10 Simple Steps to Starting an Online Store
e've all had that moment. The one where you're sitting around with friends having a couple drinks when your million dollar idea hits.
"Guys, wouldn't it be great if we had like a portable device you could listen to like any music you wanted instantly from where ever? Like tunes you could listen to on the zoom..."
If we didn't just burst your million dollar idea bubble, welcome to the wonderful world of eCommerce businesses.
Often it looks like a regular person just like you who now claims to make tens of thousands of dollars per month. But is it as easy as those ads make it sound?
An eCommerce site can be a great way to start a new business. But it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme like you may have been told before. It’s going to take a lot of work. The good news is that eCommerce is not a passing fad like Beanie Babies, Tickle Me Elmo, or Sudoku.
eCommerce Has Come a Long Way
Fun Fact: Did you know that eCommerce started about 40 years ago? In 1979, Michael Aldrich connected a domestic TV to a transaction processing computer. It offered B2B systems sold in the UK, Ireland, and Spain. Yes, the same year ESPN debuted, electronic purchases became a reality.
In the early 90s came bulletin boards and then the World Wide Web. Book Stacks Unlimited was the first online book store on a dial-up bulletin board. It arrived two years before Amazon went live. In 1994, Book Stacks Unlimited moved to the Internet at Books.com and was later acquired by Barnes & Noble.
Throughout the 90s and early-2000s eCommerce sites popped up all over. PayPal boosted online payments by adding a layer of purchase protection. And in time, it soon seemed like every brick and mortar had an online presence. But the real explosion happened when sites went mobile. More than a third of eCommerce sales happen on mobile devices and they continue to grow.
How to Start an eCommerce Business
If you want to start an eCommerce business, then you have some work to do. But here you’ll find ten steps to get that eCommerce business started.
1. Decide on What to Sell
You’ll have to figure out what you plan to sell. And it’s not always about selling something you like. You’ll want to pick a product that is profitable. And you need a product that sells.
The best products solve customer pain points. Or they appeal to enthusiastic hobbyists. It’s a good idea to consider what experience you do have. And getting into a trend too late can be a bad idea. Check out the reviews on the products.
Find gaps in the market. Try to find an underserved audience. But validate your ideas. See if similar products are available. Ask people what they would think about the product. Many new businesses try to find products with a retail price of $20-60. Find something not too seasonal. Small and lightweight items keep storage and shipping fees low.
2. Source Your Product
Think about how you’re going to source your product. Are you going to manufacture it yourself? Are you going to purchase and stock it? Will you have your supplier drop ship it?
If you don’t make it yourself, you’ll need to find a supplier that sells the product you want to sell. You’ll have a lot of research to do. What happens if there’s a problem? If you’re developing a new product, consider prototyping. Or if you’re doing a buy/resell, check out products from multiple vendors before committing to a large order.
3. Research Your Competition
You need to know what your up against and how you’re going to set yourself apart. If you just do the same thing your competition is doing, you’re not going to end up with a very successful business.
Find out how your competition goes to market. Use the stuff that makes sense. And figure out what you can change to make your business different or to better serve a customer need.
4. Craft a Business Plan
A great looking ecommerce website is important. But there's no match for a smart business plan. So, now that you know what you’re selling, where it’s coming from, and how you’re going to market. It’s time to come up with a business plan. A business plan helps you bring everything together.
Some business plans are extremely detailed. Others contain just enough information. Regardless of the style, get something written out. It will help you make decisions and guide your direction in the future.
5. Set Up A Business
Now it’s time to stop thinking and start doing. You’ll need a name. This is a hard decision for a lot of new eCommerce store owners. It often seems like all the good names are taken. If the business name isn’t taken, then the domain name is gone. But keep working on it and you’ll figure something out. Don’t overthink it. Find something appropriate and available and move on.
Now for some legal stuff. You want to pick a business structure that’s best for you. Find out if a sole proprietorship, a partnership, an LLC, or a corporation is best. You’ll need an EIN, even if you have no employees. And just because you’re all online doesn’t mean you won’t need any business permits or licenses.
