This blog is for persons who are considering opening an e-commerce store for the first time and do not have any kind of existing store, storefront or online. If you already have some form of storefront location or an online store on a site like Ebay, Amazon, Etsy, etc., please click here.
Perks and Disadvantages of Opening and Online Store vs a Storefront Location
While having a storefront location is great for local traffic, there is a lot of overhead associated with it and a limited market place. With an online store there’s still overhead, but it is more controlled.
When you have a store that people walk into, it’s important to keep a healthy stock of goods; it should always look full. In comparison, with an online store you can have less inventory and justify how much keep in-stock depending on the number of items you have. This makes it easier to maintain a healthy cash-flow.
However, while your local store may have to deal with some price competition, it’s not the same as the online competition. If you’re opening an online store you need to be aware of the facts: a lot of online shoppers are look for the best deal and if you’re selling the same kind of products someone can find on Amazon with free shipping and a better price. There are ways around this. Namely, offer a unique product and/or low prices.
Chances are, if you’re thinking about getting into e-commerce you already have some sort of product, or a means of distributing a product from other manufactures at a reasonable price to the rest of the public. And, depending on the size of your inventory, you may have to pay rent at a location on top of significant digital advertising.
If you’re not paying for rent for a location, you’re likely going to need to have that money invested in a solid marketing (and re-marketing) program. You have to be diligent with your digital efforts no matter what your overhead is. You will have so many other companies competing for an online shopper’s attention. Which brings us to our next section, competitor research.
As much as mom and pop shops compete against large chains and franchises, your business is going to be competing against some of the top online stores. While part of your strategy could be to sell on those stores as well as providing access to your own websites, it still means people are purchasing via Amazon (for example) and not through your own website.
If you offer common products, what’s the best digital strategy for your brand? This is where social media marketing comes in handy and where you can connect and develop a digital relationship with your customers (not to mention assist your search engine rankings). Check out information on social media marketing and customer segments.
Just like a person/company with an existing presence, there are aspects of e-commerce you need to prepare yourself either way:
How Will You Accept Payment?
Seems like a simple enough question, but there are variety of options to take into consideration. Some users prefer to pay with PayPal if the option is available. Other users would prefer to checkout with their Visa, Mastercard, etc. Ideally that means you’re going to have to set up both a PayPal business account and get with your bank about an online merchant account.
Accepting Secure Payments
Of course you’re going to need a SSL certificate which verifies that your site is safe. Your developers will get you through the licensing process and establish that you have a secure gateway to which payments can be made. This is one of the most critical factors of your website. Buyers look for security online and your SSL certificate provides insurance if a breach should occur. It’s peace of mind for you and your customers. Not to mention, your bank won’t work with you if you don’t have a SSL Certificate.
Managing Your Inventory
Whose going to manage your online stock? Are you going to hire an outside company to maintain the backend of the website and it’s inventory? How will the company work with you? Are you going to handle the backend in house? Are you going to develop the website in-house or do you need to start getting quotes?
Who’s Your Customer Base?
Obviously if you’re considering getting into your own e-commerce website because you have an existing shop, you probably already have enough established customers to justify going on your own; but you’ll also need new business. One benefit of having a shop on a larger store site (like Etsy) is that while they may take a cut of the sales and have extra fees, they also advertise – which converts to sales.
If you have a store front location, would your customers benefit from online ordering? If you’re a pizza shop, the answer is yes! If you’re a local grocer, do you think you would have the demand for people with busy schedules who love your store to easily order their groceries online, have employees do the shopping and get the order ready for pickup? A bakery where people can customize their cakes online.
The possibilities are endless. At the end of the day though, you should ask yourself (and your customers) if they would find it convenient. How much new business could you drum up as a result? If you advertise with the ease of online ordering it makes it even easier for people to shop local. E-commerce is an investment and for a lot shops (especially smaller shops), is it worth the investment?
When you accept payments via your merchant bank account, there are typically fees even if you have no sales. If you need to make updates how much does the company charge to add new products? Remove them? Update prices?
A good company is going to consult with you regarding all these matters. They’re going to be there to develop a game plan for how you’re going to work together to make your dreams a reality.
There is also the issue of advertising. If you’re going e-commerce, you need to target people to your website. This is where things get very competitive and you have to engage a branding strategy that is going to lead to the best return on investment.
How Many Products Do You Have?
The online stores that do the best are ones that offer a variety of products. The number of products you have will also impact your e-commerce start up costs. When we say, “number of products”, we’re referring to the specific number of types of products you offer. For example, you have 300 different products you sell: pumpkin spice scented candles, vanilla spice scented candles, etc.
You’ll have to organize the information you have for your developers. The product, all of its specification and unique description. The more organized you prepare these items, the easier it is for your developer. When you work with Zen Small Biz, we provide you with a detailed timeline, product sheets, checklists and all kinds of useful tools to make the project go a smooth as possible.
How are you going to handle shipping goods? Where are you willing to ship goods? How much are you going to charge for shipping your goods? If a person orders over a certain number of goods, will they receive free shipping?
This is where your consultant can point you in the right direction: what services are offered, some things to consider related to pricing of your product, etc.
E-commerce tax laws vary by state. Some states do not require non-residents pay taxes for your e-commerce store, but residents of your state have to. You will have to look at your state’s tax laws regarding an e-commerce store. You’ll likely want to get verification from an expert.
Do you have permission from your manufactures to re-sell their products online? What sort of legal disclaimers are needed for your website? If you are using Google products with your website, Google requires that you have certain language most developers/internet marketers are familiar with. These are things you’ll need to review with your attorney because many other notices are likely needed for your website.
What’s your customer service plan? How are you going to follow up with customers? When can they contact you regarding your products or services? Will you accept phone calls? What will your return policy look like?
It’s A Lot
This list is not to deter you from starting your own e-commerce store. It is designed to get you thinking about what you’re going to need when you get into developing one.
Think we’re helpful here? Try working with us. We have a variety of solutions available to assist you in achieving your goals. We’re not here to make a quick buck, but build a longstanding relationship with you. Click here to contact us.