The introduction of the internet and the widespread use of credit cards have meant that a business has the ability to effectively be open 24 hours a day.
It has also made shopping for goods more competitive, as the need to have showroom floor staff for some businesses has been reduced and/or eliminated, bringing overall operating costs down.
If you are in business or thinking of starting, then you may need to consider some form of online or e-commerce presence in order to be visible and competitive in the marketplace.
What is e-commerce?
The definition of electronic commerce (e-commerce) is to enact a transaction for goods or services via the internet.
For those who have a goods based business (e.g. retailing), this may mean considering an online store. For others it may just mean providing customers with an easier way to book a service, make reservations or simply pay online.
There are many platforms which support e-commerce e.g. website, social media platforms.
Benefits and opportunities for e-commerce
The availability of e-commerce means that as a business owner, you are enabling a customer to make a purchase decision and then take action more quickly and conveniently.
An e-commerce option for small businesses is an attractive and very cost effective way to offer customers multiple ways to purchase your goods or services either on the spot or at their leisure in the home, office or on the go.
Offering your goods via the internet will also give you the ability to reach more potential customers. E-commerce can be used very effectively in conjunction with electronic marketing campaigns such as email, e-newsletter or social media.
E-commerce is most often set-up so that funds are either instant or utilise a globally trusted payment gateway, where funds are insured, offering protection for business owners and consumers alike.
Using e-commerce via a mobile device or smartphone gives your customer instant access to your goods or services.
You could have an online Facebook store, utilise a smartphone app to sell products, or offer a fast, easy and secure way of offering non cash payments for your product. And best of all, they can be offered almost anywhere, anytime!
How to get set up for e-commerce
Like any part of your business, you should start with a plan or strategy so you can understand what you need to do, consider the impact (positive or negative) on your business, your opportunities, potential limitations, costs and legal obligations before you start selling online.
Remember, online selling opens up the world to potential sales so you need to know how to handle orders and the process involved.
Start by asking yourself the following questions:
- Would customers buy my type of product or service online?
- What online avenues will I use (e-commerce website, smartphone app, social media, e-payment gateway etc.)?
- Where am I willing to freight my products (local, state, national or international)?
- How will I promote that my business offers online sales?
- What procedure should I implement to manage online orders or payments?
- How will I monitor my capacity to fill orders?
- How will I accept payment?
- What procedure will I need to implement in order to get orders shipped quickly and efficiently?
- What are the set-up and maintenance costs?
Setting up an e-commerce shop doesn’t need to be a daunting process as long as you have done your research and make informed decisions.
Below are some tips for setting up your online store:
- Think about what products or services you wish to offer online. There can be a fine balance between having too little or too many products. Too little and you do not come across as a serious player in the online space. Too many and you may need to dedicate many hours to updating and maintaining your site.
- Write down a description of your product in layman’s terms. Just because you know what you are talking about doesn’t mean your customer does. Describe each product or service in the following manner:
- Feature – what the product is?
- Benefit – what the product does?
- Advantage – why is this product or service a great choice for your customer?
- A picture tells a thousand words - take quality photos of all of your products.
- Decide on your e-commerce platform. If you already have a website, talk to your developer about the costs and procedure for adding an online store to your existing site. Alternatively use website templates that can be tailored to suit. If you have a larger number of products, or e-commerce is going to be a major component of your business, speak to a website developer for advice and costs.
- Use the power of social media. Some platforms such as Facebook offer e-commerce options for business pages. However if you don’t wish to manage multiple online selling platforms, use social media to connect with customers and drive traffic to your website.
- Arrange your preferred payment gateway. You will need to have a payment gateway in order for customers to make their purchase.
- Implement an inventory system. You will need to keep track of both your online sales and your stock levels. If you run out of a particular item, you need to remove the item until you have new stock or at the very least change the product status. Inventory systems can be as simple as a manual workbook or Excel spreadsheet right through to an online inventory system that is integrated to your online store.
- Implement a shipping procedure. What is the most efficient method of shipping in terms of suitability, cost and timeframe for you? Speak to Australia Post about their range of options. If you will be sending a large number of items, consider speaking to a specialist logistics company. You will also need to manage the flow of orders to make sure they are dispatched in a timely manner.
By doing some research into what will work best for you, you will be well and truly on your way to having a successful online component of your business.