E-Commerce isn't a new thing anymore; it's been around for years and has greatly matured since the early days. Despite this, many businesses are slow to introduce online sales to their business strategy and one of the reasons for this is a lack of understanding of what's involved. To help get a better understanding of what you should be thinking about before moving your organisation's product line "online", have a read through our tips.
Choose the right software to meet your needs
To sell online, you will need some specialised software to provide the features you require. This can be something a simple as a hand coded page right through to an enterprise level e-commerce system. Whatever you end up opting for though, think about the future needs of your business. Once you put a e-commerce solution in place, your commitment to the solution becomes greater than you may anticipate, so it's important to have something which will continue to serve your on-going needs.
The choice of software used to power your online store is one often made by your web designer but it's important that their choices match up with your needs. To make sure you're using the right software, make a list of the things you think your website will need to have. Some of these things should be:
1. The ability to manage the day to day sales yourself through a control panel
2. A shopping cart
3. The ability to provide discounts and promotions
4. Email notifications when a sale occurs
Security and Upgrades
Now you've figured out the core requirements you'd like your online store to have, spend a little time thinking about what risks are involved in selling online and ask your developer what measures they have in place to protect against these. This means understanding whether your e-commerce software is one which is regularly exposed to security issues.
It can also be handy to use a system which is upgradable so that if a security vulnerability is discovered, you're able to apply a patch to address this. Keeping your site in a state whereby you can upgrade it may mean both budgetting for the extra cost of doing this and a little downtime when the upgrade is taking place, so this should also factor into your online business strategy.
When you setup an online business, it's a good idea not to use the cheapest hosting company you can find. Often this will result in a slow server, lack of space, poor support, no backups, software compatibility issues and greater security concerns.
Instead, ask your developer what hosting they recommend based on your budget. They'll be able to then provide you with some of the better choices which are available and outline whether or not spending a little extra money with a good hosting company will lead to a better online experience for you and your customers.
Shipping / Postage
If you're selling digital music or e-books, you can forget about this bit (although be sure to checkout the membership section below). For just about everyone else though, postage is a really important aspect of selling online and is something you should start planning straight away. Think about which suburbs, states or countries you want to sell to and what it will cost to do so? Will you include this postage for free (as part of the price of the product) or will it need to be calculated upon checkout? Whatever approach you take, try to keep it simple and keep your mind open to some other options your developer may also suggest.
For many online stores, the option of allowing people to "sign up" as a member makes future sales for your customers much simpler. This sort of feature can allow your website's members to see their previous orders, maintain their contact details, stay in touch with any promotions you may have and "reorder" a purchase again.
For websites selling digital assets (like music, software or e-books), site membership is a must as it will be how your members continue to access their purchases.
The temptation for many of our clients is to use their bank to handle the online payment aspect of the online sale. Unfortunately, the software solutions provided by the banks are normally more costly to setup and offer less benefits to the online merchant. It's for this reason it's worth while considering one of the dedicate payment gateway companies like Paypal or E-Way. Both of these organisations make it very easy to start receiving payments online and offer the merchant a number of extra options not normally provided by the banks. For more information on choosing a payment gateway, be sure to checkout our other article on this topic.
If you're an Australian business who is registered for GST, you'll want to make sure your e-commerce software is able to calculate GST for your Australian sales. This applies to both your shipping and your total cart price. You'll also need the ability to disable tax from certain tax exempt items.
Being able to generate some basic reports from your e-commerce software can help you both keep an eye on how your sales are going and help you balance your books.
For organisations who have a "drop shipping" arrangement or can manufacture on demand, inventory tracking isn't of great importance. For most other companies however, being able to track how many items you have on hand of a particular item and is capable of reducing this count as each sale occurs will help prevent you making sales you can't honour. It can also be handy if the system is capable of offering the shopper the ability to "back order" certain items.
Consider this, you are selling t-shirts online. These t-shirts come in small, medium and large. They come in two cuts; one for men and one for women. They are available in three colours; red, green and blue. And finally you can order the t-shirt with long or short sleeves.
Items like the product described above can make selling products online a more complex process unless you have the right software. Given this, when you approach your developer about your new website, make sure you notify them of any products which may have several product attributes that need to be configured so that they can set you up with the right software for the job.
One of the other key considerations you'll come across when planning your online store is how to present your products online. This means thinking about how you will group certain products together, making it easier for people to see what you have to sell.
It's particularly important to have a software platform which allows you to easily group your products together to better expose them to your shoppers whilst making it easy for you to change this whenever you need.
Occasionally you may need to refund a purchase for one reason or another and it's important your e-commerce software is capable of doing so. This can often also have a relationship with your chosen payment gateway so be sure to check with your developer whether or not your choice of payment gateway will support their software's refund facility.
Once your online website is up and running, it's important to be able to add and remove products, process orders, run promotions and update the content on your site. This allows you to both reduce your running costs and take greater control over your store and it's success online.
Maintaining some Developer Involvement
Many web developers will offer a reduced maintenance rate if you agree to commit to a minimum number of development hours per month. Keeping your developer involved with your website is beneficial to both the smooth, on-going operation of your website as well as allowing the site to evolve on a technical level in order to improve the way your store competes online with it's competition.