A beginner’s guide to setting up a successful online store
Selling online is by no means an easy task. Selling products online not only requires the use of quality marketing strategies, but also requires a lot of planning. This article is for those of you who intend to start an online store. It is intended to give you a rough idea of what to do and what to avoid when planning an online sales business.
Below are the different steps you need to take to start a successful online store
1.) Designing a website that sells
The most important aspect of selling online is a professional looking website designed to sell. You can build the website with web designers from code up or simply opt for ready-made website templates. When shopping for website templates, you should go for templates that are professionally designed and have the shopping cart option. Buying templates from vendors offering related services such as template customization, web hosting; SEO etc. would be even better. Some template providers like ‘buytemplates.net’ offer related services regardless of where you actually bought the template. To get a rough idea of how your website should be designed, you can refer to tips from successful online discount stores such as http://www.ishopage.com, ‘gap.com’ and ‘bestbuy.com’.
2.) Online hosting of your shop
There are many factors that you need to consider before choosing your web host when it comes to selling online. Some of the main factors are discussed as follows.
a.) Secure servers
First, you need to make sure that your web host offers you SSL encryption, which is very important for secure online money transactions. Most web hosting companies would offer you SSL secure server facilities along with a regular package, while some would charge you an additional amount for the service.
b.) Availability guarantees
Your business is only as good as it stays online. Be sure to choose web hosting service providers that promise you a 99% uptime guarantee. Also check how they back up their data and what kind of backup systems they have in place for emergencies.
c.) Private CGI-BIN
A CGI-BIN directory is a place on your web server where you can upload your binary scripts or interactive programs. This is very important for payment processing and the shopping cart
Management. So make sure the hose company provides you with a private CGI BIN directory.
d.) Web Logs and Web Statistics
Web logs and statistics are vital to your online business. Studying web logs can provide you much-needed information about your customers and your sales figures. Understanding your customer behavior can help you retain customers and attract new customers.
e.) Customer Support
Get as much information as possible about the hosting company’s support policy and the type of support they offer. Opt for web hosting companies that offer 24/7 customer support.
Most web hosts promise you lots of goodies but may not be able to deliver. Make sure you test the web host’s credibility by asking them for references. The hosting company’s existing customers can give you first-hand information about the service you can expect.
In addition, you should also look for services that offer you a MySQL database and PHP scripting, unlimited email, and a minimum storage space of 10 GB.
3.) Decision on shopping carts
If you sell more than a handful of products, it’s a good idea to have a shopping cart on your website. You have three main options for getting an online shopping cart. First, one buys a shopping cart software program; the second uses the services of an ASP and the third programs it yourself.
Your best option as a beginner would be to opt for ASP services. These services are cheap and offer flexible options. As time goes by and your online business develops, you can hire programmers to design yourself a custom shopping cart or buy shopping cart software programs that can be set up on your server. Some good ASPs that offer shopping cart services are SecureNetShop (SecureNetShop.com) and GoEmerchant (GoEmerchant.com).
Shopping cart software programs are an expensive option for beginners and can range from $150 to $800. Some good shopping cart software programs are shopfactory 6 (shopfactory.com) and storefront (strorefront.net).
Another option, as mentioned above, is to use ecommerce website templates. These ecommerce templates come with shopping cart systems pre-installed and can help you set up a store in minutes. Some of these template providers also offer template customization services that allow you to keep your ordinary templates while selling modules.
4.) Decide how payments will be accepted
Regardless of the speculation, credit cards are still the best way to accept payments. So make sure your online business can accept credit cards. There was a time when you had to have a merchant account with a bank or financial institution to process credit card payments. But today there are enough ways to accept credit card payments without a merchant account.
Paypal (paypal.com) is perhaps the best payment gateway and has no initial joining fees. Their service fees per transaction are very low and they allow you to accept payments from all over the world. Besides PayPal, some other good payment gateways are ‘2checkout’ (2checkout.com), ‘clickbank’ (clickbank.com) and ‘paysystems’ (paysystems.com).
Payment options other than credit cards
It is by no means necessary that all of your customers have credit cards. In fact, many of your customers don’t have credit cards, many don’t use credit cards, many have credit card phobias, and the rest may not want to share their credit card information online. In such a situation, it would be best for you to offer alternative payment options.
Internet checks are just as popular as credit cards when it comes to paying online. Internet checks are comparatively more secure and are best suited if your customers are from abroad. With this technique, your customers would have to make payments using an online blank check provided by an Internet check service provider. This information is sent to the service provider for authorization. The retailer can also print the check directly afterwards on his printer. Some good service providers that can offer you internet check services are paybycheck (paybycheck.com) and cross-check (cross-check.com).
In addition to Internet checks, there are several other ways to accept online payments, such as money orders and electronic checks. However, these methods are only suitable if your customers are from nearby locations.
The best way to determine your payment options is to analyze your customer behavior. You can also have online checkboxes or feedback forms on your website to collect information about your customers’ payment preferences and act accordingly.
5.) Promotion of your online store
No promotion equals no sales. You can promote your business using online marketing strategies like search engine optimization, email marketing, banner ads, and affiliate marketing, among others. While promoting your business, you must make sure to stay away from illegal methods like spamming, cloaking, etc. Your promotional activities should create positive awareness of your online store, leading to trust building.
6.) Reassure your customers
The customer is king and just like any other business, you have to give your customer what they want. To do this, you need to be sure of the preferences of your customers. Basically, you need to address the following doubts that your customers probably have on their mind when buying online
a.) Is my credit information safe?
b.) How will the products be delivered to me and how long will it take?
c.) Are there any additional costs associated with the item?
d.) What kind of guarantees are associated with the product?
e.) Are there discounts if I buy multiple items?
f.) What customer service does the online shop offer?
G.) What happens if the goods are damaged or of poor quality?
These questions in particular and many more questions in general can pop up in the minds of your customers depending on the nature of your products and the reputation of your online store. You can address these issues by providing valuable information in your FAQ section. Providing online live chat on your website would be a great way to handle your customer queries. There are many services that offer free online chat software programs; for example “boldchat” (boldchat.com).
Even when all of that is over, there is no such word as “stagnate” in online marketing. You need to keep moving and adapting to newer technology and better marketing techniques to stay ahead of all those pesky competitors.