How to Create an Online Store
With eCommerce sales increasing year after year, there is no better time to create an online store for your business. More than 70% of all internet users make their purchases online these days. What does this mean for your business?
Well, clearly more people are purchasing from their home, tablet or mobile device instead of driving to the bricks and mortar store. With this change in purchasing attitudes, can you afford not to be online? Making an eCommerce website might sound like a daunting task, but it is not as challenging as you may think.
Choosing your industry and product
Choosing the right product to sell in your online store can have a massive impact on whether or not your eCommerce website is successful. But with millions of different products available, how do you know which ones to sell that will ensure yours are purchased?
There are usually a lot of factors to consider when choosing an industry and product. Below are the key points that are definitely worth to think about.
How much does your product cost? If it is too cheap it will be difficult to reach a positive Return on Investment (ROI). If it is too expensive there is a good chance customers will take more convincing to make a purchase. They probably want to speak with someone over the phone or through live chat prior to purchasing, possibly checking out review sites. This customer support requires more resources for you to make a sale, although can be profitable if your product price is right. Ask others and initial purchasers what is the price they are willing to pay for such a product.
What is your profit margin for each sale, in other words how much after costs to sell the product will you make? Many products sold online have a margin around 30-35% however this can change drastically depending on the industry. For example, electronics typically have slimmer margins while phone accessories are often marked up a whopping 200% and even more. Before deciding on your products, make sure you know your profit margin of each product. Often times this requires contacting the manufacturer directly or signing up with a distributor.
Can consumers purchase your product locally? When a product does not exist in a local stores it is easier to drive sales to your website. The consumer is left with little choice but to purchase online on your eCommerce site.
How big and heavy is the product? Bigger and heavier products tend to attract higher shipping costs that can dramatically impact sales. Many customers expect to have free shipping. Therefore it can be difficult to sell a product with a shipping fee. You could combat this by including the cost of shipping into the price tag whilst raising the price and offering “free shipping.” The caveat however is that increases in price can decrease your sales. A tip would be to offer products that are smaller and hence require lower shipping costs.
Finding manufacturers with great products
Now that you have identified which products you want to sell you will need to figure out who the manufacturers are going to be. There are various methods of finding manufacturers that can save a lot of your time.
Google Shopping is a powerful search engine that only searches physical products sold online. It lists some additional information on who the re-sellers are (great for sniffing out the competition) but more importantly who their suppliers are. Simply enter your product into Google Shopping and search which manufacturers show up under the “Brand” section.
Why not search several online directories of suppliers that make it easy to find manufacturers? The two directories below are the most popular ones:
Worldwide Brands has nearly 10,000 wholesalers and more than 10 million products. The cost is $299 one-time fee for lifetime use.
Wholesale Central has approximately 1,500 suppliers and over 700,000 products. Here comes the sweetest part – it is free and for unlimited use.
Once you have compiled a list of manufacturers the next step is to start reaching out in hopes of reselling their products. Start with the manufacturers and distributors who have the least intimidating application and requirements. This is because many manufacturers do not tend to deal with newer shops with a limited sales record. Many larger manufacturers will want to know who you are working with first, so start with smaller suppliers to get larger suppliers on board later.
Setting up the website and online store
Now that you have composed what products to sell and which wholesalers to obtain your products, the next step is to get them online. That means setting up your website and online store.
First, whilst you are waiting for the replies from manufacturers it is best to have a simple “coming soon” page before you begin to add your products. Knowing what products to sell will dictate which eCommerce platform to use or whether you require something special and customised.
Choosing an eCommerce platform (aka “eCommerce cart”)
The eCommerce platform manages all the products, categories, checkout process, and other aspects involved with a fully functional online store. There are dozens of eCommerce platforms available, most of which have relatively the same functionality and features. Choosing a platform can be a drawn out process for a lot of entrepreneurs. It is probably best to just make a decision quickly rather than spending days researching and testing various platforms.
Here are some of the most popular ones that you can begin with.
Magento is one of the best growing eCommerce platforms around. What users like about this eCommerce platform solution is the wide variety of features that are available and it is now owned by eBay. This means that using Magento can also help you with selling some of your products via eBay and the kind of exposure that it can offer to your business. There are approximately 250,000 eCommerce stores are powered by this platform and is a suitable for all those online store owners who wish to create a robust and reliable storefront. For the bigger companies that wish to use Magento, there is an Enterprise Edition available. This solution costs about $15,000 every year. On the other hand, the smaller businesses need not worry as they can make use of the Community Edition. If you like Magento’s features but are not sure how to get started you can hire Magento developers.
