Shoppers are rapidly turning towards the speed and convenience of Internet shopping, so no business that wants to survive and thrive in today’s marketplace can afford to ignore Ecommerce any longer. If you’ve been thinking about getting started in online retail, but you’re unsure exactly how to go about it, you’re in luck. As the importance of Ecommerce has grown, so have the number and quality of the digital tools you’ll need. Whether you want to treat the Internet as your primary marketplace, or you prefer to simply expand your brick and mortar presence, it’s never been easier to begin than it is right now.
First, Define Your Niche
No matter how dedicated and capable you are, you’re never going to be able to compete with well-established retail sites that sell everything. In order to survive and thrive online, you’re going to have to define your niche, and then concentrate on it. It can be something you’re passionate about, or something you simply understand well enough to sell effectively, but it’s useful to remember that when you’re getting started in online retail, less is more.
Know Your Limitations
If you already have a business that ships goods to your customers, you’ll have an easier time getting started in online retail than those with no experience in inventory control, material handling, packaging, and shipping. If you have no experience, and aren’t prepared to handle or store your inventory, don’t despair. There are many ways to make money selling on the Internet that don’t require you to handle the goods you’re selling:
- Affiliate marketing
- Drop ship arrangements
- Warehousing and pack and ship
The simplest route to getting started in online retail is affiliate marketing. Many manufacturers and retailers will pay you a commission for customers you send their way through your website. Web giant Amazon is the largest example, but there are many more that will handle every aspect of the sales and customer service process. You’ll collect an affiliate fee for every sale, but you won’t have any product liability or need to handle any money or warehouse or ship packages. If you’ve never done business on the Internet, affiliate marketing is a great place to start.
Drop Ship Arrangements
Many manufacturers will let you sell their goods directly to customers, notify them of the sale, and then send the goods directly to the purchaser. This arrangement entails more risk and work than affiliate marketing, because you’re collecting payments online and dealing directly with the customer. If there’s a problem with the order, or if the customer needs warranty or other service, you’ll be expected to handle it. Drop ship arrangements generally pay much more than affiliate arrangements, but there’s more work involved for you, and you’ll need robust safeguards on your website if it handles digital transactions and stores the information.
If you buy and sell goods, or make them yourself, you’ll need to set aside enough space to store them, and then prepare them for shipping. If that isn’t practical, you can make use of pack and ship services that are available nationwide. Big shippers like UPS and FedEx, will let you drop off almost anything and have it professionally wrapped and shipped in one transaction.
Internet giant Amazon also lets E-tailers store goods for sale in Amazon’s warehouse, and sell them on an Amazon storefront using Amazon payment buttons, and then Amazon ships the goods directly to the customer. It takes a larger bite of the bottom line, but it allows you to sell almost anything without storing it or handling it after checkout.
Choose Ready Made Ecommmerce Software
When you’re getting started in online retail, it’s usually better to begin with all-in-one solutions so you can concentrate on promoting your website. Software as a Service products from companies like Shopify, Bigcommerce, Volusion, 3dcart, and many others are designed to let people with little or no computer programming experience get a store up and running in a few hours by using customizable templates.
These SaaS websites offer sliding scales of services depending on what you need and how much you’re willing to pay. Most are fully integrated with payment services, so you can have a professional shopping cart, seamless checkout and secure credit card payments, real-time inventory management, and excellent customer service utilities along with robust web traffic analytics.
After You’re Established
Many people find these simple solutions to online retailing so lucrative and easy to manage that they never need to switch to more complex online strategies. After you’re well established, you can bring more aspects of your web presence in-house to get more control over your transactions — and keep more of the money. In order to host your own Ecommerce website, you’ll need to:
- Obtain a domain name
- Pay for web hosting
- Produce or purchase a website design
- Get secure payment processing in place
- Optimize your site for search engines
- Populate your website with great product pictures
- Create great text for your site
You’ll probably want dedicated, professional assistance in at least some of these areas if you want your standalone Ecommerce website to thrive; but if you’ve gotten that far, congratulations, you’re already a success at onli