Five Questions to Ask Before Opening an Online Store

These days, many of our customers are interested in setting up online shops to sell their goods. I say, great! Online shopping is easier than ever before. This means customers may be more likely to place orders from your site—and it also means that they’ll show up with plenty of expectations of what their shopping experiences should be like. You need to be ready to deliver.

Here are five questions I ask clients before they set up an online store:

Have you defined your products in detail? Customers want to know exactly what they’re getting. That means taking great pictures—lots of them; writing good descriptions, including item sizes, colors, and features; creating SKU numbers; and clearly listing shipping options. The more detail, the better; this gives customers confidence in you—and your stuff.

Is your product subject to sales tax? This varies from product to product and state to state. Typically, you are responsible for collecting tax for states you have a presence in. For example, if your headquarters are in Ohio, but you have a warehouse in Indiana, you’ll need to collect tax on orders shipped to both states. (Read more here.)

How will you fulfill your orders? Depending on what (and how much) you’re selling, you may be able to pull inventory, pack boxes, and ship orders on your own. If that’s not an option, check into fulfillment services from companies like Amazon, or consider drop shipping from your suppliers, if they’re willing.

Do you know how you’ll handle payments? This is more complicated than you might think. Accepting credit cards online requires an SSL certificate, plus a gateway and merchant account to process transactions and deposit money into your bank account. (I recommend Authorize.net.) If you don’t want your own SSL certificate, PayPal gets the job done.

What happens when a customer has a problem? What will you do if customers receive defective products, or if they just change their minds? Do you have a set of terms and conditions customers should agree to before they buy? The cozy anonymity of the Web doesn’t mean you get to skimp on customer service. Lay out worst-case scenarios on paper beforehand to discover all the liabilities and service expectations your customers are sure to have.

If you can answer all of these questions confidently, you’re on the right track. The next step? Stock your inventory, set up shop, and watch your sales climb.

Think of building an online store of your own? Contact Atomic for more expert advice. While you’re at it, check out our swag for sale.

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5 Steps to a Successful E-Commerce System

Selling products online seems simple: choose a shopping cart, price your merchandise, and watch the sales start rolling in.

In reality, there are a number of critical decisions you need to make before launching a successful e-commerce system. Here are 5 steps to get you there.

  • Organize your products. A surprising number of people who want us to set up an e-commerce system can’t tell us exactly what they want to sell. They’ve never made a comprehensive list of all their products. Before diving into e-commerce, start with the basics. Create an end-to-end product list in a database or Excel file. Include the product name, description, cost, weight, dimensions, and SKU number. You’ll also need product photos for each item. (Tip: Name each jpg according to the product’s SKU number to reduce confusion). Once you can identify everything you want to sell, we can get rolling.
  • Categorize your products. Think about how to organize your products into categories. If you’re a home store selling curtain rods, for example, should they go under Curtains or Hardware? Should a glass bowl go under Room Décor or Serveware? Or both? Choosing categories that reflect where customers will naturally look for products will ease frustration and promote sales.
  • Choose your software. A number of e-commerce options are available; you want the one that best fits your company, products, audience, size, and aspirations. You also need to ask specific questions. For example, do you sell to retail and wholesale clients? If so, your software must feature a tiered pricing structure. Do you sell thousands of different products? If so, you need enterprise-class software … and a sophisticated search feature. Will your customers buy via credit card or PayPal? The list of questions goes on. Answering each one helps us narrow your choices and identify the right system for you.
  • Determine the flow of your cart. The goal is to create a natural flow through your site – one that leads customers from an initial landing page to exactly what they want. To do this, you need to think about how customers would click through your site. What are the broad, top-level categories they’ll start with? (Electronics, for example.) What sub-categories will they expect to see under that? (Cell phones and TVs, for example.) What filters will they to use to narrow those subcategories? (Brand and Price?) Creating a logical flow will help customers easily find and purchase what they want.
  • Choose multiple products vs. a single product with options. Do you have a wide range of products available in different styles? (For example, men’s shirts in various colors, patterns, sizes, and lengths?) If so, you may want to set your cart up to have fewer products with multiple options. In contrast, do you sell products with options (such as color or fabric), but want to highlight the distinctiveness of each one? Then you may want to set each item up as an individual product.

This article should give you a sense of the many questions that come into play when setting up a successful e-commerce system. Before jumping in feet first, find a developer who’s a true e-commerce expert and work through these questions together.

The time you spend up front choosing the right system and configuring it properly will pay off in ease of use and increased sales in the long run.

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Six Key Questions about E-Commerce

Custom Magento

So… you want to make money online? Putting a few items on Ebay is one thing. But building a successful online store is another. Whether you’re selling products, services, or information, careful planning is essential for success.

Here are a few questions to consider before getting started:

Inventory

  • Do you have a brick-and-mortar store that will share products with your online store? If so, what would happen if you sold a product online and in the store at the same time? Would one of your customers have a bad experience?
  • How will you track your inventory online? Some store owners use the web; some use Quickbooks and sync the store and the ecommerce site together. Whatever method you choose, create a process and follow it diligently.

Software

  • Is there existing ecommerce software system that you can use?
  • If so, is it the best solution for your customers? Would they have a better experience with a website ecommerce design that was custom-built to their needs? A custom Magento solution, for example, might pay off in the long run if it makes the buying process easier for your customers.

Handling payment

  • How will customers pay for your product or service? You’ll need to select a merchant account and gateway to get started.
  • PayPal is an affordable option – but they aren’t a bank and don’t have to obey the same legalities that banks do.
  • Authorize.net might work with your business banking account.
  • Your bank might have a custom solution, or your inventory management system might have a built-in system.

Shipping

  • Will you offer free shipping? If so, how will that cost be built into your business model?
  • What vendor will be most convenient and cost-effective: UPS, USPS, or Fedex?
  • Are your products large enough to require freight shipping? Can your vendor handle that? What will the handling fee be?

Marketing

  • How will you market your website? Customers won’t find you automatically – you need a plan for getting their attention and moving them to your site.
  • Are you familiar with the ins-and-outs of website marketing—from search engine optimization to analytics? Or would it save money in the long run to work with a trusted advisor to market your ecommerce site?

Figuring out the best ecommerce system for your products and your customers may take some time. Remember that time you spend upfront in planning will save headache down the line — and that custom development, if it helps convert interest to sales, can be worth its weight in gold.