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Ecommerce for small businesses

Do your research

Before you get going with your online shop, research the rules and regulations that apply to trading online and make sure you fully understand your responsibilities. It’s worth getting a good handle on your legal and regulatory obligations – that way you won’t have to worry and can focus on the next stages.

Research other online shops and compile a list of features you like. For instance, would you like for customers to be able to save items to a wish list? If you didn’t manage to close the deal today, this improves the long-term chances.

It sounds strange but try to also identify what the websites you like have managed to do without. The aim is a sleek, uncluttered site that requires very few clicks to complete a sale. Online shopping carts are often abandoned so the process needs to be fast to maximise the number of people completing it.

Ultimately, focus on what will work best for your customers, not just what looks good. The emphasis should be on functionality and creating the best possible customer experience. If a flashy website using the latest techniques doesn’t fit your target market, it may well be a waste of money.

Building your website

The good news is you have options. As a first option, would a shop on eBay or Amazon work for your products? The start-up process is simple and it’s tempting to try and capitalize on the level of traffic going to those sites.

Avoid the temptation to quickly opt for what seems easiest though – you may be missing out on opportunities. The point is getting the right fit for your target market and this may mean setting up your own dedicated site.

A second option is buying an off-the-shelf website package. Compare the functionality against your wish list of features – you may have to decide if you want to make any compromises in return for the ease and speed of set-up.

You could also engage a web designer to build a bespoke site. Whether using a web designer or a platform, shop around and ensure you’re getting the best value. It doesn’t pay to go for the first one you see – look at their previous work and clients’ reviews before making any decisions.

Planning the delivery process

Before your website goes live, you need a solid plan for the shipping and delivery side of your operation. Speed of delivery is a key concern for online customers – it’s one of the few areas where the online consumer experience is significantly weaker than shopping on the high street.

Given they can’t have the product in their hand there and then, minimise the time it takes for them to receive it, and be clear how long it will take. If a customer is kept waiting, chances are they won’t come back so do everything you can to fine-tune your delivery procedures.

What’s in a name?

Choosing the right name for your online shop is a crucial decision – it’s the gateway to your brand. Decide whether you want a name that can accidentally crop up in web searches – one made up of real words – or whether your brand would better suit a made-up word that can be unique to you.

Some of your ideas may already be taken by other sites. Domain speculators have bought up many one word or obvious names and it can be expensive to buy them. Depending on your budget, you might need to be more creative.

Avoid anything overly complicated and consider how the name you choose will look once the spaces have been removed in a web address – check that it’s clear and easy to read (and doesn’t inadvertently spell out something you hadn’t intended).

Steering online traffic

As with any shop, you’ll need to spread the word. A great way to do this is through social media like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Consumers on social media respond best to authentic and engaging people – hard-selling will get you nowhere and may significantly harm your credibility.

Using social media requires a commitment of time, as it’s vital you regularly update both your social media and your website to keep customers coming back. A blog can also be a great way to generate ongoing interest.

You may also want to research search engine optimisation (SEO), a range of commonly used tactics that aim to improve your site’s ranking with search engines like Google. SEO can help increase the number of consumers reaching you through key word searches.

Looking after your customers

You may not meet your online customers but you still need to engage with them. Ask for feedback on completed orders – customers will appreciate the opportunity to be heard and it will provide valuable information for improving your business.

Be mindful that some consumers dislike how impersonal shopping online can be. Personalising emails and responding quickly to queries with useful, friendly replies can all help the customer to get a sense of the people behind the brand, and will encourage repeat custom and word-of-mouth referrals.

The biggest concern for online customers is security – they won’t hand over details unless they feel their data will be safe, particularly credit card details.

Whichever options you choose, only ask for the absolute minimum information you need from your customers, and ensure you’re complying with current legislation on data protection. Show your customers you take their security seriously and explain everything you’re doing to safeguard it.

Please note that this is a guide only and should neither replace competent advice, nor be taken, or relied upon, as financial or professional advice. Seek professional advice before making any decision that could affect your business.

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