I’m going to say something that may surprise a lot of you: just because you are in the retail business does not mean you have to sell your products online.
Sure, you’ll still need a web presence. But selling your products via the web is a whole other animal.
So how do you know if its time for you to start selling your products online?
Ultimately, this is a decision only you can make. However, I can give you the tools to aid in making a good decision.
How Will This Impact Daily Operations and Cost?
The first part of the decision involves looking at your daily operations and determining what kind of impact this will have on how the business functions. Among the criteria to examine:
- Storage for inventory
- Staff available to process orders
- Time available staff has to devote to processing orders
- Whether a fulfillment center is cost-effective for you or not
- If you have staff with the time to answer phone calls, emails, and live chat from customers shopping on your site
- Cost of setting up a shopping cart, which may require a full overhaul and redesign of your website
- Cost of integrating a web-based database with your existing inventory/customer database(s) if yours is not web-ready
- Shipping logistics and fees
- Taxation and other legal issues
- Cost of having a bank that can process credit cards online (even Paypal will deduct a nominal fee)
And one more facet to examine: how much of the world are you wanting to do business with? If you are in America, and your customers are in India, do you have people available to answer chats late at night? That can speak other languages? If you don’t use bilingual customer service staff, do you have staff that is at least sensitive to the niceties of other cultures and can handle any language barriers? What about shipping costs and other fees to other countries? Admittedly, not everyone who sells online wants to go fully global. So it is best to first determine just how far you want to go.
What Are You Selling?
Let’s face it, not all products are best sold online. Or some products require extra features if they are to be sold online. For example, if you want to sell furniture online you may require the ability for customers to zoom in to various parts of the product for a close-up so they can see the quality. On the other hand, many people just won’t buy furniture online since that’s something they prefer to view first-hand. It can be very difficult to determine a product’s quality by looking at a web page.
Can You Afford Not To?
Now let’s look at your business from the standpoint of not doing this. Can you afford not to sell online? Are you losing a lot of business to the competition? Do you frequently hear “I can find it cheaper online”? Are profit margins dipping because of this? Are your strongest competitors selling online successfully? These are they types of questions that will allow you to look at the situation from another angle.
So You’re Jumping In. What Now?
Well, for starters, get a web designer. This isn’t the time to try and learn web design yourself. Learning to create a quality site already has a bit of a learning curve, and that of many shopping carts is much steeper. You especially don’t want to risk your site’s security because you didn’t know what you were doing.
Some web designers may be able to help you decide which shopping cart option is best for your situation in terms of a retail web presence. Or you may need to do the research yourself if the web designer is strictly a designer. You’ll look at options such as:
- Use of PayPal or GoogleCart vs. other shopping carts
- Whether something like an Amazon Z-Store is an option
If you opt to use a shopping cart on your site other than PayPal or GoogleCart, you will need:
- To buy a secure certificate (plan for paying for it yearly or every few years)
- A web hosting account that will allow you to use this certificate
- To buy a shopping cart (unless a quality one comes with your hosting account; there are free carts out there too, but they are often unreliable, insecure, and will likely cost you more to have someone try and install it)
As you can see, online sales isn’t just a matter of slapping up a site with some inventory. A lot of work goes the process. Even once all of this work has been done, there is advertising to be done to draw customers and regular maintenance that must go into the site to keep it current. Make time for some serious thinking to determine if selling your products online is for you or not. If you do decide to go into online sales, spend time preparing a plan and budget before leaping in.