In the Digital Age, your brand’s online presence can make or break your business, and this is only becoming more true amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. As more and more consumers continue to shop online, the potential revenues from a successful online store only increase. What’s more, with accessible website builders and software tutorials, it’s now easier than ever to increase your reach and drive sales online.
Follow this step-by-step guide for an easy path to launching your own online store. If your business already has a site, read on to get details on adding ecommerce (and secure payment portals) to your website at little additional cost.
Step 1: Understand Your Business Needs
The first step in launching a successful online store is understanding your business. No matter your industry, your online operation needs to be carefully thought out in order to best serve the needs of your business, as well as consumers. If you operate a store that typically sees return customers, you should consider implementing an ecommerce arrangement that allows customers to create accounts or a subscription-based email list to inform customers of new offers and discounts. Conversely, if you typically sell to one-time customers, ecommerce, customer profiles and repeated outreach may be a lesser priority.
More than anything else, it’s important to understand the needs of your business before you set up an online shop. Opening online operations may require you to spend additional warehousing and shipment costs, or it may mean refocusing your attention on online salesmanship. Before you undertake creating an online storefront, you need to consider how your business can approach these concerns, and if it is even worth it to move your operation online. After all, a convenience store has far less to gain from online sales than a clothing label. With a proper plan, your online store can be a great boon for your business, and can extend the reach of your products to audiences and communities far beyond your physical location.
Step 2: Choose a Delivery Method (Dropshipping or Holding Products)
Next, you should consider how you want to deliver your merchandise to customers. Most commonly, online retailers either use third-party dropshipping or handle their own products. Either method can be a great option for your business, though the benefits and drawbacks of your choice vary based on your business’s profile and your personal preferences.
As mentioned above, a primary choice of method for online retailers is dropshipping. Dropshipping is a shipping and sales method that allows your business to sell merchandise without physically possessing the products you sell. Rather than ship from your store’s own stock, merchandise sold on your site will be purchased and then shipped directly from your vendor or manufacturer’s warehouse.
While this option is logistically appealing for owners without large physical stores and shipping capacity, and typically involves lower margins per transaction, the involvement of a third party means that you have less control over your own product shipments and less power in customer service and returns dilemmas. Before deciding on dropshipping, weigh the benefits of automating/removing certain parts of your shipping process versus those of having control over customer service concerns.
Holding Your Own Products
For owners that don’t need assistance with shipping and warehousing, holding your own products is a great way to keep control of your online operations from the earliest stages. Free from third-party sellers and distributors, your business will keep a full stock of merchandise with an accurate online catalog, and then oversee the shipping process yourself, whether through UPS, FedEx, or the standard post. To succeed online while holding your own products, however, you must be able to store your goods independently and ship orders promptly.
Step 3: Find a Website Builder
Unless you or your co-owners have significant web development and graphic design experience, before you can launch your online store, you’ll probably need some assistance in building your site. Luckily, there are dozens of amazing website building programs that can do most of the work for you. Squarespace, Wix, WordPress, and Shopify all offer multiple templates and formats for your online store, as well as DIY drag-and-drop website-builder for teams that lack web development practice. These services are a worthwhile investment if you hope to enter online sales without entering the field of web design or coding.
Step 4: Purchase a Domain Name
Like every website, your online store will need a unique and identifiable domain name. A domain name is the web address that customers will enter when searching for your store. The best domain names are simple enough to obviously indicate your business name, yet snappy enough to serve your brand. You can check the availability and purchase domain names from a variety of providers, including Google Domains. Note that if you already have a business website, you won’t need to purchase a new domain name to launch your store.
Step 5: Add Products to Your Website
Once your domain is purchased, you can begin to add products to the site for sale. Typically, inexperienced online retailers should start by adding a small selection of their products to begin their online sales. Adding too many products to a site at once can result in an overload of orders, which may cause you to fail to fulfill orders, and can also make it more difficult on your end to update the status of individual products on your website. Too many products could mean failed orders as well as inaccurate listings, two surefire ways to lose customer loyalty.
