What type of online store is best for me?
eCommerce – no problem, or is it? The decision to open an online store is usually made quickly. This is especially true for those who already have a physical store and are just looking to make some additional online sales. Everyone else is making money online so why not me, goes the thinking. In principle, this is correct, however there are a number of questions which should be asked beforehand to make sure you choose what’s best for your business.
In this post, I’ll pose six questions that will help you identify what type of store will best meet your needs. I recommend taking 30 minutes to read through and think about these issues as a little time spent now on these questions can save you a lot of future frustration and stress. As they say: measure twice, cut once.
1. What exactly do I plan to sell?
T-shirts, books, music or all of the above? Start by making a list of what you generally plan to sell online. For example, are you looking to sell similar products that come in many variations such as t-shirts in different sizes and colors? Perhaps your products will fall into many different categories such as fiction, non-fiction, sci-fi, etc. Or maybe you’re only planning to sell digital goods that will be available for download. All of these details are important to consider when choosing what type of eCommerce system will best fit your business’s needs.
2. Am I a beginner or advanced user?
Determining your IT ability and comfort level is an important element of your decision. If you’re already writing your own web applications and are familiar with terms such as MySQL, PHP etc, then you’ll want a different eCommerce solution than someone looking for a simple step-by-step setup process. For professionals, downloading the latest version of the online shop app and installing it on the server isn’t a problem whereas others would likely prefer a simpler solution.
One of the main differences in eCommerce software is between that which is managed and maintained for you (Software as a Service – SaaS) and open-source software which offers a wide range of options and opportunities for customization.
3. Where do I want my products to be offered?
Some online stores allow not only for selling your products directly, but also via third party marketplaces such as Amazon or eBay. Of course, there are both advantages and disadvantages to this. On the one hand, such third party sites have a high traffic volumes and will increase the visibility of your offerings. On the other hand, these sites will also charge fees for your listings and sales, usually a percentage of the sale price. Moreover, you are also then competing side-by-side with many others. Nevertheless, platforms such as those mentioned above can provide a real boost to your online business.
Next, it is vital nowadays that your online store is mobile friendly so that customers shopping from their phone can easily view and navigate your store. It will also help you easily list products on your Facebook page and simultaneously connect your shop with social media fans and followers.
4. How will my shop be found?
Similar to a bricks-and-mortar store, the central question for owners is how customers will find them. Particularly in a big city, the location is often the most critical factor and can determine how many customers visit. For online stores, the equivalent measure is your search engine ranking, for example on Google. Your store’s position in search results is determined by the search engine via its own algorithm. However, using search engine optimization (SEO) techniques, you can improve your position relative to others. One vital part of a good eCommerce system is having SEO tools for this purpose. Additionally, in the beginning it is important to use search engines advertising or marketing (SEA/SEM) to increase customer awareness of your new store. These techniques allow you to determine exactly what target groups you want to reach. Your chosen online store software should also contain tools to help you accomplish this.
5. Where will my store be hosted?
The technical environment in which your eCommerce software and all its associated data are hosted is decisive in determining the performance, i.e. how quickly and easily webpages can be viewed by your customers. The slower the hardware, the longer it will take until pages are loaded which usually sends customers looking elsewhere. Even worse, should the server fail completely, everything on it including your online store will fail as well leading to loss of sales. Therefore it is wise to choose a hosting provider who guarantees a minimum uptime, such as 99.99%. And for those with less technical knowledge, it is also best to choose an eCommerce solution that includes hosting the online store itself, so that there is no additional work or setup necessary.
6. Who should do what?
Before getting started, consider who will be responsible for maintaining your online store. Will it be you? A coworker? Multiple people? Will one person do everything, or will multiple people be responsible for different areas such as payments, shipping and the like? If so, it is necessary to choose software that allows for multiple users with user-rights management. For small businesses, it is usually unimportant since one person is often in charge of everything.
As you’ve seen, it is necessary to identify your needs and requirements by answering questions like these before you decide which eCommerce system to go with. Getting started always involves some amount of time and effort and it would be a shame to realize afterwards that the system you’ve chosen is missing an important feature.
One last tip: Be sure that, regardless of what system you choose, that a free trial period or money-back guarantee is included. This will allow you some time to test out the system and ensure it fulfills your requirements before having to commit.
What do you think about building an online store? What has your experience been? We’d like to know!