In 2019 online shopping represented around 10% of total sales and this figure is continuing to explode. Watch your local suburban street and see the stream of delivery vans parading past. In this guide, we will look at your various options and what you should consider to build an internet store.
Selling and buying online is known as e-commerce, online trading or online shopping. As a small business, you could offer e-commerce on your own website, someone else’s website, or social media. The good news is to build an internet store has never been easier with various internet providers providing templates and tools for novices to be up and running quickly.
WHY should I build an internet store?
Setting up a brick and mortar store in a good location to attract customers is expensive and has a lot of risks, however, to sell online is the opposite. Alternatively, to expand the sales of your existing business, online can bring many advantages. These include:
- Allows you to sell to a much wider audience than those who could visit your place of business
- Your business is always open and information is available to hopefully help customers make a buying decision
- Fewer sales staff should be needed
- Helps promote your brand and your products and service
- Increases customer engagement
WHAT are the online store options?
Most of us have bought or sold something personally on eBay and that is e-commerce. As a business you have three potential e-commerce channels which could be used individually or together:
- Online marketplace (eBay, Amazon, Gumtree)
- Easy to set up and process payment but at the cost of paying commissions
- Website (e-commerce on your own website)
- Can use a template/store builder through to building from scratch
- More flexibility and no commissions to 3rd party
- Social media (Facebook marketplace)
- Similar to the online marketplace but not as advanced
Before you select an e-commerce option be sure you can answer the following questions:
- What products and services do you want to sell online and is there a market?
- What is your competitive advantage?
- By what methods will you accept payment? (credit card, PayPal, etc)
- Do you need to collect personal data? What steps will you take to protect consumers’ privacy? (see our guide on Privacy and Protecting Personal Data)
- What level of customer service will you offer and how can you be contacted?
HOW to choose the right e-commerce platform?
Your choice can make or break your business. So take the time to compare your options.
From our three e-commerce options you need to decide if you will sell simultaneously on a website and marketplaces. If you decide to go down the route of having your own website, it is far easier, faster, and cheaper to use a template/web site builder than to custom design/build. For a small business starting off we recommend the website builder option available from various hosting and specialist companies (Google search – online store). When comparing, consider these factors against your needs:
- Cost- How much per month compared to the features you get? (bundled with hosting can be less than $20 a month)
- Templates/store builder options? Do the available themes and structures suit? Consider how you will integrate graphics, colour schemes, and content (words).
- If a template is not suitable can you afford a custom build? (a custom build can easily exceed $10,000)
- Shipping – How does the shipping/delivery process make both your life and the customers’ life as easy as possible. Also see our essential guide on freight solutions.
- Security? – It is unlikely a hosted e-commerce store will not be secured properly by a vendor but always keep it in mind.
- Uptime and service guarantees – This refers to the unexpected downtime of the provider. Do they provide any guarantees and what compensation if any will they provide if you lose a days trading?
- Marketing your store – Does your hosting vendor offer marketing tools and services to assist you?
- Discounts and promotions – If you plan to offer these how does the solution align with your plans?
- Smartphone management of site – Can you administer the site if required from the football game on a Saturday?
- Market place integration – Is there an automated option to sell across online marketplaces as well, like eBay?
- Do they offer a payment gateway? How much do they charge as a percentage to accept payment of a credit card?
- Seamless integration – Can other software applications like CRM or your Accounting Package seamlessly connect to your e-commerce store.
Be sure to take the solution for a test drive by:
- Trialing the platform – most offer free trials and demos which will enable you to understand what you would need to do to make it happen but more importantly see the experience from a customer perspective. You should upload a few products and see what themes are available then buy something as if you were a customer.
- Consider calling the company’s sales and support desks and ask them a few questions as this will give you a good indication of the experience you will have if you proceed.
- Check out any online reviews and if possible talk to someone who is already using the solution.
HINTS on running your e-commerce store
- If you sell to other stores or end customers today will the way you sell in this new e-commerce store upset your existing customers?
- Ensure you manage your inventory well. You cannot sell something out of stock.
- Offer specials on the slow-moving stock to reduce or clear inventory.
- Some products may not make sense to sell online, for example, heavy or very large items as the shipping cost may be too high.
- Make sure your freight partner is reliable otherwise you wear the blame.
- Existing customers are your most valuable. New customers are the hardest to get.
- Carefully consider how your website looks. Is it professional, is it easy for customers to find what they want?
- Ensure you don’t have anything on your site that might be seen as controversial, such as a seductive man or lady (unless you are in that business).
- Set up your products or services in categories and have descriptions that are easy to read and appealing.
- Ensure pages are not too cluttered and distracting.
- Consider including customer reviews.
- Fast page load speed keeps customers on your site.
- Comparisons of products are useful to customers.
- Enlarged view option lets a customer see your product better.
- Responsive design enables the site to presents well on a smartphone.
Your internet store is now built and published on the internet but do not expect people to swamp it on its first day. It will take some time before search engines like Google find it and as nobody knows your new domain name they will not yet find it organically. In a separate guide, we will cover SEO Search Engine Optimisation and SEM Search Engine Marketing. Put simply these are ways to make your business found more easily on the web and tactics you can use to promote your business on the internet.
SUMMARY – build an internet store to grow sales
To build an internet store can put you in business faster and cheaper than a traditional bricks and mortar store. If you are already in business, it can grow your sales making your offering available to a much larger audience.
In conclusion keep the customer experience at top of mind — from the ease of use to how it looks —set yourself up to succeed from the start.