Open Your Online Store: The Basics

by Chris Maloney
Published 4-7-2016

If you're selling merchandise and you haven't put your products online, you are missing out on a great opportunity to generate more revenue for your company. Set your business up online and get the benefits of online sales that other companies are already taking advantage of. Launching your store online can be challenging and intimidating to say the least. It requires an investment of time, money, and personnel. Luckily it's nowhere near as challenging or expensive as it used to be for the majority of small retail stores. Make no mistake, an 'Amazon level' shopping experience is still going to be a huge affair, but most retail stores can be taken online without too much of a hassle. 

Getting Started

I'm a huge fan of lists, so here's a quick checklist of basic items to get started: 

  1. The first thing you'll want to do is figure out what products you're going to be selling! Sounds obvious I know, but you'd be surprised how many clients approach me without knowing which products they want to sell. So figure out what products and variants you're going to want to have first. This can obviously be adjusted over time, but get a pretty solid list first. 
  2. Take some great photos of your products. You can either hire a photographer (even a student/intern could work), or you can try to do it yourself. If you do it yourself, you can use a white tablecloth as a backdrop to get some great photos. Just make sure there aren't any shadows or wrinkles. 
  3. Write detailed descriptions of your products. This is usually a big sticking point because many people don't like to write. Customers want to know what they're buying, so you'll either need to sharpen some pencils and bite the bullet or hire a copywriter to do it for you. 
  4. Determine how much you're going to charge - another tough hurdle. The easiest way to do this is to compare pricing of items that are similar and already exist for sale elsewhere. If your item is completely unique, than at least doubling your production cost could be a good start. If you're making the products, then you'll want to come up with a decent hourly wage for your time and apply that to your product cost. 

Getting Those Items Online

When paying for something online, many people automatically think 'Paypal!'. Paypal was one of first online payment systems, and it can still be useful for very simple payment collection. When people see paypal buttons next to products or services these days, it usually just looks super dated. There are many other ways to get paid online more elegantly now. 

One of the easiest ways to get your products online is to just add them to a popular service that millions of customers are already visiting: Amazon, Etsy, Ebay, etc. This will ensure that customers will potentially see your products and it will also limit your efforts, headaches, and upfront costs significantly. The big downside to those services is the fees that you pay when customers buy your products on these services. You also aren't building any kind of brand for yourself or your business. In addition, you may have issues with trying to get your products to appear high on search results since those services or so saturated with products. 

When store owners want to have their own website address and business brand but still keep costs low, they turn to e-commerce platforms such as Shopify, BigCommerce, or Volusion to name a few. These services try to make it as easy as possible to get your store theme picked out, add products, set up shipping methods, and collect payments. I can highly recommend Shopify, and it's our top choice for building e-commerce sites. 

If a business is already established or well funded, they might want to turn to custom e-commerce. This becomes software development, and the customer experience, options, and features are nearly limitless. But lets be honest, if you're reading this article then custom e-commerce is probably not where you're at!

Allow Product Reviews and Comments

We're in the age where the power is in the consumers' hands. We have the ability to rate and review almost anything on the planet, and customers expect that. Sure you might get some bad review and comments now and then. However, if you give your customers the ability to rate, review, and leave comments about your product and service, it can lead to trust and confidence in your online business. On occasion your response to negative reviews or comments can actually win new customers. Allow your customers to 'like' products on Facebook, pin images on Pinterest, or Instagram photos of happy customers sharing your product that they purchased. These are all strategies that can grow your business and tap into the online customer base.

Getting Shoppers to Your Website

Create accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, etc to show off your online store. Link your store to your main website if you have one and in email campaigns. Update your social media accounts at least once a day to increase traffic to your store by offering deals, special promotions, or to share content that's related to your products. If you can afford an SEO plan, get that fired up. This can give your store a higher ranking on big search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. 

Unsatisfied Customers

You will always have customers who are unhappy with your service or product. Every business must deal with returns. Check to make sure your ecommerce provider has tools that help you quickly replace products or grant refunds. You also want to be able to order inventory and send emails to customers acknowledging the current status of the refund or replacement product. This will keep them informed and satisfied that you are going to make the situation right and value them as a customer.

Analytics!

Track your store's traffic and success with some kind of analytics. This will help you see how your business is performing over time based on your traffic. It will also give you data about site visitors, location of customers, and how they found your business. Further, it can tell you which websites are sending the most business your way, which products are being reviewed, and which products are your best and worst selling products or services.