Starting an Online Store

Let’s say that you want to become an entrepreneur, and don’t want to deal with finding a nice storefront space, but would rather deal with online business transactions.  Besides, there are numerous advantages to the approach of selling things online – in addition to not needing a physical storefront (which saves on rent and interiors, since you can start an online business from the comfort of your home), it’s also rather simple these days, with numerous platforms to help you develop, run, and advertise your online store.

"You know, we could really use a website. . . "
“You know, we could really use a website. . . “

Figuring things out

What sort of product do you want to sell?  If you have no idea, you should think things through a bit more thoroughly before starting your online business – there’s little point in selling a hypothetical product which you’ve yet to decide on.  Once you’ve got that sorted out, you should come up with a name for your online store, and start considering what you want the website to look like – in terms of your description, your aesthetic,  And then there’s the question of payments – one simple solution is PayPal, since that allows secure online transactions and has a widespread reputation.  Otherwise, you can set up merchant accounts with credit card companies, or you could use another online payment portal.  But the catch is that services like PayPal and the like will take a certain percentage of the sale price as a transaction fee, and Authorize.net will charge a set-up fee in addition to a monthly one (the advantage here is that each transaction fee is only 10 cents, which is significantly less than Paypal’s or those taken by credit card companies). Stripe is another online payment platform, and there are always the online payment portals run by banks.

You should ensure that you have unique products to offer, because if you’re selling something that everyone else is, then you’ll have a lot of competition, narrow profit margins, and generally will face difficulty in getting your business to prosper.  And it’s good to look and see what the competition is doing – if their pages are outdated and badly designed, you have a better chance, but keep in mind that other competitors can come into play, and thus you should consider that possibility.

When it’s a bad idea

It’s not always the best idea to try and start your own business – there are various circumstances in which it’s a genuinely bad idea.  If you’re trying to make money quickly, want guaranteed success, if you’re not web savvy (yes, there are tools that make setting up your online business easy even without web development or programming skills, but if you’re struggling with online banking those will be of little help), and if you’re not willing or able to invest time and money, then starting an online business is really not for you.  This does not mean you should be cynical or get discouraged about the prospects of starting a virtual store, but it’s important to remember that as easy as this can seem, there are investments and difficulties which go along with it.  So be aware of what you’re getting into, or do something else.

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How to start

So perhaps you know for sure now that you want to go ahead and start your online business, but you know absolutely nothing about creating a website or dealing with online payments.  Don’t fret, there are various platforms that you can use to start an online business such as Jimdo and Shopify – but do note that these generally charge a fee, usually minimal (Jimdo does have a limited free option as well).  If you really want to be elaborate, then you could hire a web developer, or if you have the necessary skills then the obvious choice would be to do it yourself.  You can also look into these options from Gentle Ninja, if you want to buy the tools you need to create an online sales platform for yourself, without needing programming experience or using one of the existing platforms.  And if you want to create your own platform for online stores, there’s always this option.

Once you have that part sorted, you now need to consider things like how you’ll handle the logistics like customer service, shipping, and product images and descriptions.  One important consideration is that you might want a dedicated toll-free number for customer service, or if you can run it 24/7, then a live chat facility on your online store could be the way to go.

Shipping is an important part of your online business if you’re selling a physical product, because you will inevitably have to send your products to customers, and unless you’re going to hand-deliver every single one of them (obviously unfeasible), then you have to team up with a carrier.  If you’re using an e-commerce platform, this becomes much simpler to deal with, since those platforms will help you with calculating shipping costs and integrate them into your checkout section – typically without charging any additional fee.  It also may be a good idea to consider free shipping for orders over a particular amount, especially if your competitors offer this sort of option.

As far as product descriptions go, you have to be descriptive and accurate – remember that customers cannot touch, smell, or look at your product in person.  Thus, you have to document its characteristics as well as you possibly can, while keeping your description relatively concise.  The more interesting details you provide, the better your description becomes, and you can always play on customer emotion with your descriptions as well.  As far as photos go, they should be crisp and clear, providing an accurate rendition of what your product is like.

You should also consider what you’ll put in the static sections of your website – those pages like “About Us”, “Contact Us”, Disclaimers, FAQ, Return Policy, and Shipping Info, et cetera.  You shouldn’t put this off until the very end, either. In fact, do it at the earliest – because it’s important to design these features into your site.

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Once you’re up and running

After your online store is up and running (or perhaps before, but these should come after you’ve dealt with the logistics), you need to work on getting customer traction.  There are several things you can do in regard to this – expand your product pages with customer content (this works particularly well if you have an online clothing store, where you can have customers upload photos of themselves wearing your wares, perhaps with hashtags), run a newsletter, have a social media presence, and implement structured data like customer comments or videos on your site.  It’s also advisable to do a bit of SEO work as well for your product pages, since if you’re selling things online, people should be able to find your products.  And pay attention to things like customer service (you have set that up, after all?) – because customers are vital to any business, so if your service is bad, it’s difficult to rebuild your reputation.

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