Over the years, thousands of brick-and-mortar businesses have closed shop, due to the increasing popularity of eCommerce sites. It’s a phenomenon that’s affected both major retail brands and hole-in-the-wall stores.
However, the shift to internet shopping isn’t that surprising. After all, it’s convenient for both consumers and business owners. Apart from reducing the exorbitant costs that come with owning and managing a physical store, it also helps customers who don’t have the time or luxury to shop.
So, if you’re thinking about hopping on the eCommerce bandwagon and starting your own online store, then here are a few simple steps to get you started.
1. Do Your Research
Online shopping might have been a novel concept a decade ago, but it’s definitely a saturated market today. However, there’s always an underserved market out there that’s just waiting to be tapped! The secret is finding it and supplying the need.
To do that, you’ll have to do a bit of market research.
The good news is that it won’t cost you an arm and a leg. You can start by monitoring your own Facebook feed or by checking online forums like Quora or Reddit. If you’re feeling more proactive, you could even create a poll or a survey about your idea and share it with friends. If you get good feedback, then you’re off to a good start.
2. Decide on a Product
Once you’ve established that there is a need and a demand for your product, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty of your business idea.
First, determine what kind of product you’re selling: is it a service or something physical?
If it’s physical, then you have to think of operational expenses and other logistical details, such as picking your payment gateway, shipping service and, if you’re creating your own product, choosing your own suppliers. There’s also the matter of securing and updating your inventory.
If It’s a service, you should determine how much and which way you’ll get paid. Will you be charging by the hour? How much is your rate? How long is the turnaround time? How will you get paid? These things might seem small, but they can hamper your progress if you don’t take care of them first.
3. Keep Up to Date with Legal Policies
Another thing aspiring eCommerce entrepreneurs should check (and double-check!) is the legal requirements for opening your online store. Apart from acquiring the proper licensing documents, there are also some new rules that you should look out for.
For example, the EU recently enacted the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which imposes stricter guidelines on safeguarding and keeping customer data. While it’s true that this law has larger implications for internet giants like Facebook or Google, it also affects your online business as you’re still required to collect information from your customers.
If you live in the UK, meanwhile, it’s imperative that you go over the consumer rights law, which provides a detailed description of what customers are entitled to when shopping online.
As a safety precaution, it’s always a good rule of thumb to check consumer laws wherever you’re selling from to avoid any legal conflicts down the road.
4. Register Your Business Name
Another important aspect when starting your own store is choosing a business name. Remember to keep it short and memorable, and to brush up on your SEO principles and try to incorporate them if you can. But don’t force it: no one will ever trust an online store with the name ‘Best and Most Affordable Product in the World Ever. Period’!
More importantly, check if your chosen business name is already taken. You can do that by visiting the US Patent and Trademark Office’s search tool, or by checking with the Intellectual Property Office if you live in the UK. Although some might argue that you don’t necessarily need to register your business name right away, it might be helpful in the long run, especially if you see your brand and online store going big.
Lastly, don’t forget about creating your business logo! An eye-catching and well-designed logo can do wonders for any new brand.
5. Choose Where and How to Sell
These days, there are plenty of ways to create an online store. You can either build a website, choose an eCommerce software or pick an online marketplace.
Of the three, the first option is the hardest, especially if you’re a new e-entrepreneur. Apart from registering your domain name on a web hosting site like GoDaddy or FastComet, you also have to hire a web developer and graphic designer to build your page. Of course, there’s also the choice of building your own website, but if you have limited time and technical skills, that can be very frustrating.
The second option is great for those who have a bigger inventory and would like to tap a larger market, as these sites come with their own eCommerce software. They also have tools that can build and promote your shop in a snap. The most popular eCommerce site builders are Shopify, Wix and BigCommerce. You still have to pay for the services of these sites, but what’s great about them is that they simplify the work so that you don’t end up hiring other people, which you would if you chose to build a website. They also have third-party suppliers who can take care of delivery and billing for you.
Last, but certainly not the least, you can sell your products to smaller marketplaces like Etsy or CafePress. This is ideal for artists who have a limited inventory and aren’t ready to cater to a larger market. They also have a built-in payment system that’s convenient for those who don’t have an accounting system set up yet.
6. Check Your Aesthetics
Your online store doesn’t need to be flashy, but it does have to be customer and user-friendly. This means displaying your products and prices in such a way that they’re easily seen.
Make sure that your images aren’t too big so that they don’t end up slowing down your site’s load time, but they also shouldn’t be too small that they look pixelated or blurry, either.
Remember: you only have a few seconds to attract your customer, so your website should be attention-grabbing but not overwhelming.
7. Consider Other Platforms
Apart from the options mentioned above, you can also now sell your items on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook.
It’s a great way to start, especially if you’re just a small business with a limited budget. And since you’ll be promoting your product on these platforms, anyway, it might be a good idea to kill two birds with one stone by installing your shop within them. In fact, several lifestyle brands like SORELLA and Makeup Geek Cosmetics blew up because of their brilliant marketing tactics on Instagram.
Whichever platform you choose, make sure you have an excellent social media strategy planned so you can attract the right market.
8. Start Small
If you’re nervous about launching your product, try limiting your market by selling to select groups of people. For example, you can send a private link to your website to some friends and tell them that you’re on ‘soft opening’. This will help you assess and work on the areas you should improve on without worrying about tarnishing your brand reputation. For example, you may realise that your supply isn’t enough to meet the demand.
By doing this, you also get a better idea if you’ll need to employ someone to help you out with the business, whether it’s hiring a social media manager to update your posts or an assistant to take care of the inventory.
And remember: no matter how big or small your client list, never underestimate the power of great customer service. After all, at the end of the day, it’s what keeps clients coming back for more.
Just like any business, opening an online store has its own unique set of challenges, but with enough patience and a little bit of research, you’re sure to be a successful e-entrepreneur in no time.
Have you managed to start your own online store? Do you have any other tips and advice you’d like to share with aspiring business owners? Join the conversation down below and let us know!