Many physical shops have an online presence as well as a shopfront, so you can visit their shop or go online to their website and purchase the same goods.
Online sellers open up their market to a lot more potential customers. If you are a physical bookstore, you can sell books to people who come to your physical shop and buy them. If you offer online sales, you can post the books to customers anywhere in the world, but postage costs may be prohibitive. If you sell eBooks, then customers can buy them anywhere in the world and download them without any postage costs.
What is effective for different businesses will depend on what they are selling.
A really good example of a physical shopfront business that also effectively utilises an online market is that of Tescos in the UK. Tescos (a supermarket) recently launched a mobile “shopfront” at Heathrow Airport. The billboard style sign allows customers to search through images of groceries and scan barcodes of the products that they wish to purchase and then have those products delivered to their doorstep on arrival either at their destination, or when they get home from their holiday. Anyone who’s ever been on a long holiday knows what it’s like to arrive home either to an empty fridge or one full of mouldy food. This marketing technique fills that need.
As mentioned above, local, regional and even national retailers are coming under increasing pressure from online shopping. Every day traditional retailers are closing down due to this pressure. Department stores in Australia in 2012 are currently identifying a loss in market share caused by customers purchasing goods online from department stores in other countries. Despite the distance, the John Lewis online store in the UK was guaranteeing Australian customers a faster delivery than David Jones was guaranteeing within Australia. Clearly the dynamics of competition, in this instance, were changed by the online shopping phenomenon.
Starting an online business is not a ticket to instant success! Like any other mode of trading an online business, needs to have a business plan and a marketing plan. It also requires knowledge of how the online selling process works, how to capture and retain customers (as already discussed) and how to utilise all the forms of media available at your fingertips to your business advantage. You also need to know the advantages and advantages of operating an online business, plus the associated costs and the potential pitfalls.
What do you need to set up an online store?
There are a myriad of packages available that are fully integrated and simple to install and run prices range from a few hundred dollars to several thousands of dollars a month depending on what you include in your package. The following are the basic requirements:
- A registered domain name.
- A well-designed web page.
- A business email address.
- A secure web host.
- An ecommerce system (including a shopping cart) with integrated analysis (these can be bought as packages).
- An internet data plan that is appropriate to the size of the business.
- Security (e.g. SSL [secured socket layer] encryption – this is very important if you are offering customers credit card payments services). SSL certificates are issued (by software providers) according to your business needs.
- Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM); these will optimise your ranking and your marketing however be wary as this can run to many thousands of dollars – make sure that the package you chose to set up your store has this integrated as part of the software rather than as ‘add-ons’ which are a lot more expensive.
- Payment providers such as credit card providers and a merchant bank account
- Payment gateways (that are integrated into your website) – there are many payment gateways you can use for example such as PayPal, eWay, SecurePay etc. Although not all online stores use payment gateways if you want to accept credit card payments it is far more secure to do so through a payment gateway. Credit card information is very strictly regulated so you must understand these regulations and abide by them (you can source this information by contacting the various banks etc. that offer credits cards). You need to set up an an account with the payment provider.
- Appropriate software licences.
- A delivery system e.g. couriers, postal system etc. (more on delivery systems later this lesson).
Tips to Success
- Don’t start before you have done your research – know what you want to sell, check that there is a market out there. Check the competition.
- Know what type of online operation you want to set up and the functional possibilities and restrictions. Understand the online shopping processes available.
- Write a business plan
- Write a marketing plan
- Offer a range of delivery systems and factor free postage into your prices if at all possible – customers like to think that they are getting something for free.
- Design a web page that is functional, easy to use, attractive and appropriate to your business. Make sure that your web host is also reliable – don’t underestimate the importance of your web host they can make or break your business. Use a web designer to design your page – they are proficient and know what works!
- Make sure that if you are selling products that your source is reliable (even if you are producing the products yourself). You can lose customers overnight if you can’t deliver (efficiently) on a sale.
- Choose a short but easily remembered and easy to type domain name. Fit the name you choose to the products you are selling – this will enhance your chance of getting a good ranking on the Net and there will also be a better chance of customers actually finding your site.
- Understand how your customers are finding you! This allows you to direct more resources into social media, adding links, refining web ranking (through the use of key words etc.), creating landing platforms and micro-pages in order to capture the greatest possible response to your business. Use software that allows your customers to find you when they use mobile devices such as mobile phones and tablets – this is the way of the future; many people research ‘on the run’.
- Choose ecommerce software to run your store that is easy to use and makes your site easy to navigate. Ecommerce software will do everything from stock management, shopping cart options to payment processes.
- As mentioned earlier your need to create a merchant account (with your bank or through for example PayPal) so that you can accept credit card payments online. Not offering this facility can seriously compromise or restrict potential sales. Customers like the convenience of secured credit card payment. Some customers may prefer to do a direct deposit to your bank account or to mail payment before delivery – you must determine which of these you are going to offer and remember by not offering several payment methods you may be compromising your sales.