Expanding your brick-and-mortar sales to online can seem like a natural progression: more exposure = more sales, right? Not so fast. As web developers, we enjoy building online stores, so we’re not looking to discourage potential store owners. However, we want our clients to be successful. That is why we are providing details about what is really involved in running an ecommerce business. Without honest information, it is easy to jump in with unrealistic expectations.
How much work is it really? Will you need to hire new staff or purchase new equipment? How will you advertise?
Below we try to answer these questions and many others.
Should You Be Selling Online?
Building your online store is just the beginning. Maintaining and managing the store is an ongoing effort. Here are some important questions to consider before deciding that selling online is for you.
- Do you have the room for the additional inventory that will be required?
- Do you have the staff to handle the extra work?
- Who will be responsible for managing the website, answering customer questions, packing and shipping orders, managing inventory, handling returns, and keeping the online catalog up-to-date?
- How will you decide which of your products will sell online?
Is Your Product Unique? Is it a Specialty or Luxury Item?
Selling online is a competitive endeavor. You have the greatest chance of success if what you’re selling is not in direct competition with the likes of Amazon, Walmart, Costco, Target and other big online retailers. Avoid commoditized products: these are popular, price-sensitive products that everyone needs and that are already sold online.
You are most likely to be successful selling niche products that serve a specific segment of customers. These are often unique, one-of-a-kind, handmade products or small batch runs. Offering commoditized products alongside your niche products is also an option.
Do You Have The Time to Devote to An Online Store?
Running an ecommerce business in your spare time is not realistic. There’s a lot to keep an eye on. Just as you wouldn’t open a brick-and-mortar store without having someone to manage it, the online store will also require careful attention.
It is important to monitor and respond to questions, inquiries and complaints promptly. Keep stock levels up-to-date to avoid having customers purchase out of stock items. Process orders quickly. Customers do not want to wait for shipment of their purchases.
If You’re Not Computer Savvy, You Will Struggle
If you have a hard time organizing files on your computer, doing online transactions, using Facebook, or working with an Excel spreadsheet, you are likely to find managing an online store challenging and frustrating. Even with special tools, managing an online store requires computer literacy, competency and familiarity.
If your computer skills are lacking, don’t give up. There are plenty of things you can do to improve your skills. Start by taking a basic computer class from the local college, adult education, SeniorNet or other reputable organization.
There Are No Guarantees
As ubiquitous as online sales have become, the vast majority of sales are still from brick and mortar establishments. According to RetailNext, online sales still account for only 7% of purchases in the United States. However, that number is growing steadily and quickly. Expanding your reach can be one of the best ways to grow your business, but there are no guarantees. You want to be sure that you can handle the additional business without taking away from your loyal customer base.
Don’t Expect To Make Money Fast
In most cases, new online entrepreneurs overestimate how much money they’ll make in the first few years. Starting an online business requires long term thinking. There are no shortcuts.