Don’t ignore these legal matters. You could end up subject to fines, penalties, back taxes, or worse, a shutdown. If you don’t understand the requirements, then hire a lawyer, consultant, or advisor to guide you.
6. Create Your Brand
Once you have a business set up, you’ll want to come up with some type of branding. A simple logo is a good place to start. Don’t let your logo keep you from getting started.
Pick two or three colors that will represent your brand. This will help you keep your marketing and website simple and elegant. And your customers will know who you are fast.
7. Build Your Store
Before you build your eCommerce store, it’s a good idea to learn a little about SEO. You want to properly structure your site from the beginning. Once you get your site pages and product pages in place, it’s going to be a struggle to reorganize them later.
You also need to write engaging copy for your product pages. The descriptions need to captivate. And the pages need to convert. Think about your product images. They don’t have to be perfect, but they need to make your products look great.
Your site also needs to be easy to use. If users can’t navigate to all your pages within 2 or 3 clicks, your site is probably too complex. Keep the design as flat as possible.
8. Launch Your Store
Once your site is “okay,” launch it. If you wait for it to be “great,” or “perfect,” you’ll never hit the “Publish” button. Take that site live and improve it along the way.
Once you’re live, you’ll have to fulfill orders efficiently. Be ready for it. Be ready for international shipping requests. Payment systems need to be seamless. It’s hard to get a customer to enter their credit card information once. Don’t expect them to do it twice. Integrate the payment options your customers are already using.
Have a clear return policy. It's estimated that consumers return 30% of items purchased online. You’re going to need to provide good customer service. And keep track of your performance. Set up an email for customer service. Reply fast. Create templates. Use a chat box.
You also need to be ready for charges that scale. If you subscribe to a hosting plan, you may need to up your bandwidth or storage as your store grows. Or some plugins or software you use on your store may be based on the number of page visits or other traffic metrics. Be ready to increase your tier as needed.
Also, credit card transaction fees are often a percentage of sales. These amounts can add up fast. Be ready to negotiate or find services with lower rates once your sales grow.
9. Mix Up Your Sales Channels
Setting up an eCommerce store is a lot of work. And while SEO marketing is important, you need more than one sales and marketing channel to succeed. And yes, your goal is to direct users to your store. But there are other sales channels that may be appropriate for your products.
Some sellers also make use of platforms like Etsy, eBay, and Amazon. These marketplaces can be extremely helpful to your business. These sites already have millions of users visiting daily. Compare that to your (currently) nonexistent web traffic. They also have experts working on how to sell your products for you.
Check out the policies on these other channels. But typically you can work in some kind of cross-pollination. Draw these customers to your site with more information or additional options.
10. Don’t Stop Marketing Your Products
There’s almost no chance that anyone is going to stumble across your site. You have to tell people about it. You can start with your family and friends if they’re in your target audience. But you’ll have to come up with a more effective approach if you want to make a living off of this thing.
Social media is a great way to market your eCommerce store. Create accounts for your store and post regularly. When posting, be sure to use proper hashtags. Run contests. Collect email addresses. Create effective campaigns.
Get a presence on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. But find out where your target audience lives and start with one or two platforms to focus your efforts.
Engage with your audience. Send replies. Even comment on your competitor’s posts now and then. Be tasteful. No bashing. No trolling. Just don’t stop sharing. There’s a controversial claim that Americans see 4,000 ads per day. That may be true or not. But we do know this. The average person sees a LOT of ads. You have to cut through the noise.
Pay per click advertising is another good method for a new eCommerce business. You can purchase this through a service like Google AdWords or a social media platform. Think of PPC as a little bit of a cheat code for getting in front of your audience.
It’s not always best to drop users onto your home page. Create a killer landing page that converts. Here you can really guide them through the customer journey. You can qualify them for what product would be best.
Start an eCommerce Business Today
It’s possible for you to be one of those persons on an online ad telling viewers about your success in eCommerce. It’s going to take a lot of effort to get there. But it’s never going to happen if you don’t get started.
Now that you know how to start an eCommerce business, you’ll need a great looking website. Start that new business with a stylish, fast website from PNW. Get a proposal from PNW today!