Consumers who once drove to stores to shop now buy from the comfort of their offices and living rooms. Ecommerce, or electronic commerce, is the buying and selling of products and services over the Internet. As use of the Internet expands, the opportunity for your online store grows.
With a click of the mouse, a product can be selected, evaluated in terms of product reviews by customers and ultimately purchased. Buying the same item at a brick-and-mortar store would require more time and effort from the consumer than simply clicking a button. A staggering 74 percent of customers search for available products through the Internet, and the number of customers who shop online continues to expand.
Businesses may decide to diversify into the ecommerce market to increase sales and expand their customer base. As with all business actions, setup of an ecommerce store should be a coordinated effort for all parts of the business.
eCommerce: First Steps
Before setting up an ecommerce site, determine the goals, look and functionality of your site. Ask your team the following questions:
- Will customers access the online sales site through the business website?
- Or will customers purchase products through a dedicated website, like ebay?
- Will all items sold in the physical stores be available online?
- If all products will not be available immediately, is there a timeline for when all products will be listed?
- How will products be listed on the ecommerce site? A photograph of the product with a link to the purchasing site? A photograph and a description of the item?
- Will customer reviews be listed? Should customers be able to upload their own reviews?
- How will specials and discounts work on the ecommerce site?
- Customer service issues? What happens when a customer cannot find the item they need? Will customer service operators be available 24/7 or during business hours only?
Setting up an eCommerce Site
Once a business starts the setup process for an ecommerce site, the first task is deciding where to locate the site. Will the site be part of the business website? Does the business want customers to buy through the business’ Facebook page? Will the ecommerce site have a separate web presence and domain name accessible through the business site? Or use a site like eBay?
Functionality is the key element for any website. If your customer cannot figure out how to buy the product, the customer will leave the site immediately. Look at the business website from the customer’s perspective. You want the customer to come back, so make it easy for a customer to navigate from one page to the next. Customers who stay on a website for a long time typically purchase more products and/or services.
The business website is the online face of the business. Is your site overloaded with content? Is product information easy to find? Does the reader have to wade through pages and pages of text to get to the ordering screen? Is the ordering “button” hard to find? A “No” answer to any of these questions will lead to lost customer interest and lost sales.
Getting the Product to the Customer
An integral part of the process to create an ecommerce site should be customer service and shipping. Does your business have the trained personnel to process online sales? Where will products be shipped from...the factory...through a wholesaler? Should you introduce all available products or roll out a few at a time?
Be wary of the pitfalls of starting an ecommerce site too quickly. Staff need to be trained to handle online sales through the ecommerce site. Let highly trained staff at outsource centers run your sales. Outsourcing sales and customer service could be a cost-effective and timely business strategy.
Keep It Secure
A customer who stays on a site for more than a few seconds should be encouraged to stay longer. Avoid alienating a customer by asking for too much personal information too soon. Ideally, a customer should not be asked for name, address, and email information until at the end of the ordering process.
Not only are customers reluctant to reveal pertinent, personal information too early in the process, but they want to know that the information they provide, particularly credit card numbers and security codes, is secure. Customer information can be secured by using an encrypted, secure site. All data transmitted by the customer through a secure site is decrypted when it reaches the business’ ecommerce site.
Is your business new or an existing stand-alone business branching out into online sales?
As you start a new business based solely on online sales, allocate resources to advertising and promotion of the new business to increase sales. Consider buying ad space on websites in your business field. Create Facebook and Twitter pages.
For a business expanding to include online sales through an ecommerce site, budget for advertising costs to get the word out about this new venture. Post signage for the online business website in all store locations. Those who buy from your stores should be considered as potential online customers. You may want to feature a few products at a time on the business website.