Starting an online business? Tick off these 10 essentials…
Even the largest online retail operation has to start somewhere. Amazon was founded in a Washington garage as an online bookstore, while the first Dell website was a garish mix of lurid pastel colours and Clipart drawings. Few e-commerce brands make their debuts fully optimised, and establishing a new trading website is likely to be an ongoing process. It also requires a number of key elements, including:
- Funding. Unless you’re selling your own skills, there will almost certainly be stock and inventory costs that have to be settled before transactions begin. Websites can be expensive to design and build (particularly if they feature complex checkout functionalities), and it’s important to allow some funds for marketing. Financial options include loans, angel investors, equity investments and State support.
- Finding a niche. Over the past two decades the internet has filled up with retailers selling everything from uranium ore to urine-fuelled rechargeable batteries. This doesn’t mean your products have to be even more obscure, but it does highlight how hard some etailers try to stand out in a cut-throat marketplace. What’s your niche?
- Competitor analysis. On a related theme, investigate who already supplies the products or services you’re planning to offer. Study what they do particularly well (or badly), and adapt your business model accordingly. If the products you’re planning to sell are on Amazon, put forward reasons why customers should buy from you instead.
- A dynamic name. Speaking of Amazon, its founder chose this name because it carried connotations of grandeur, and also because it appeared early in the alphabet. Try to select a name that’s easy to spell and can be clearly understood by a person at the other end of a phone line. Ideally, the .com or .co.uk domain name should be available for whichever name you choose.
- A stable hosting platform. Any downtime can be catastrophic, not just in terms of lost revenue but also because it will deter customers from returning. Plus, it suggests your firm is unable to master even the basics. Backup servers and plenty of bandwidth are two of the ways in which a website can be kept fully live at all times, and VPS.NET specialises in providing dependable (yet affordable) hosting solutions to its clients. Check out your hosting options on this page.
- Secure checkout functionality. Sites hosted through WordPress can utilise plugins like Cart66Cloud or PayPal for Digital Goods, which meet all current online security standards and provide reassurance to customers that their financial data will be safe. Nothing scares clients away quicker than a payment portal that doesn’t work properly.
- Simple navigation. It should be clear on every page how to access the homepage and basket, while removing or increasing the quantity of items selected should also be child’s play. Avoid sub-pages as much as possible, and ensure menus appear in the same place on every page of the site. Stick to one background design and font, too.
- Platform flexibility. Scalable websites automatically adjust their size depending on the device they’re displayed on, while mobile versions pare down parent sites into a smartphone-friendly format. Either option will be preferable to simply launching a website optimised for a laptop, and expecting people on a Galaxy Note to use it.
- Keeping promises. If you claim all customer enquiries will be answered within 24 hours, ensure the nominated email account is checked on a daily basis. If you offer a no-quibble returns policy, refund every returned item without dispute. Trust is hard to build but easy to lose, and the market is too crowded to rely on residual loyalty.
- Patience. As a new etail business finds its feet, new products will emerge and there’ll be necessary revisions to the website and checkout platform. This is fine – don’t expect everything to be perfect from day one. Plan for long-term growth but don’t start panicking if it takes a while for traffic levels to build or turnover to increase.
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