According to CMO.com, “Online shopping retail sales are predicted to grow steadily to $370 billion in 2017, up from $231 billion in 2012.” With the multibillion dollar expansion of online shopping, many small businesses have gained interest in developing an eCommerce presence.
Online stores are not just the new thing; they are a more feasible option for startups that choose to forgo the cost of renting commercial space to setup a physical brick and mortar store. Meanwhile, with an online store, the options to expand your business are limitless.
Starting an online business is comparatively easy. Once your online store is functional, accessible, and marketed correctly it is much easier to drum up business. But before you open your virtual doors, here are a nine things to keep in mind:
Make a plan.
Before starting any type of business you need to create a business plan — a strategy to take your business idea forward. A few of the steps you should include: Define your niche; what will your business be offering? Meanwhile, what market will you target? Once you know your niche, you should define systems and processes to help with workflow. Planning out the basic steps will make launching, and running, an online store much easier.
Test the retail waters.
Market research and testing will help identify your target market and improve conversion. You can utilize social media platforms and ask for pre-launch product feedback during beta stages and enlist targeted customers to promote your upcoming online store launch with the use of special incentives. Meanwhile, you can create a smaller marketing test environment by listing your wares on established marketplaces, like Ebay or StoreEnvy. Ultimately, testing will help you understand the true demand for your offering.
Select shopping cart software.
Choosing reliable and user-friendly shopping cart software for your online store is very important. If you do not have the technical know-how required, then choose a shopping cart that requires little-to-no tech savvy and coding, like Shopify, BigCommerce, Squarespace, etc. Meanwhile, if you are tech savvy, consider open source software like OpenCart, Magento, or osCommerce.
Consider the layout of your online store.
The next thing that plays a key role in online store success is the overall design and layout of your website. An aesthetically pleasing, creative, and glitch free website can strengthen your online presence. For retail inspiration, consider online retail stores like Sophie and Trey, Warby Parker, and Indochino. Meanwhile, these 25 web design tips, from Forbes, will make your life much easier.
Start SEO sooner, rather than later.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is essential for today’s online business. As Moz.com explains, “An important aspect of Search Engine Optimization is making your website easy for both users and search engine robots to understand. Although search engines have become increasingly sophisticated, in many ways they still can’t see and understand a web page the same way a human does. SEO helps the engines figure out what each page is about, and how it may be useful for users.” New to SEO? Checkout this Beginners Guide to SEO at Moz.com.
Don’t forget about accepting payments.
Before launch, you’ll need to figure out how to accept payment. Thus, you will need a payment gateway and a merchant account. A payment gateway processes and authorizes credit card transactions. It is the equivalent of a physical point of sale terminal located in most physical retail outlets. Once a credit card is processed the funds are transferred into your merchant account – a temporary online account where money is kept until transferred to your business bank account. Meanwhile, the quickest way to get started is to use an aggregate merchant account that includes a payment gateway. Some readily familiar ones include PayPal and Stripe.
Consider shipping options.
If you offer a physical product, reliable, fast, and cost-effective shipping options are essential for customer satisfaction. Common shipping strategies include: free shipping, real-time shipping quotes, and flat rate shipping. Research shows that hassle-free shipping is a win-win for customers and your bottom line. “Online retailers that offer free shipping tend to charge higher base prices for their products, for example, showing that free shipping is often used as a loss leader to attract more customers at higher profit margins. Meanwhile, retailers with a record of delivering their merchandise on time also charge higher base prices but impose lower shipping fees compared with companies that have a poor delivery history. And by adjusting shipping times within a variety of delivery options, some reliably punctual retailers increase their fees for quick delivery service — even as they continue to charge more for their products.” (Source: strategy+business)
Focus on customer retention.
Once your online store is setup, look for ways to retain your clients and customers. One way to get started is to make access to your company’s social media platforms readily available. Meanwhile, creating a company blog will help you stay connected and engaged. Lastly, you can also ramp up email marketing efforts to showcase new products, offers, and time-bound promotions.
Define a clear return and exchange policy.
When shipping online orders there are all kinds of scenarios that can occur such as: buyers remorse, damage during transit, defective products, etc. In such cases, professional business owners always have a plan in place to satisfy customers. A clear return and exchange policy should be highlighted on your website and easily accessible.
What are some of your favorite online retail tips for small business? Let me know in the comments section below.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Christine Rudolph is a content developer at Pac and Copy Plus, fast growing Digital Marketing and Web Development Agency. Connect with @RudolphBlogger on Twitter for more web and mobile application related updates.
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