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January 2015
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How to Setup a Successful Online Store for Your Small Business

Setting up an Online Store is not incredibly difficult, but there are a lot of steps that can be done to ensure that your online business is successful. For a store that expects to take a large volume of orders, you should be contacting a qualified web developer instead of trying to tackle this on your own. But for a small business that are not selling a whole lot -or wish to setup a proof of concept-read on for How to Setup a Successful Online Store for Your Small Business.

Decide what to sell online

While many companies are able to sell services online, the majority will find the most online success in selling a tangible product. You’re not going to become Amazon over night, so pick a niche or a select few products you can focus on. Choose those items which have a low cost to ship, or that you have high margins on, and choose something that you can communicate the value of without being face-to-face. Customers aren’t going to read a long product description just to understand your product. If necessary, invest in professional photography and have professional videos made to showcase the product in the best light. When you go online, you will also have to compete against other online retailers for customers who are “window-shopping” online for the best price. Be sure you can be price competitive online, or be prepared to communicate why your product is worthy of a higher price tag.

Decide how to get paid

You can choose from a variety of online services that will allow you to take money from people, surprisingly, but they will all want a chunk of your profits in exchange. Make sure you know what percentage or fees will be taken from your sales, and when, and if there is any fee for not meeting a minimum of transactions. Most online retailers will turn to Paypal for they are the leader in the industry, well-known, and trusted. Paypal makes it extremely easy to setup an account and connect it to your website and their fees are probably the best you will find for being a free service. If you anticipate a lot of volume, be sure to compare options. For most, PayPal will be adequate until you gain enough volume, later, you may want to research a payment processor that may require a monthly commitment, but will take less out of your sales. Be sure to shop around and make sure that the company you choose is legitimate. The last thing you want is to sign a contract and be stuck with an unreputable company that double-charges customers, is slow to process transactions, or has frequent outages. The lower price will probably not be worth the added hassle. With all of these services, you also want to be sure of how you actually get paid, and make sure to choose something that is convenient for you. If you can get a direct deposit into a checking account, that is the best option as many payment processors will also, surprisingly, charge you to send you a paper check.

Decide how to sell

There are a lot of online services you can choose from both free and paid. Some will want a percentage of your profits, others may just charge you a monthly fee to use their service. There are niche sites like “Etsy” or you can pick from an eCommerce software or choose from a CMS that will run your whole site as well as the store. A good place to start, is to check for a system that offers a no-hassle support for the payment processor you wish to use. If you are programmatically talented, you can even build your own software. Although this will take substantially longer, you end up with a store that is custom and that you have full control over. Just be sure that security and scale-ability is a top priority during development as these are the key factors as your store grows. Choose a product that looks nice, has good reviews, and also supports the features you need now, as well as any you may need in the future. Look for shopping cart software that offers common features for increasing conversion rates such as “one page checkout”, customer reviews, allowing customers to “save their cart for later”, and coupon codes. Check usage statistics and make sure the product is mostly well-received, has some form of support, and is being actively developed. Most importantly, make sure it offers the best experience for your customers.

Setup shop

Setup a working prototype of your store, enter in your products and upload images or video of each product. Make sure product images look good and showcase your product in a professional manner. This means, they should be at a consistent scale (when possible), similar size, similar backdrops, etc. Grainy cell phone photos are a surefire way to make your product look illegitimate and unprofessional. If you are able, add photos of different views, in different lighting, and be sure to showcase any variations that customers can choose so they can see exactly how their product will look.

Test your shop

Go through the whole order process multiple times from start to finish and click on everything to see how it works. Make sure that each page looks inviting and clear of clutter. Make sure it is obvious what to click on to checkout or proceed, and be sure that the checkout page itself is not confusing. Try to imagine your target consumer, will they like the look of the page? Will they be able to checkout easily, or could something trip them up in the process?

Open for business

Open the store and start taking orders! This is the most fun part of the entire process as you may finally start to find a return for all of your investment of time and money. But, don’t slack off! While the orders are coming in you should always be working behind the scenes to improve and market your store. Ensure your entire ordering process runs efficiently and that any returns and customer relations are dealt with in a swift and professional manner. You should also take to social media to advertise your product and run holiday sales to increase traffic, awareness, -and hopefully revenue.

Optimize the store

After your store has been running, it is important to get analytics on total sales, most popular products, and eventually determine what is your best product, ideal time of day to sell, and what sort of things are working or aren’t with your current store. If you have been experiencing a lot of growth, it may be time to reinvest some of your profit back into your store. Contact a web developer to get yourself setup with a professionally designed store that will increase your conversion rates. Or, if you are not seeing a return on your investments thus far, you may need to hire a web developer to help bail you out. Most commonly, you should reread this post and see if there is anything that has been left out. If you are not selling, your product may not be well-displayed to compel customers to make a purchase, or your store may not be as user-friendly as you think it. Follow the advice in this post and re-work your store to get it up to par with the rest of the online world.