According to recent publications, consumers spent more than $100 billion online at U.S. based e-commerce sites last year, which does not include online auction sites, travel spending, or corporate purchases. That’s a significant increase over last year – more than 20%. There has never been a better time to be on the receiving end of that spending pattern, and the market keeps improving.
Many people start an e-commerce site as their primary business. If you have a brick and mortar store where you sell products or simply operate a business from home, starting an e-commerce site can provide an additional sales channel for you.
Creating a Web site for the purpose of selling products or services online entails a large amount of research and planning. When you start an online business, forgetting one simple step can make the difference between success and failure.
Here are 8 steps to help you get started:
1. Create a business and marketing plan. Schedule a time to meet with your business partners or team members. Brainstorm together and lay out all of your plans in one document. This plan should incorporate all startup and recurring costs. Set up an overall expense budget and sales forecast.
2. Choose a good Web site address (domain name) to help customers find you. You will need to select a domain name for the site that accurately represents what you are selling and helps brand your business. However, did you consider that the search engines will also be using your domain name as a symbol of what you sell? Give some thought to an appropriate URL and go shopping for one.
3. Select the right e-commerce software with a shopping cart. In order to sell products on your Web site, you have a few options. You can hire someone to develop custom online storefront functionality. However, most small businesses who are looking for more cost effective solutions purchase e-commerce Web site hosting software. This allows your customers to select products from your Web site, put them into the shopping cart on your site, and then checkout using their choice of various payment methods.
4. Apply for a business account (merchant account) for processing credit cards. It is critical to give your customers multiple payment options on your Web site. Most customers are accustomed to paying for goods and services online using their credit card. In order to accept credit cards as payment for your products, you must apply for what is called a merchant account. If you do not accept credit cards on your Web site, you are doing a great disservice to your site’s potential for success, so make sure you apply.
5. Secure your site to let customers know it is safe to do business with you. As an online merchant, security is a key consideration for you. If you are going to accept consumer financial information such as credit card payments, you are responsible for ensuring that data is protected and secure and that you meet credit card company security requirements.
6. Design your site to be user-friendly. Once you have all of the products uploaded to the Web site and you can accept credit cards it’s time to work on improving the site’s appearance before you go live with your new online storefront.
7. Test the site. You only have one chance to make a first impression with each visitor, so be sure that you test and tweak your site before going live with it. Plan at least a few days or weeks to do this. Make sure everything is working properly or all of your efforts can be for naught.
You might try inviting a few friends to help you test the site. Ask them to visit your Web site while you watch their browsing behavior. Try not to say anything as they click around. Give them fifteen minutes, and then ask them about their experience.
8. Promote your site online. Promoting your site on the Web can be expensive and complex, but taking advantage of search engine behavior to drive targeted traffic to your site can result in a favorable long-term return on your up-front investment, whether that investment is your time or money.
Using these tips, you can quickly and easily start selling products online. It may seem a bit daunting at first, but is actually quite simple. There are many vendors who can help fulfill the needs laid out in each action step. Simply visit Google and search for a place to buy a domain name (eg. GoDaddy.com), an e-commerce platform, and so on. Follow these steps and in no time at all you’ll be up and running.