If you are a really small business Shopify is probably the most reasonable choice. It allows you to select one of the many available templates for your website. It is reasonably simple to integrate your products and you can also optimise your store design, append a catalog of products to the store and even create your own blog posts, all through one administration dashboard. The analytics option of Shopify allows you to keep a track of visitor activity and it also gives you the option of integrating a secure shopping cart to be able to accept credit card payment. There is a 14-day trial period for Shopify, after which the price is $14 per month. This is reasonable money to pay, considering the many benefits that come along.
Bigcommerce is a popular eCommerce software and is about $29.95 per month without any contract. Considering this price range, it has numerous features that are worth noting. It is similar to Shopify in the fact that it is extremely simple to use and is laced with many features and is easy to use. Considering all of this, it suits well for mid-sized retailers who can create a fully functional and high-end online shopping cart without paying over the odds for it.
OpenCart is quite powerful and easy to use free platform with a long list of features. Unlike the others, OpenCart is open source meaning webmasters have the ability to make any changes to the design or functionality of the website. However, this also means that hosting and website security will need to be setup manually, if you are not a web developer this can be tricky. Although, OpenCart does have thousands of pre-programmed “extensions” that allow users to easily customise the website without hiring a developer. Many extensions are free of charge whilst others have a one-time fee between $10 and $50.
Another great open source choice and perhaps the most popular of them all, WooCommerce is used by half a million online retailers worldwide. Primarily designed for small to medium-sized businesses using WordPress, it powers 40% of online stores worldwide. For many online businesses its popularity is gaining because of an effortless and straightforward use together with WordPress. Whether you have done some WordPress programming yourself or have a developer to create an online store for you, WooCommerce is a clever choice for the eCommerce solution, with its various themes available.
WordPress is clearly the most popular CMS (content management system) that can be used for building pretty much any website. Whether it is an exquisite corporate site, a blog or an eCommerce solution. WordPress is a fantastic platform for those getting started as well, enabling to add hundreds of eCommerce extensions and plugins (including WooCommerce) to create an online store that customers will love. Another user-friendly aspect is that once the store is set up it only takes a very little maintenance to keep it looking fresh and using minimal code. If you need a skilled developer to get you started then there are plenty to hire.
Getting a tailor-made solution is fairly easy nowadays, there are numerous web development firms who are able to customise and tailor make a solution for you. Although this can take a tiny bit longer to be setup, its custom functionality means that it can be better suited for website and product enhancements when they occur, making it easier for your business to scale. This type of solution saves you money in the longer term and if you have a top web development company creating your online store, they will be able to integrate the store with other features including mobile apps. In case you have used other platforms and like aspects of each, a tailor-made solution will allow you to have the best features of them all.
Logo and web design
A website’s design and branding can have a huge impact on how often your potential customers purchase from your website. Hiring a designer and having a website custom designed can cost more but will provide your brand with a uniqueness that others will not have. If you are aiming for a tailor-made eCommerce solution then branding is usually part of the package. If you are a startup with a very limited budget and wish to bring initial costs to the absolute minimum, you could do the following:
Purchase a website template – There are thousands of templates you can now purchase online, plus eCommerce platforms contain their own themes you can use that do not cost. Even if you do pay they usually cost around $20-$50 which is much cheaper than paying a designer. However you should note that other competitors may have the same idea so your theme could be similar and lose its uniqueness.
Get a low-cost logo – A logo is an important component for any branding and marketing efforts. Hiring a professional designer is likely not the cheapest route, but then again, good quality does not come cheap. Either way, it can be a good idea to take a look at 99Designs, 19 Dollar Logos or Fiverr for alternative options. 99Designs is more expensive than the others but the quality is better – simply put, you will pay for quality so consider carefully. Changing your branding once you have launched can be quite expensive to implement (the online store itself, all the marketing materials, directory listings and so on), therefore select carefully.
Domain name and hosting
Every website needs a domain name for their brand and server for hosting. However, note that all eCommerce websites also need an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate to encrypt sensitive data like payment information. There are a plethora of web hosting companies who can service your needs, it is merely a case of picking one that you like.
If you plan to use a hosted and managed eCommerce platform, you will not need to worry about the hosting, SSL certificate or any other technical specifics. Either the hosting company or the developer of your online store can take care of it all.
Equipped with all the information above, you are ready to create an online store for your own business. Remember, every year the web is getting more competitive. If setting up your first eCommerce site is too much to navigate, and you are looking for a cutting-edge online store that will stand out from the competition, then why not contact Opus and tell us what you need? The team would be happy to partner with you and get you on your way.
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