We live in the days of ecommerce, where savvy new SME and micro-business owners are setting up their businesses online, and capitalising on how consumers shop, often leaving high street giants behind as they struggle to catch up with a rapidly changing marketplace.
Selling products on a small scale is viable for almost anyone with an internet connection and space to store stock. So what do you need to start a small online shop and how do you get the attention of customers online?
Here are some of the most important things you’ll need to consider to make a success of your online business.
Build an engaging website
Your website is your shop front – you need to entice customers and then keep them browsing once they arrive just like any traditional high street shop.
You have a few options for how to set up a site, and all the while you should be working on making it clear, easy to use and engaging. People don’t hang around for long on bad websites no matter how cool or unique the product, so don’t let a poor website be your downfall.
A lot of small retail business owners choose to set up online using one of the many great customisable shop front websites. Some of the top examples include Etsy (particularly great for craft, vintage gear and art), Wix and Shopify. These website builders allow you to easily create a unique website and shop without needing to know code. They also have easy to use content management systems (known as the CMS) which means you can edit and update your site with ease.
Include easy payment solutions
As part of your website set up, you need a simple solution for accepting payments. Options include payment processors like PayPal, and some website builders such as those mentioned above come with built in payment processing options including PayPal, credit/debit cards and personal cheques. Alternatively, providers like Barclaycard offer ecommerce payment solutions which you can easily build into an existing site.
As well as a secure and reliable system for accepting payments, you need to open up a merchant bank account to receive credit card payments. Having a merchant account also helps you to keep your business and personal finances separate, and makes managing tax returns and tracing your incomings and outgoings over each financial year much easier.
Engage with your customers
Although ecommerce allows you set up an online business with very little investment beyond the cost of initial stock and so on, the ease of getting set up online means that the competition for consumers’ attention is fierce. There are thousands of shops online, so getting people to visit yours and spend their money with you is probably the biggest challenge that small online retailers face.
There are a few things which will really help you to stand out from the crowd if you can nail them early on.
- First of all, you need to build a site which is easy to navigate, looks great and keeps customers engaged. Make it easy to view products and provide as much information as you can about those products.
- You also need to get your customer communication right. This means replying to emails and resolving issues as quickly as possible, and having a presence in social media too. Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are great for spreading the word about unique and exciting products; and having a voice in these spaces can send new customers to your site, ultimately driving sales and increasing that all-important customer loyalty. Nowadays many people also use social media to get in touch rather than sending emails, so it’s very important to monitor and maintain all your accounts.
- Remember to offer visitors the chance to sign up to your mailing list, and then use this list responsibly – don’t spam people, but use the list wisely to make sure people know about important updates, sales or other promotions that might bring them back to the site. Good mailing list services include MailChimp (probably the most famous and popular), Campaign Monitor and Constant Contact.
Getting these building blocks of ecommerce sorted early will stand you in great stead to build up a successful business, win customers and stand out in the saturated market of online retail.