Do you dream of starting your own business? Perhaps you don’t want the overhead involved with a brick-and-mortar store, or you just want to branch out from what you’re already doing. Starting an e-commerce website doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive.
There are between 12 and 24 million e-commerce sites in the world. When you think of online shopping, your mind probably jumps to giants like Amazon, Walmart and Target. However, there are millions of small-business websites also competing for customers.
Is starting an e-commerce website right for you? There are several things you should consider before taking the plunge.
Pros and Cons of Having an E-Commerce Website
As with any endeavor, there are both pros and cons of owning an online store. Some of the benefits of e-commerce include:
- Less overhead
- Ability to reach a wider audience
- Customers can shop all hours of the day and night
- Easier to create a highly targeted mailing list
You’ll also want to create a strong brand image through packaging and your logo. Running any type of business has unique challenges and pitfalls, though. With online storefronts, you’ll deal with:
- Stiff competition from around the globe
- Logistics or getting packages delivered promptly
- Figuring out payment gateways
- Training sales agents who might live in another state
Your business might benefit more from a small kiosk booth at the local mall or be better served with an online presence. Conduct market research and consider the competition online and locally before deciding to start your new e-store.
How Much Does It Cost to Start an E-Commerce Business?
The average cost to start an e-commerce business varies widely. You can use a third-party platform and get started for a small fee. The type of merchandise you sell will also determine how much startup costs are. If you offer inexpensive items, inventory will cost you less.
Plan on having a few months’ expenses in case it takes time for your store to become profitable. You’ll need a budget for advertising, money for web hosting fees and inventory. You might pay someone to create and manage your site or do the work on your own. The great thing about e-commerce is that you can start small and scale up as needed.
How do you know when you need to pay someone to do the work? If it takes time away from building your business and you’re not comfortable doing it, it’s time to outsource.
Where to Host Your E-Commerce Site
There are tons of options for hosting your e-commerce site. Your choice will depend on your budget, what you’re selling and how big your online store is. You only need a few basic features for a startup. You can add additional details as you begin making a profit.
Cheapest Options for an E-Commerce Store
You can start an online store at zero cost, if you’re willing to wait on more expensive branding efforts, such as having your own domain name. Third-party selling sites take a percentage of the sale, so you can get started and only pay when someone buys from you. Consider solutions such as:
These are just a few examples of sites letting you get started. You can also go with a website allowing you to build an e-commerce store inexpensively, such as Wix or Shopify. You can scale up later or move to a new platform.
Scaled up Options for an Online Store
If you have a little more money to spend, it’s always best to go with your selected domain name and hosting company. You’ll have full control and save money on fees. Of course, you’ll need to pay to register a domain name and for hosting space. You’ll need to either design the site yourself on a platform such as WordPress or pay a developer to do it for you.
Some software to consider includes:
The key is finding the platform you feel comfortable using. You’ll regularly add new products to your lineup, so the process must be simple and intuitive. You should also look for a system integrating with your inventory control and customer service department.
Steps to Start Your Own E-Commerce Website
Are you ready to start your new e-commerce website? There are a series of steps that will get you from your wonderful idea to securing your first customer.
1. Secure a Domain Name
Even if you plan to use a third-party service for a while, it’s smart to secure your domain name for the future. It isn’t easy to find a name not in use these days, so brainstorm and search through registrars until you find the perfect one. It will cost you a small investment of under $20 a year to register the name, and you’ll have it for the future.
2. Create a Logo
Your logo is a vital component of your branding efforts. It must tell users what you do, use your company’s color palette and be easily recognizable. Think of some of the well-known brands you’ve come to know, such as Coca-Cola or Nike. You immediately recognize their logos.
Your logo appears prominently in everything you do as an online store. Even your social media pages should showcase it. It’s worth paying someone to create an iconic and recognizable image for your business.
3. Find the Perfect Product
Start by figuring out what you want to sell. Once you have a few items in mind, check out the competition. Who else sells the product, and how does it differ from yours? You can make your store unique by personalizing orders. Also, consider how difficult the item is to ship and if it is worthwhile to offer it online.
4. Present Your UVP
Once you decide on a product, think about your unique value proposition (UVP). Your UVP is the thing making you stand out from all the other e-commerce stores. It could be you have top-quality customer service. It could be you personalize the products you sell.
