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Holiday Shopping and eCommerce
Moments after the last doorbell rang in hopes of chocolate candies, I started thinking about Black Friday, turkeys, and reindeer. Small business owners know the holiday sales routine, especially for brick-and-mortar stores. There are time-worn advertising and marketing methods for making sales. But this year, the festive spirit may have sounds associated with online banks and credit card gateways. Are you selling your products online? Choosing to sell your products online takes calculated risk. When is the best time? How will you market the store? How will it be developed? These questions and dozens of others would need to be ruminated upon weeks prior to development. Can a short-order store be put online before holiday sales? Sure, it can. But the best course would be to plan for the site's launch and come out of the gate running full speed, not limping along bandaging ailing legs. This is the time of year we hear about online shopping competing with offline. The sales bring in droves of customers during the Black Friday fiesta. But recent data shows that online commerce has superseded that of the offline world.*
Starting an eCommerce store can be a great way to expand your business, with less of the overhead of a physical retail shop. Consider the following benefits:
- Low overhead
- Convenience for customers
- Expanded reach
- Reduced marketing costs
- Always on, even during holidays
The benefits seemingly outweigh the cost and added logistics. There are questions you should be asking prior to diving into eCommerce, including:
- Can your existing website support an eCommerce component or would you need to redesign?
- How will you manage inventory sold online?
- What payment types do you wish to allow? Credit card payments outside of merchants like Paypal require a bit more in terms of setup and cost.
- How will you work orders from online into your daily processes?
Those are just a few of the considerations for a new eCommerce store. Many others would be discussed during the development phase. None of them present insurmountable obstacles, but they do present different challenges that need to be met. Let's take a look at each.
Challenges to Opening an eCommerce Store
- Updating your site. Your existing website may or may not have the capacity to expand. A static HTML site would require massive upgrades to include a built-in store. Of course, you could always design a similar looking storefront off a subdomain, like store.mywebsite.com. That's a valid option. Another option would be to redesign the site altogether, weaving in the store elements to the existing site. That's far more common of a solution.
- Inventory concerns. How you manage your inventory online depends entirely on your business operation. If you want to track stock then you would need a web store solution that matched up with your offline tracking software. There are solutions out there for many different software solutions, but that would need to be explored prior to development talks. What are your internal business process needs in regards to selling online? What logistics do you need to figure out ahead of time? This could be everything from shipping to discount coupons. Talk about it with your design specialist and you will save yourself a lot of headaches down the road.
- How will you handle online payments Payments are an important part of any online store. Some store owners opt to use Paypal as their one-and-only payment solution. That's fine. Paypal provides a convenient service. Another option would be to install a payment gateway to handle the transactions. That gateway would connect the webstore to an online merchant account. The logistics behind that are fairly simple: setup the gateway securely and use the client information to connect the gateway to the merchant account. There are added costs to this approach, like the cost of an annual site certificate and an additional merchant account. If you have a merchant account for offline transactions, you'll still likely need an additional one for online purchases.
- What business logistics will need to be considered? The orders that come through online...how will you process them? It's a simple question that requires many businesses to make major changes to their day-to-day doings. The answer may simply be assigning an employee to a store email that receives messages everytime an order's placed. They print packing slips, pull orders, package, and prepare the shipment. This also includes updating the order through the site and managing any customer questions that may come through.
The eCommerce Myths
Opening an online store does not equal immediate success. Markets online have just as much, if not more, saturation than local ones. For this reason, it's best to consider whether the market can be cracked with your product, or whether you're better off waiting or staying local. An online store does not add huge amounts of liability to your business. Sure hackers are prevalent online, but they're mainly targeting large businesses and operations. Your customer's data would be securely stored in a database and no credit card information would ever be stored. Responsible construction of a eCommerce store should be considered if you want to alleviate these concerns. eCommerce stores do have monthly costs that can increase as you gain in popularity. The site will obviously need to be hosted on a secure server. That means a monthly fee. If you don't own a domain name, then you would need to purchase one (paid annually) in addition to the annual site certificate.
Why eCommerce Makes Money
It's a value-added layer to your business. The eCommerce solution you introduce to the online marketplace also puts your business where the convenience buy takes place. Customers want solutions that are easy and affordable. If you can market your product, make the site simple, and promote during holidays then you can turn a profit. Your eCommerce store may be the answer to bringing in more revenue for your business. And once you learn all the social media tactics for increasing your customer base, then you'll really be moving product. So, how about it. You ready to start talking about an online store?
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