When listing a product for sale, consider whether your business will be able to easily fulfill shipping orders of that good, or if there are other products that you should list first in order to establish a cash flow and order of operations for your website. To that point, selling gift cards on your website can be a great way to increase sales while avoiding the labor of shipping and packaging larger goods.
Step 6: Set Up Payment Methods
Before offering products for sale, you must first set up and determine which payment methods your website will accept. Paypal is a payment platform that allows customers to set up accounts across multiple retailers and issue payments for their orders, and is commonly used with online retailers due to the ease of adding Paypal to your site. However, relying on only Paypal runs the risk of alienating customers who do not already have Paypal accounts and who are not willing to spend the time to set one up.
In online sales, the field of competitors is vast, so it’s essential that you allow for the smoothest customer experience possible. This will likely mean offering multiple payment options for customers to choose from. Paypal may work for some, direct payment cards for others, Venmo or Apple pay for the rest; if you offer your customers all the payment options easiest for them, they are much more likely to keep buying your products.
In general, making your online checkout experience as frictionless as possible will help improve your online sales.
Step 7: Review and Test Your Website
The most important piece of your online store is the user experience. It’s vital that you ensure your website is functioning at its highest level before opening it for consumer access. Before you launch, run diligent tests of all your site’s features. Have a coworker order a product and attempt to ship it to their home to ensure that delivery times and payment processing are running smoothly. Open all listings and sub-menus to test the accessibility and visual appeal of your site, and make sure that the user flow is intuitive.
If your first-time website visitors do not understand your offering, have a slow or tedious order process, or if their orders never arrive, they will be very unlikely to return. Run extensive testing and garner as many reviews of your website as possible to eliminate the risk of security issues, procedural errors, and poor user experience before opening yourself up to customers and their reviews.
Step 8: Market Your New Website
In order to see a return on your investment in your online business, you need a defined marketing strategy to place your domain in front of potential customers across the globe. Basic social media marketing, physical signage about your new site and in-store advertising can help inform existing customers of your move online. Reaching potential customers across the world, however, will take more time and effort.
A simple way to increase your website’s visibility may be to purchase Facebook or Instagram ads, which vary in cost with the desired reach of your content. These options can be used to target customers from certain locations, friends of your current customers or users with similar interests to your product. Similarly, creating a Google My Business account that lists your website will place your in-person and online store at the top of Google results for your company.
It may be necessary to go beyond standard digital advertising and marketing to achieve meaningful publicity for your online site. Before you launch your site, you and your team should spend some time focused on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) so that potential customers around the world can find your website when searching for a product. SEO refers to the process of increasing your website’s visibility in Google or other search engines by optimizing your website’s use of keywords and phrases that are favored by an engine’s algorithm when a user types in a certain search query. Based on your industry and the level of competition within a search, the amount of optimization to achieve a significant market share varies, so you’ll need to dedicate time and energy researching the opportunity. That said, an understanding of SEO and the ability to optimize your site is invaluable for any business.
Step 9: Focus on Customer Service and the Customer Experience
Once the particulars of your online operation are set, and you’re ready to launch publically, your entire focus should be on providing your customers with the best possible service. Online retail is a rapidly growing industry, with hundreds of other businesses ready to challenge your website for traffic at any moment.
To ensure customer loyalty and the prolonged success for your brand, you ought to dedicate maximum effort not only to ensuring prompt shipping and easy website access, but also providing a wonderful experience. Rapidly responding to and addressing customer concerns is a great way to improve your website while showing your customers that you care.
Remember that customers shop online for the ease of it; if you can’t provide them with their ideal customer service experience, they’ll take their business elsewhere. Ideally, your online site will provide customers an easier path to your product, will attract new audiences beyond your local clientele, and will offer your business an increase in sales without an increase in physical capital.