As the American economy improves, there are a lot of people who are considering the opportunity to start their own businesses. Many of them are looking to get into the market of online sales. In this series, “Starting Your E-Commerce Website,” we'll cover key topics about what you need to do in the process to start your E-commerce site. If you are looking to revamp or remodel your E-commerce site, you'll find these topics and tips helpful as well. In this article, “Starting Your E-Commerce Website: Before You Start Anything,” we'll talk about what questions you need to answer before you make the first steps to building your own E-commerce, or “shopping cart”, website.
As a 18-year “veteran” that has worked in the E-commerce field, I've found that there are a lot of people who blindly go into this process without asking a lot of good questions. They put a lot of time, money and effort into an E-commerce website, only to find that they're in the wrong program which won't let them do what they need to do. Just like transportation options, there are a lot of E-commerce options. For example, if you were planning to be in the construction industry and needed to haul a lot of supplies and equipment, a motorcycle wouldn't be your best choice. It's the same with E-commerce – you need to look at what you plan to sell and how you're going to sell it before you even start talking to E-commerce service providers.
Here are a few questions you need to ask yourself before you start working on your E-commerce website:
What products and/or services do I want to sell?
This may seem like an obvious question, but this is the most critical one to start with. Please understand that everything you do in your planning and strategy will be driven by what you plan to offer. Carefully consider this question for how it will affect everything you do – not just for E-commerce sites, but for everything you plan to accomplish as you build a successful business. If you plan to sell books and manuals out of your basement from home, your focus and your strategy is going to be considerably different than if you decide to resell 10,000 items as an affiliate reseller for Amazon.com. The marketing is different, the inventory control is different, the payment system is different . . . hopefully you get the point.
How many products and/or services do I want to sell?
There are E-commerce service providers which specialize in large inventories, and some that specialize in small inventories. If you're planning a large database of items to sell, focus on a “robust” E-commerce system that manages all of the information. Having a lot of items isn't something to worry about – there are great E-commerce systems which can handle it all.
However, don't choose a “really cool looking” system that has a limit of 100 items when you want to offer 1000 items at some point in the future. Instead, you want to find a system which is scalable – a system that handles 100 items very easily and then can handle 1000 items just as easily when you want to move to that level. Find a provider that meets all of your needs.
How do I need to present those products and/or services?
This question may be one of the most overlooked ones in the process. You want to carefully consider how you want to show people what you are selling. If you're selling a book, you really only need to shoot one picture. You might want to post some sample pages, but that's about it. If you sell cosmetics, however, shoot some various pictures of the product, as well as some testimonial videos. Another overlooked question is this: are your products going to be offered in various sizes or colors? If that is the case, you need a E-commerce service provider that can provide options for sizes, colors, etc. Most providers are able to take care of these needs, but you still need to plan ahead.
How reliable and consistent is the supply of those products and/or services?
You may ask what this question has to do with starting an E-commerce site and how it affects the site. Frankly, it's a good question on both fronts. If you manage a inconsistent supply chain that cause you to run out of particular products, implement a plan to replace them with others. As it affects your E-commerce site, you want to have a site that tracks your inventory and then removes products from being visible on the site when they're all sold. Most E-commerce providers have great solutions to help you with your inventory control. Determine how consistent you plan to keep stock available for sale. How do you plan to manage the situation for a stock sell-out?
What payment options do I want to offer?
Over the years, payment options have become a whole lot easier to deal with. Providing debit and credit card services are easy to obtain. Offering other payment options can be a little bit more challenging. Be aware that there are transaction fees involved with virtually all of the payment processing services, so be aware of those fees when you set your prices.
How much time and resources will I have to maintain this site?
Many people jump into the E-commerce market with high aspirations and a lot of energy. However, they find that it's not as easy as it looks. Carefully and thoroughly consider what you put into this venture, especially in light of other time commitments. A great suggestion is this: schedule a set time every day to work on it, and pace yourself. Don't try to schedule marathon sessions of 12 hours a day on your “off days” to get this going. Unless you are extremely focused and highly driven, you are most likely going to burn yourself out. Instead, plan out what you need to do, and make it manageable.
What additional resources do I need to make this venture successful?
The reality of the situation is that you will eventually choose to delegate some of the tasks. There are people and companies with more skill, quickness and, ultimately, at lower costs. Decide what you don't want to do, or what you don't know to do. Look for resources that can help you. We have some great ones here at OnlineAdvisor.com that we can recommend to you.
As we continue with this series, we're confident about the great insights that save you time and money. In the meanwhile, post your questions and comments here and let us know how we can help you!