Many people are looking to sell online. Online sales are now significant but still growing. Consumers are becoming more familiar with online shopping and even if they buy in store will often research their purchases online, either before or after a visit.
Also the ability to sell online is now pretty much the starting point for the new generation of shop keepers. If you think about it, why would anyone go through the commitment of leasing a shop and fitting it out when they can create an online shop at a fraction of the price, to at least test the market?
So whether you are an existing retailer that is looking to join the ecommerce revolution so you are not left behind, or you are a new start up the first question you will have is where do you start? And the answer is, by doing some searches on the internet, and maybe you did that and came across this article. I can’t cover everything here, but I hope to give you a few more ideas so you can further narrow down your search. Of course we are in the website business, but I won’t try and sell you our services, I will just give you the benefit of some of my experience.
“If you build it, he will come”
“If you build it, he will come”, from the film Field of Dreams sticks in my mind when talking about website, ecommerce or not. In terms of websites, build it and no one will come, trust me on this. You need to work hard to get website visitors, and that means having a marketing plan and marketing budget. The cost of your online presence pales into insignificance compared to your marketing costs. Of course the amount you have to spend on marketing will vary on your product, the competition and your client base, but if you have nothing to go, as a new business, a cost marketing cost of 20% of turnover is not a bad starting point. So what does that mean? Well if your business plan is a turnover of £6,000 a month, expect to spend £1,200 per month on advertising and other forms of marketing.
Let someone else do the hard work
I have already said that marketing costs in time and money, and it is also a skill and hard work. So my first bit of advice is to outsource all that to someone who has already done that. And here the obvious candidates are eBay store & Amazon Webstore. If you have no online selling experience, these are definitely places you should consider to gain experience. Their fees may seem to be steep initially ( if you haven’t read my paragraph above ) but at around 11% for eBay & 15% for Amazon (and Amazon includes finance costs – which you will have to pay in all other solution at around 3%) plus a very small (£15-£30) monthly fees, you can see that they are very attractive.
eBay and Amazon already have the footfall. Using eBay or Amazon is the equivalent of setting up shop in the middle of a very busy mega shopping centre.
There are some additional benefits to a new ecommercer, in using Amazon or eBay, in that you learn a lot of ancillary things, mainly because their policies are designed to weed out rogue traders, as they want to maintain their reputation and ‘footfall’, such as Distance Selling Regs (DSRs) and appropriate levels of online customer services.
For some, eBay or Amazon just isn’t right for their product or customer base, if that is you, then fine, but don’t dismiss them unless you really have to. But research to find out if there are any other online market places that can work with your products, e.g. Etsy for handmade / vintage products, Guntrader for second hand guns (of course you can’t sell guns on eBay / Amazon) etc.
I Want My Own Shop
Now either you have got some experience online (as above) and you think having your own online store will help sales, or you really have no choice for your market. And you have researched online marketing methods, including PPC, SEO, eShots, Social media and offline methods such as magazines, radio etc, and you have formulated a marketing strategy at least. You now need to think about your online store solution.
The temptation is to search for ‘what is the best ecommerce platform’ but that isn’t the right question. The right question is ‘what is the best ecommerce platform for my requirements?’ and as no one knows your requirements you will have to write them down and evaluate the different solutions.
Your requirements may be (these are just starting lists to explain what I mean, you need to expand these)
- Able to import products from spreadsheet
- Have an affiliate programme
- Be able to track sales in Google Analytics (I’ll get to that)
- Have an integrated Blog
- Be able to have product videos
- Be able to pay via Paypal / Credit Cards (I’ll get to that too)
- Be able to link inventory between my Amazon / eBay stores and this eshop
- Run on mobiles as well as desktop
- Response times
- hours of support
- telephone or email
- upgrades / fixes enhancements
- Within £xx/month running cost
- Within £y,yyy set up costs
[br]Armed with your functional requirements you can go off and study what sort of eshop you want. You will find eshops fall into two broad categories, which I will explain further.
By Hosted solution, what this means is basically a fully packaged solution. Every thing you need is provided via an online solution. A bit like having an eBay shop or Amazon store but you have to deal with the marketing. You generally get exactly what they state is provided in terms of functionality and normally a selection of templates of styles and easy ways of customsing the way your shop looks.
- No (ok very low) technical skills required
- Fixed costs
- No flexibility, if your requirement isn’t supported you are unlikely to be able to change the situation
- Most solutions are built for the US
[br]Providers with UK solutions include:
Self Hosted Solution
A Self Hosted solution means that the software is installed on a hosting account specifically for you. You don’t share the software with anyone else.
- You can add new features and designs to you site as you and your budget feels fit
- You can control the performance of your site (by paying for appropriate hosting power)
- Your running costs may be lower (depending on hosting and your technical skills)
- You need technical skills (or you need a web design / support company to supply those skills)
- Your costs are not fixed (if you pay for adhoc technical changes, support)
- Cost maybe higher (depending on many factors)
[br]The main contenders for self hosted solutions are:
- Woocommerce (WordPress)
[br]As these are widely used, there is not much to chose between them. They all have plenty of optional add on features and of course can be modified by a competent programmer, so the choice, if your are not technical, would be more down the the familiarity that your web developer has with a particular product.
A couple of footnotes
With ecommerce marketing you are flying blind regarding the effectiveness of your marketing / advertising spend unless you have an Analytics solution integrated to your eshop. eBay & Amazon shop give you some inhouse tools, but if you go with a hosted or self hosted solution, you really need an Analytics package to tell you were your sales came from. There are plenty of tools, but the most popular is Google Analytics.
Payment with Credit Cards
Taking credit card payments from your own website, especially if it is self hosted, can increase your costs substantially. There are factors such as PCI compliance and the requirements for SSLs to be factored in. Ownership of a Merchant Account with monthly minimums (you need an online merchant account, separate from your bricks and mortar shop’s account) and a software gateway to the payment provider and of course a software module set up on your own site. All these can easily add up to over £40/month, so you can see that paying PayPal 3.5% can easily be cheaper than paying 2% to your merchant account plus fixed costs. Using these example figures it is cheaper to use PayPal until your turnover is greater than £2,666 per month.