I want to sell online. How to start?

By | July 14, 2017

If you intend to start your new online store and you are not sure  how to start and what should be your very first steps, here are few tips.

Before start googling for web agencies, freelance developers or asking your friend about a friend of his friend who apparently has a clue about the topic, a future online seller should investigate these important topics:

Are you going sell 50 products or 50.000 products?
You can edit data of your online shop manually, as long as you are dealing with small number of different products. And as long as product prices, stock availability and other details do not change too frequently. You can copy-paste product descriptions, upload product images, change prices, stock information and other details on administration page, sometimes also referred as the back office page, which should be featured by every decent e-commerce platform. It’s more likely though, that sooner or later you would find your self frustrated by the amount of time it takes you to maintain you store. That’s where automation comes in place. Distributors usually send XML or other type files containing product details to their online resellers. Data must be imported from the files to the store’s database. Different type of e-commerce platforms may to greater or lesser extent support automation for various types of file formats or automation software services. It is important that you know if and how your distributors support automation, before talking to web developers. Developers will most likely advocate the selection of their preferred software platform to service your store. But that platform, while totally suitable for some other online sellers, might be inappropriate for you. Thus, the type and level of automation your suppliers support may be of significant influence for the selection of e-commerce platform and the development team.

How will be products organized in categories, subcategories, sub subcategories and so on?
No developer can know this better than you. What are shelves in a physical store, those are categories in an online store. For complicated structure with many categories and sub categories, your online store will need an efficient way for customers to browse through categories and find products. Unlike physical store shelves, web shops can have same items being members of different categories. Perhaps you’ll want to expose some products to as many categories as possible, to sell them faster. Dealing with categories is very important aspect of every e-commerce software platform.

Will  your suppliers provide digital content for their products, like images, short descriptions, long descriptions, perhaps video materials?
If distributors you are doing business with are well prepared for the age of e-commerce, then this will not be a problem. If not, it’s a big problem. Unlike brick and mortar store where products laying on the shelves speak for them selves, for digital store digital data is needed. If your suppliers left behind in the 20th century and can’t provide it, it may be the time to find other suppliers. They will probably soon go bankrupt, anyway.

What is your country’s regulations about selling goods online?
What must be included in the contents of the terms and conditions of use and what obligations you have to respect? Different from country to country, but you have to know your terms of conditions of use, understand them, be able to respect them and stand behind them. No developer can right it down for you. You may seek legal or other advice, of course, but remember that your are the one who is dealing with all the consequences. Again, how you will do business according to legal obligations, may impact the selection of the software platform and the developers.

What type of payment will you accept?
Will you accept cash on delivery, bank wire transfers, credit cards, PayPal and so on? What about your country’s legal regulations? Are there some limitations or special conditions in place for the certain types of payments you which to accept?

How do you expect your customers will find your site?
Will you promote it in social media or with payed add-ons? Or even in paper magazines? Or do you expect that customers will mostly be able to find your store while searching for products on the internet and you won’t need much of additional promotion? If web search is want you count on, be prepare to ask your developer: What quality of SEO (search engine optimization) can you provide?

Where will you ship items?
Which shipping services will serve you the best? Does a candidate e-commerce platform support that shipping service in some way? Perhaps it can send automated requests for shipping when receiving orders?

How many orders do you expect to process? Smaller number of high value orders or bigger number of orders with small value? For dealing with bigger number of orders, you want to have an e-commerce platform that provides effective and fast way to process them. You need automated emails to be sent to customers to notify them on their orders being accepted, shipped and so on. The number of stock items should decrease automatically for items being sold. One look to orders administration  page should tell you how many and which orders need which actions to be taken.  In fact, processing orders should be as efficient and simple as possible for any type of e-commerce. But even more so when you are dealing with big number of orders.

How will  you process packaging?
Will it be done by internally or will you search for assistance of a 3rd party fulfilling service?

What would you like your site to like like?
Browse the internet, search for similar store and see how they look. Get the feeling of what is possible and what you like and what you don’t like. Then see what web designers are offering to be bought and install to your store web site. There are thousands graphical designs available for different type of platforms, ready to be downloaded and installed. It is very likely that your developers will not be also graphical designer. Instead, they will show you examples of designs, also referred as themes, templates, to be chosen by you. Prepare for that step. You don’t want to spend too much of developers time on deciding of what looks nice to you. A good site to get a preview is templatemonsters. You can see templates there for several different types of platforms. Many of these platforms also has their on marketplaces, where designs are being offered exclusively for their platform, for example marketplace for Magento or PrestaShop templates. Dont’t bother too much about various type of platforms at this point. Just look and get the feeling.

An example of clear and simple design for a cosmetics shop. [image credit: www.kupikremo.si]

An example of clear and simple web design for a cosmetics shop. [image credit: www.kupikremo.si]

Do you have a domain name?
At least but not the last, in case you don’t a have domain name for your webshop already selected and registered, do so as soon as possible. Especially if you have some pretty “www.my-beautiful-new-online-store.com” idea, don’t wait for someone else to take it!

Those are just few most important topics you should think about before selecting developers and starting to develop your online store. Understanding those topics and seeking for answers to the questions will give you important knowledge about the e-commerce business. That will not only help you in the early process of development of your store, but will also serve you well after your e-commerce business starts to operate.