Starting an online store: what is needed?
Any retail business worth its salt is continually looking for ways to reach new audiences and increase their sales, and while brick-and-mortar stores are still desirable, they have a limited reach. This is where the internet comes into its own, because with an online store, a business has the potential to reach millions of new customers. What do you need to do to start an online store?
The advantages of an online store
There are many advantages to online stores. An online store can be a great way of testing the waters with a sideline business while holding down a full-time job. If successful, the online store can eventually replace full-time employment. An online store also involves far fewer overheads than a brick-and-mortar store; you do not have to pay for rent, display stands, service tills and, of course, energy bills. However, perhaps one of the most significant advantages of an online store is the fact that it is open 24/7. With a main street store, there are opening hours and there are hours when the store is closed, reducing the amount of time a customer can shop. An online store is never closed, which means that customers can browse and spend money without you, the owner, having to do a thing until you get up in the morning.
The business plan and structure
To avoid entering into an online business in an amateurish way, it is essential to develop a business plan. This brings your focus onto the framework, the structure of your business, and its roadmap, signposting the way that you expect it to develop and grow. If you require start-up capital, a business plan will be a prerequisite when looking for funding, whether you approach an independent investor or a bank. You will also need to establish the type of business that your online store will be. You will need to research the tax benefits and requirements of each type to determine which will be best for you. Once you know how you want to operate, you need to register your business with the relevant authorities.
Tied in with this will be choosing an appropriate name for your business that will become the domain name of your online store. Think carefully about this. While it may not be your preferred choice, you should try to come up with a name that says exactly what you do. For example, if you sell handmade jewelry, then these two words should be part of your business name. This will significantly help your online store when it comes to page ranking and SEO (search engine optimization), as your site should come up when someone uses your words as a search term.
Building your online store
Naturally, the first step towards setting up online is to build a website. An ecommerce website requires rather more functionality than other types of standard websites, such as blogs or information sites, so you need to think carefully about your website’s structure and the overall style. Plan your website on paper first by working out the different kinds of pages that you need, such as your homepage, products, “About Us”, and contact details. Bear in mind, however, that any kind of website is a work in progress and will require constant updating and refinements as the months and years pass. Appreciate that your online store will not be perfect right from the get-go. You will also need to factor into your design methods for accepting payment, whether that be by credit card, PayPal, or other method, and how you will display the goods that you have to offer.
It can be a worthwhile exercise to browse other retail websites and analyze what you like about their look and what you do not like. This kind of research will inform your own website choices. Your website should be designed so that it appeals to as many people as possible. Cluttered websites can make a business seem cheap, so be sure to utilize white space and keep colors to a minimum. You should endeavor to make your online store easy to navigate, with a clear and highly visible navigation bar, ideally at the top of the page, like that on As Seen on TV. Part of your ongoing website maintenance should be regularly checking for broken links, as few things are more annoying for a website user than a link that takes them nowhere.
Your business plan should have outlined the types of products that you intend to sell on your online store, but you will need to go into greater detail during the creation stage. You will need to list and expertly photograph each and every one of your products, as well as provide exhaustive product descriptions. It can be a good idea to outsource at least some of these tasks to professionals rather than attempting to do it all yourself. For example, hire a professional photographer to take studio shots of your goods and a copywriter to write engaging product descriptions.
In order to sell your products on your online store, you will need to acquire barcodes for every item. If your product comes in a variety of sizes, patterns, or colors, you will need to get a unique barcode for each one. Do not panic. Though this sounds complicated, the process can actually be easily performed online, with some providers offering discounts when buying large batches of barcodes.
Up until now, your website has been unpublished. Once you have uploaded all your products and their associated material, once you have set up a working checkout system and you have road-tested all the navigation and links in your site, you can go live. Make the most of your launch by marketing it loudly. Send out press releases, take out printed adverts, and most of all, make use of social media to spread the word.
Starting up an online business is a clever move, as it involves far fewer risks than opening up a physical store; however, to make it a success, you need to be prepared to plan well and perform regular ongoing maintenance, and provide excellent customer service.
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