What if I told you there was a section of our economy that has shown double-digit growth each year, over the past few years? There is, and it’s the e-conomy. Consider this statistic I read in a white paper by the global consultancy firm AT Kearney: "Global e-commerce has grown by 13% each of the last five years.”
So it is no surprise that more and more entrepreneurs are jumping on the e-commerce bandwagon. And if this is something that you have considered, the good news is that there has never been a better or easier time to become an e-ntrepreneur.
E-commerce has come a long way and is actually pretty easy to get into nowadays. More than ever, the process of getting people to buy from you online is not all that different from when customers purchase something from you offline. They still enter your store, see products, pick what they like, put it in a shopping cart, proceed to the checkout and then pay with a credit card.
It should make sense, then, that to sell over the Internet you will need to get a handle on the following things:
1. Your e-store: Not surprisingly, there are many service providers/e-commerce hosts that offer online merchants everything they need to set up an e-store. Their software will let you upload and display your products and prices using formatted templates, and will allow people to buy from you via a shopping cart and checkout system.
There are many e-commerce solution providers out there, but a few to check out are:
- Shopify: A simple, all-in-one solution
- Prestashop: A free solution
- Yahoo! Small Business: Easy and trusted
Remember that a good e-commerce web-hosting solution should offer you a package that includes inventory control, 24/7 live customer support, shipping options and an easy-to-use back-end dashboard so you can keep an eye on everything.
2. Products: If you are selling your own products from your offline store, each one has to be photographed digitally to be displayed online. Your shopping cart software will allow you to create an online catalog of thumbnail photos of your products. If you don’t have products, you might want to learn about ‘drop shipping,’ which is a supply chain management technique where the retailer does not keep goods in stock, but instead transfers customer orders and shipment details to either the manufacturer or a wholesaler. The manufacturer or wholesaler then ships the goods directly to the customer.
3. A merchant account: Almost all Internet purchases are made with credit cards, so you must have the capacity to accept them, or, at a minimum, offer PayPal on the site. Accepting credit cards online requires having a merchant account (our friends at Bank of America Merchant Services are leaders in electronic payments processing, and have even teamed up with Yahoo! Small Business to supplement the e-commerce solution I mentioned earlier).
4. Shipping charges: Do not underestimate the cost of shipping products— it may be significant, and it’s something you should remember to build into your budget.
5. Security: Customers want to know that their transactions are secure, so you will need some sort of encrypted security solution. This, too, should come with your e-commerce shopping cart, and is also something that should be built into your merchant account.
And as you plan your foray into e-commerce, remember these tips:
Keep your site simple and clean: No one likes shopping online at a site that is jumbled, busy or disorganized. You want pages that are clean and professional, and— very important— that load quickly. Don't use too many images or images that are too large.
Offer a variety of products: One of the cool things about selling online is that, usually, you do not need to stock all of those products (see my note about ‘drop shipping’ above). Once you get an online order, you can either get the product from the supplier or even have the supplier ship the item, with you acting as the middleman. So go ahead, stock those virtual shelves.
Offer great prices: The culture of the Web is one of discounts, so keep that in mind. Sure, you may have luxury goods for sale, but they are a tougher sell over the Internet— make sure you give your online customers regular incentives to buy from you.
The best way to start is to check out some of the online retailers that you like, be it Amazon, Netflix, Staples or what have you. See how they organize their e-store and products and model your e-store off of the one you like best.
Are you considering expanding your business into online sales? Please share your goals and plans with the community below.
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 You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.