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Starting an online business may seem like a quick and easy way to make a few bucks, but there is more to adding photos to a designer web template.
The National Retail Federation expects online retail sales to grow between 8% and 12% in 2017, making the industry a productive space for aspiring entrepreneurs. But without some planning, yours could become one of the countless online stores to forget.
Here are five steps to take to ensure your startup is successful.
1. Choose the right platform
Once you have an idea, you will need to decide how to create a store: use an e-commerce hostel platform; create and host your own open source ecommerce site; or sell primarily on third-party platforms.
Hosted ecommerce platforms: You can use customizable website templates and e-commerce tools – like shopping carts – on sites like Squarespace or BigCommerce to set up an internet presence.
Open source ecommerce software: If you are a technician, you can build your own website. This gives you the freedom to customize beyond the drag and drop of most hosting, but you will be in charge of the site’s security updates, maintenance and operation.
Third-party markets: Like Amazon or Etsy, these services allow you to sell through them. You may get more eyes on your product, but you also give up the ability to establish your own online identity.
2. Be prepared for expenses
One of the benefits of e-commerce is the low cost of entry. But, cheap doesn’t mean free.
You will pay for the product you sell – or the materials you create – as well as online costs, such as domain fees, sales fees in third-party markets, or hosting fees for your site. Add that to basic business expenses such as advertising and packaging, and operating costs can quickly increase.
“It may only cost a tenth of what it costs offline, but it’s still money,” says Naomi Dunford, marketing and growth coach at IttyBiz. “People really forget it.”
3. Consider delivery details
Free shipping is a boon for customers, but should you make it increase the cost of your products or take costs out of profit margins? Should you offer it at all?
“Be sure to invest in things that are of great importance to customers,” says Jimmy Duvall, Product Director for BigCommerce.
And if you are selling overseas, you will have to deal with customs forms, rates and higher shipping costs. Pay off before launch so you don’t rush to execute your order.
4. Look for ways to engage customers
The internet is huge, so even if you think your product is unique, there is probably something similar already. But Duvall says offering a joint product in different ways can help you stand out.
He points to StoreYourBoard, a site that sells hardware for outdoor equipment. The company won the 2016 BigCommerce Innovation Award for encouraging customers to ask questions, write reviews, and post images of their products in use on its website.
“It all takes a lot of time and thought, but the results are a feedback loop that makes it easier for prospective customers to find the right product,” says Josh Gordon, StoreYourBoard founder and president.
You can start easy, Duvall says. A clean webpage with useful content is easy to find and a ‘About Us’ link can help you build that relationship from the beginning. Make transparent return, exchange and shipping policies so customers know what to expect.
5. Establish expertise
You know your product better than anyone else, Duvall says. Now turn that expertise into the reasons why customers should do business with you.
Adding content is one way. Let’s say you sell pet products: What should pet owners consider when choosing food or toys? Does it vary by breed?
This does not mean that you need to write regular blog posts – even though you have the time and skills, keep doing it. You can also add pages to your website detailing why you decided on a particular product or brand and why you think that choice is best for your customers.
This article was written by NerdWallet and originally published by USA Today.