E-Commerce: The act of buying and selling goods and services over the Internet
Sounds simple enough, right? If it were simple, everyone would be doing it. The fact is, it's not simple, but by building an online store, you can find new customers and increase sales by a very significant margin.
If you have a brick-and-mortar storefront, chances are, you are already in a very good position to begin selling online. You probably already maintain some kind of inventory system to account for your incoming products and outgoing sales. If you use accounting software like Quickbooks, you are already on your way to being able to sell online.
In order to prepare for selling online, you need to make sure you have certain pieces of information regarding your products assembled and in an organized fashion.
Here is a checklist:
- Product Name
- Your Product ID number
- Manufacturer's Part Number
- Brand Name
- Product Description
- Product Image(s)
- The dimensions of the shipping box (length, width & depth)
- The weight of the shipping box
- Product Variations – color, size, etc.
- Your selling price
Besides all of this, you will also need to categorize your inventory. Google Shopping and Bing Product Ads can be extremely helpful in putting your products in front of the right buyer...no matter where they are in the world. If you plan to use either of these vehicles to promote your products, you need to assign each of your products a category from the Google Product Category Taxonomy. Luckily, Bing Product Ads use this same taxonomy, so this work only needs to be done once.
All of the information listed above needs to be organized into an electronic document that can be uploaded to Google and Bing. If your inventory and pricing doesn't change very often, this can be done manually, at least once per month. Otherwise, you will need a system that will automatically download this information from your website and upload a file to Google and Bing on a regular basis to make sure that the ads you are showing online properly reflect your product price and current availability. Read more on Google Shopping and Bing Product Ads here.
Now that you have all your product data ready, you need a way to display your products online. You will need a shopping cart system built into your website. This is a system where a user can browse your inventory, place items into a virtual “shopping cart” and go through a checkout procedure where shipping options are chosen, applicable sales tax is applied and payment is processed.
Shipping: Which carriers do you wish to ship your products with? This needs to be decided before launching your online store. By giving your customers a choice of carriers and shipping services, they can know during the checkout procedure how much it will cost to receive the product and how long it will take. Check with your shipping carriers for shipping software that can be connected to your accounting software and even your shopping cart system. These programs can go a long way in reducing fulfillment time and saving you money.
Tax: This varies state-by-state, but the general rule of thumb says that you will need to collect sales tax on any order being shipped to a state where you have a business entity. Check with your accountant for advice on this matter as well as a tax table which can be uploaded to your shopping cart program.
Payments: You will need to have a credit card processor attached to your shopping cart program. This is a third-party company who will securely charge your customer's credit card and deposit funds into your bank account, less any fees associated with its use. There are alternative payment solutions available such as PayPal, Square and Stripe.
Lastly, before going “live” with your online store, you must take some time to consider fulfillment. Once you get an online order, how will it be processed?
- Who will receive the order email from the website?
- How will the item(s) be picked, packed and prepared for shipping?
- How will you purchase and print postage?
- How will you get your packages into the hands of the shipping carriers?
- How long will this fulfillment process take?
- How will customer communication happen after the sale?
It is important to consider the entire process before launching an online store. Order fulfillment is a key element in making happy and repeat customers. If you know that it will take 24 hours to pick, pack and ship an order, be sure to publish this fact on your website. Whether you offer same-day shipping, or it takes you 3-4 days to procure an item from your vendors, you want to let your customers know in the shopping cart how long fulfillment will take so they know when they can expect their order.
Now that you have organized your inventory, built an online shopping cart and have a system for fulfillment, you are ready to launch your online store! But keep in mind...just because you opened your door, doesn't mean people will rush right in! You will need a plan to drive qualified traffic to your website...that will be covered in the next topic: How to Promote Your Products Using Google and Bing