-risk way to test new markets and complement existing store footprints.”
It would behoove you to hop aboard the e-commerce train because not only is it leaving the station, it is gathering a big head of steam as it does.
How do you do that? Here’s how, in four easy steps:
Step 1. Get an e-store: An e-commerce store consists of two parts.
The first part is the front end of the store – this is the website your site visitors see. Think about Amazon.com. When you visit that giant e-retailer, you encounter deals, specials, a shopping cart, product descriptions, and so on. That’s the front end.
The back end of your store is the part that only you see. This is where you would have a dashboard that displays your inventory, sales figures, checkout system, and other important analytics.
So when starting your e-commerce research, you will want to look for a provider/solution that offers an elegant looking front end and an easy-to-navigate back end.
Step 2. Get a merchant account: The front and back end of your store allow you to take orders and track merchandise, but they do not actually process payments. For that you will need a merchant account. A merchant account is an account with a financial institution that processes credit card or other online payments. Bank of America offers a full range of merchant services and products.
Step 3. Upload products into your store: There are two ways to sell products online. You can either sell your own products, or you can sell someone else’s products, which is called drop shipping.
In the case of the former, it is really just a matter of taking good-looking digital photographs of your physical inventory, uploading them onto your site using your dashboard, and then adding snappy product descriptions.
For the new e-commerce entrepreneur however, drop shipping offers an attractive alternative. There are literally thousands of wholesalers and distributors who have products for you to sell. As you do your research, look for those who offer to sell their wares via drop shipment. With drop shipping, you upload pictures of the wholesaler’s products onto your site and the beauty is that you do not actually need to stock the items or fulfill the orders – the drop shipper does all of that for you.
So the way it works is this: You upload the drop shippers’ products onto your site and sell them. When an order comes in, both you and the drop shipper receive notice. Payment goes partially to you and partially to the drop shipper, and the drop shipper sends out the product to the buyer.
Step 4. Fulfillment: Of course, you will need to fulfill and ship the orders if you are not working with a drop shipper.
This is not a little detail. Sending out orders on time, accurately estimating the cost of shipping, dealing with returns and refunds and guarantees are where you make and break your name in the world of online sales. But, if you do it right, you will capture your share of this emerging new bonanza of a marketplace.
About Steve Strauss
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.
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