How to start your online e-Commerce retail business
The accessibility of the e-Commerce industry, through low initial start-up costs and a strong market, has seen many budding entrepreneurs create thriving online retail stores – some of whom are doing so in the back of their garage!
Not to be limited to just new enterprises however, existing brick and mortar chains have eschewed their stationary sales channel and expanded their horizons into the online space as well. In capitalising on the trends of consumer preferences, these businesses have carried the rise of online e-Commerce, whose success has made it almost irreplaceable in the retail industry.
On this blog, we’ll run your through a brief history of e-Commerce, the steps needed to begin an online store, and some helpful hints on how to stay away from some of the trappings that come with starting an online business.
Whether you’re a first-time retailer, or an existing in-store merchant looking to scale your business exponentially, the future of retailing is with e-Commerce and the time to start has never been more apparent.
The origins of e-Commerce can be traced all the way back to the 1960s, but historians will forever point to the mid-90s with the launches of Amazon and eBay as inflection points of online retailing. Where Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was literally selling books from his garage before expanding into other categories, Pierre Omidyar created the marketplace where anyone could sell online with eBay.
Those two organisations – now titans of the industry – have sparked the retail revolution that has empowered small businesses and first-time retailers to utilise the internet as a means of selling to potentially millions of customers.
Whilst no one can give a guarantee that a store will become an overnight sensation, there are steps you can take to ensure that you’re well on your way.
1: Your products
Establishing how easy it is to sell online is one thing, but it’s not the most important ingredient when thinking about starting an online store. That distinction of course, comes down to your products – the items that you are going to be selling.
Whilst this doesn’t mean that you need to have thousands of items to sell on day 1, it does require prudent planning to focus your considerations on what they are going to be. Certainly, part of this will be envisioned through your business idea – will you be wholesaling your products, or will you be manufacturing them yourself?
In drawing the attention of consumers, growth trends and figures indicate significant success in niche retailers. In their 2015 Online Sales Retail Index report, Australian bank NAB showed that 37% of all total online retail sales were recorded by small to medium-sized businesses. This highlights the technical savvy of new emergent retailers in the marketplace, that are more in touch with the average consumer than the larger department chains, which bodes well for any aspirant business owner.
By focusing your products on something unique, you can enjoy the flexibility of higher profit margins and shoppers that are less inclined to deal with stores that are price-sensitive. Particularly, if your product is something that cannot be sourced locally – and where the use of good marketing and SEO practices can ensure those products in your store get hits at the top of Google’s search algorithms.
After all, the first listing on eBay by Pierre Omidyar was a broken laser pointer – purchased by a buyer who specialised in broken laser pointers!
2: Choosing an e-Commerce platform
If you think that it takes significant costs to set up a website and have all your products listed in a design that is user friendly and easy on the eyes, think again.
E-Commerce platforms like BigCommerce, Shopify and WooCommerce have made the online store set-up process a painless one. Choose from a number of themes that will give you a slick looking website that is in keeping with the modern, digital aesthetic. You don’t need a PhD in coding either, as scaling your online store to add more products can be done in just a few simple clicks.
Best of all, these e-Commerce plans only require a monthly fee, giving you added flexibility in controlling your finances long-term.
From there you’ll need to register your business and a domain and open some email accounts so that your customers can reach you when required.
3: Third-party integrations
In addition to your e-Commerce outlet, you’ll want to consider taking advantage of one (or several) third-party integrations to enhance your business operations.
This might mean partnering with an online payment processor, like PayPal, which will attract the PayPal user and speed up your online sales.
If you don’t want to spend hours manually performing bookkeeping duties, then you may also want to consider syncing your online store with an accounting platform like QuickBooks Online or Xero.
Such an integration will automatically create Sales Receipts or Invoices on all your sales orders, and deliver them straight into your chosen accounting platform.
Not having to worry about manually accounting all your products, orders etc, and having them directly synced from your online store to your accounting platform, eliminating any human errors in the process, is the kind of relief that first-time retailers dream off.
Shoulder the load and utilise third-party integrations, to help you solidify your online business and further enhance your profit margins.
4: Marketing your store
Once you have the details complete and ready for your online store, you’ll need to then begin to market it to your potential audiences.
As mentioned earlier, having a niche product range and customizing your SEO to reflect that can lead to direct hits straight from Google, from customers specifically looking for your product wares. In addition, the lifeblood of modern society now is in social media, and marketing your business on there is a must.
Setup pages on Facebook and Twitter, that will initially be used to interact with friends and family, but will soon expand once word gets out, and ultimately serve as your primary customer base. Use it to talk to other brand pages, and act as a customer support service for anyone that needs a question answered to see those ‘likes’ and page views grow.
Moreover, you can use another third-party app – MailChimp – to connect with even more audiences through email marketing. Keep your customers informed of your latest products and newest discounts. You can even offer referral discounts to your customers to get them to spread the word about your store.
5: Omnichannel Retailing
Having an online store has its obvious merits, as has been described in detailed, but having a physical store may just be the perfect supplement to go along with it.
Whilst most consider a physical store in terms of your regular brick and mortar outlet, an easier and more cost-effective solution would be to sell your products at a market or pop-up store, perhaps with an iPad POS.
Indeed, having a place where shoppers can see, touch and even try items, can be a terrific opportunity to generate immediate, local buzz about your store – as well of course providing that extra revenue stream. Not all customers enjoy shopping online, and by offering both sales channels you let them decide how they’d like to shop without imposing it on them.
Of course, when your store reaches a certain point, you can consider having something more permanent, but attract some local support as well as catching the eye of an unsuspecting bystander, you give your store true omnichannel capabilities.
So now that we’ve established how to start an online retail store it’s prudent to remind ourselves exactly why we should have one in the first place.
These reasons are varied but they include:
Larger customer pool: A physical store inherently only attracts customers within a certain radius to the outlet. That’s not an issue with an online store, where the only restrictions are the ones you place on shipping. You’ll be marketing your business to potentially millions.
Around the clock shopping: 9-5 is an antiquated way of doing business, and online shopping removes the pain of having customers work around a schedule. Instead, customers shop at their own leisure, at any time of the day.
Control your demand: There’s nothing worse for a customer than traveling an hour to shop for an item at a store, only to see that the item is out of stock. An online store suffers no such drama as it is a timed business, with retailers promptly being alerted when stock is running low.
Retail is the business of attracting more customers to sell products, that ultimately improves your bottom line. In the current climate, online shopping is statistically shown to be the dominant rising force in shopping sales and attracting new customers – the perfect place to begin your online retail journey.