Start by making a list of competitors’ UVPs. You must match theirs in quality and then find something unique to offer, so you stand out from the crowd.
5. Build Your Main Pages
Every website has some core pages guiding users through the rest of your site. Decide on a hierarchy for your website, such as the main landing page and where the visitor goes from there. Think through every entry point and what the next phase of the buyer’s journey is. Are the directions clear enough for someone to move freely through your website without confusion?
Also consider trust factors, such as contact info, testimonials and brand story. Share why you started the business and the challenges you’ve faced. Explain why you’re passionate about what you do. An introductory video is a nice touch that visitors appreciate.
6. Describe Your Products
Once the bones of your site are in place, it’s time to add the items you want to sell. Start with vibrant images showing the product from all angles. The customer isn’t able to look at the item in person, pick it up and interact with it. You must recreate this experience through videos or pictures.
List all the features of the product. Answer any common questions, such as warranty, size or add-ons. You may want to add a section for reviews, so customers can share their experience and answer questions for each other.
7. Make Your Site User-Friendly
Does your site offer a good user experience (UX)? Look for ways to make it user-friendly and intuitive. Think about the things all websites have in common, such as a logo linking back to the home page.
It’s better to go with what people expect than get too creative. For example, most sites have horizontal or vertical navigation near the top of the page. Don’t put your navbar in an odd location or hide it. Make it easy to find so people can easily move through your pages.
8. Set up Payment Options
How are you going to collect payment from your customers? Keep in mind that some people don’t want to share their personal information with a brand they’ve never heard of before.
In addition to processing credit cards, you may want to add third-party options such as PayPal or Stripe. Customers can order from you without giving you their financial details directly. You may even find that credit card processing fees are much lower through these online payment gateways.
Other options include accepting bitcoin payments or allowing users to mail a check. If you accept checks, make sure they clear first. There are many online scams, and the last thing you want is a check that bounces and leaves you without the product or the money.
9. Perfect Your Logistics
Sites such as Amazon have spoiled consumers. Prime users expect delivery in a few days when they place an order. Unfortunately, smaller businesses are at a disadvantage. They’re at the mercy of the post office or UPS. Paying for overnight shipping is costly, so they tend to use ground shipping, which slows down the process.
There are a few things you can do on your end. Pay for the best shipping options you can afford. The faster the service, the better. If you can budget for priority shipping, always upgrade.
Speed up how fast purchases go out. Places like Amazon have full-time staff who pull requests the minute they arrive and ship them out the same day. You must get your orders filled, boxed and out the door quickly if you want to deliver on time.
10. Test Everything
Your site has to be usable, or people will bounce away and order from a competitor. Go through every product description. Add an item to the cart and test the checkout process.
Does everything function the way it should? Did you receive the request on your end? Does the customer get a confirmation both on the website and via email when ordering? Ideally, you’ll update your buyers throughout the process. They should get a note when you ship the item and a tracking number, so they know it’s en route and when it might arrive.
11. Follow up After Arrival
After fulfilling the order, you have more work. Once the person receives the package, reach out again. Make sure they’re happy with the purchase. Find out if they have any questions.
The best way to anticipate consumer needs is by looking at questions and complaints others had about the same product or service. If you have to hold the power button down for five seconds to turn the item on, do you regularly get calls stating it doesn’t work properly? A quick email reminding people they need to hold for five seconds will go a long way toward reducing user frustration.
12. Ask for Feedback
You should also reach out and ask for feedback about the ordering process. Offer a 10% off coupon on their next order if customers respond. You can learn a lot about refining your online store by asking for details on the user experience.
Enjoy Your Online Store
One of the biggest benefits of an online store is the ability to change things in an instant. If customers complain that there are no reviews on a product, ask past buyers to add their thoughts or collect testimonials. If you test your site and find the movement from the landing page to the shopping cart is frustrating, change the trajectory.
Over time, your online store will build a client base. It isn’t easy owning an e-commerce company, but it can be rewarding. It’s one of the few businesses you can start on a shoestring and make huge profits with.
Follow the steps above to get started today. Network with other e-commerce owners online and in real life to learn more about the industry and grow your revenue year after year. The exciting world of online shopping can bring rewards beyond your expectations.