How to set up an online store

What if you could sell products while you sleep or reach customers beyond your physical location? E-commerce is an exciting way to do business – plus it adds a new business model. You get to sell your products online, and you’re building something from scratch. Setting up an online store is easier than you may realise. However, there are a few considerations before you jump in, and it’s important to plan ahead.

Benefits of selling online

Online stores are open 24/7, 365 days per year, making them especially attractive for small businesses. Some of the benefits of selling online include:

  • Customer convenience – customers appreciate the ability to shop online both on their computers and, increasingly, smartphones and tablets.
  • Increased reach – if you’re looking to expand your customer base, an online store allows you to serve customers outside your area
  • Repeat business and referral opportunities – letting your customers know you have an online store could result in repeat business, especially if you run Web specials, send emails, or interact via social media.
  • Cost saving – no overheads like rent on a physical shopfront

How to set up an online store

You’re likely familiar with e-commerce sites like the well established brands where you buy clothing, electronics, music and books. They have an extensive catalogue of products and an easy means of purchasing them. Each product has a photo, description, customer reviews, price, and both “add to cart” and “buy now with 1-click” buttons.

Though some of these sites are huge and sell a massive range of products, there are opportunities for almost any type of business to develop a niche online. Setting up an e-commerce site doesn’t need to be a huge undertaking as there is a lot of software and cloud-based solutions available to make it an easy process. You can add a shopping cart tool to your existing website or subscribe to a complete e-commerce site solution.

DIY shopping add-on options for your website

You can set up purchasing options on your website (without having to do a total rebuild) where customers can browse and buy using a credit card or other payment methods (such as PayPal or online banking) at an online check-out.

Several systems are available that include tools for integrating buying buttons on existing pages or embedding more sophisticated shopping cart features (such as Shopify). These are quick and easy to set up if you have a little knowledge of your site back end and they have minimal impact on your site design.  For example, it’s often as simple as copying and pasting a few lines of code.

If your site is in need of an update though, then consider using a professional to customise your online catalogue and design your site around the buying process. A professional can help to ensure that your online store is properly optimized – both for search engines and for converting visitors to buyers. After all, your brand, reputation and business success are at stake.

Pre-built online stores

If you don’t have a site, or you want to start from scratch, then you could consider a pre-built store. These are normally a cloud solution where you subscribe to a service that provides you with a complete site ready to customise with a multitude of themes (site designs). You can rapidly and cost-effectively get up and running with a branded, fully functional site using your own web address. Costs may include a monthly hosting fee or may be based on a percentage of transactions. This option has the advantage that your site will probably have a large number of features (many that you may not even have realised you needed yet), has extensive reporting, and is designed around a proven structure by experts in e-commerce.

Use a third party online site

One of the biggest challenges online is getting visitors to your site. Creating your own site has the big disadvantage that no matter how good it is, you still need to get visitors to it to make sales. This is where using a third party site has a big advantage – established customers.

Some examples of third party sites are eBay, Amazon (Amazon sells its own products and also sells on behalf of other retailers), Etsy and Red Balloon to name a few. These sites take the hassle out of setting up a customised online catalogue – and they have large customer bases. Some are specialised so for example, if you sell handmade goods, setting up an Etsy store may make sense or if you offer tourism experiences then Red Balloon may be suitable.

These sites typically allow you to list products on their platform and charge listing fees or a percentage of the sale value. In exchange, they provide your products or services with exposure and provide you with multiple payment options such as the ability to accept credit cards, PayPal, direct transfers, and so on. Depending on which third party online site you use, you may be able to also showcase your listings on your website or social media accounts.

Even though setting up an online store, either on your website or off, is easy enough from a technical perspective, make sure you choose an e-commerce solution that is user friendly – both for you and your customers. You also need to ensure that you have appropriate payment solutions in place that provide the best options and user experience. Talk to an ANZ Small Business Specialist about what payment solutions are recommended.

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