Starting an eCommerce business is an attractive proposition, and for good reason. Start-up costs are much lower. The potential audience is much larger. Entrepreneurs can avoid the hassles of physical space and start making money sooner. eCommerce gives more people greater means to chart their own course. With hard work, they may find success.
With that said, people still have much to consider before they can earn a cent. Even virtual operations require time, planning, and effort. We wrote this guide so any would-be business owner can avoid some major hurdles. Moreover, this advice should focus your attention on the aspects that matter most.
Setting Your Direction
Your first decision is your business direction. It will affect every other business decision you will ever make. You can determine this by answering three essential questions.
Start with, “What products will my store offer?” The answer must be specific. Do not say “sporting goods” when you mean “athletic equipment for several popular sports.”
Another important question is, “What is my target audience?” If you know what customers you want, then you can craft a strategy that appeals to them. Demographics to consider may include age, sex/gender, race/ethnicity, and income level, among others.
Finally, you must ask yourself, “What is my business’s niche?” Thousands of online stores within your chosen field are competing for the same audience. They may be selling similar or even identical products. New stores can get lost in the shuffle, so yours must stand out somehow.
Establishing Your Company
Speaking of standing out, your business needs a brand. The term describes a unique identity, distinguishing it from other stores in the same field. Branding includes the name, the logo, font choice, and color scheme. You should craft it for maximum appeal to your desired audience.
On a more formal note, eCommerce businesses must follow the same laws as other types of businesses. Before you can start selling, you must incorporate your business. The process involves picking a formal business name, and maybe a Doing Business As name as well. It requires writing a business plan with all the details of your operation. You may even need permits, depending on your niche.
Finally, it means registering under a specific business structure. Examples include LLCs, corporations, sole proprietorships, and partnerships. The one you choose depends on the exact nature of your business. Each one requires different treatment from the government, including with taxes.
Be advised that the laws for starting a business vary from state to state. Do your research before you proceed. Any mistakes could result in legal trouble.
Creating Your Online Store
You cannot start an eCommerce business without a website. You could create one with any of the hundreds of site builders out there. But only a dedicated eCommerce platform can provide the tools you need.
The ideal solution would give you the most features with the fewest restrictions at the lowest cost. It would also offer all the flexibility you need to create a site that matches your vision. Included hosting and top-tier security are essential. Finally, it should be scalable, meaning capable of growing along with your store.
Above all else, the website must be convenient for your customers to use. That means:
- Intuitive navigation. Visitors should be able to reach the pages they want without getting lost in your site’s layout.
- Mobile-friendly themes. eCommerce statistics show that over half of all eCommerce traffic comes from smartphones.
- Pleasant aesthetics. Garish color schemes, illegible fonts, and unappealing graphics can drive people away.
- Optimized checkout process. Shortening the checkout page can boost sales and decrease cart abandonment.
Developing Your Fulfillment System
For eCommerce stores, everything depends on your ability to fulfill orders. If they take too long to arrive, customers will be disappointed. If products arrive in a damaged state, people might even abandon your business. Without a good eCommerce fulfillment system, first-time buyers could become one-time buyers.
Most stores align with popular shipping carriers like USPS, UPS, and FedEx. These and other companies often offer multiple options. They are often based on package size, package weight, and travel distance. Wise companies let the customer choose their preferred method. After all, the customer is the one who will pay the shipping fee.
You should also be aware that the process requires filling out forms and adding labels. How you do either depends on the destination and the package’s contents. Certain tools can help you perform these tasks with speed and accuracy.
Certain companies can even handle this entire part of your eCommerce business on your behalf. Dropshipping suppliers may keep your inventory in-house. When someone places an order, then send it out for you. If you prefer convenience over control, working with one can be a good option.
Promoting Your Business
Your work does not end when you open your website. After the grand opening, spreading the word about your business becomes a priority. Customers can choose from thousands of stores. You must attract their attention and persuade them to choose yours.
Luckily, business owners have many ways to promote their store on the internet:
- Part of the budget could go toward pay-per-click (PPC) advertisements. When someone clicks them, they enter your store. Google lets people pay for top-spot listings on search results pages. PPC ads can also be sidebar graphics or social media posts.
- On that note, social media is a great and free way to promote your store. With some savvy and shareable content, you can attract an organic following.
- Similarly, email marketing puts your store in front of many eyeballs at no cost. You must entice people to give you their address first, of course. After that, you must make the emails worth their time. Offering original content and exclusive discounts can help.
- Search engine optimization (SEO) can be tricky but rewarding. This concept is all about appealing to search engine algorithms. They rank websites in results pages based on layout and copy. With the right SEO techniques, your store can gain more prominence than your competitors.
Your research should extend beyond this guide. It is meant to serve as an introduction, showing the most important things to know.
- Pick a direction for your online store. Choose the products you will sell, audiences you will attract, and how you will stand out.
- Write a business plan and select a business name. Then, register with the proper authorities under a specific structure.
- Using all the features of a dedicated shopping cart software, build your digital storefront. Keep your customer’s needs in mind.
- Work out how you will get ordered products into the customers’ hands. Rely on multiple carriers and give customers multiple options.
- Spread the word about your store after it opens. Use any or all methods available to attract and win over potential customers.
Even though there is more to learn, this advice should point you in the right direction. We wish you the best of luck on your eCommerce journey.
Jimmy Rodriguez is the COO and co-founder of 3dcart, an ecommerce software to build SEO-friendly online stores. He’s dedicated to helping internet retailers succeed online by developing digital marketing strategies and optimized shopping experiences that drive conversions and improve business performance.