Starting any kind of business is a stressful occasion. No matter how carefully you plan every conceivable step of the process and how much faith you have in the product or service you’re offering, the thought of failure will probably occasionally pop into your mind. The global financial crisis and its continuing effects have deepened the negativity with regard to consumer confidence, and the sight of empty shops with a For Lease sign in the window is a common sight in many cities, which is hardly reassuring for those who plan to set up a retail operation.
The internet has changed the face of retail, and many of the most successful retailers of the past decade operate exclusively online, such as Amazon and ASOS. There can be an imagined prestige to having a physical outlet location, and yet in many instances this really isn’t necessary, which is why starting an online shop can be a way to establish a retail operation in a cost effective mannerwhile accruing minimal financial risk.
What Will You Sell?
This is the big question, but it’s likely to be one that you’ve already thought about prior to starting an online shop. Selling a product that you’ve made yourself can be more of a logistical challenge than other options, since you’ll need to create the product in a timely manner and arrange shipping. If you intend to source products directly from the manufacturer and list them on your online shop (which is essentially how the majority of physical retail outlets operate), then you’re better off utilizing dropship, which is a process that removes you from the shipping process. As outlined in Hack the System’s blog article, dropshipping involves the customer paying you for the product, followed by you forwarding the predetermined wholesale cost to the manufacturer, who in turn ships the product. This is also a great way to minimize risk, since you don’t pay the manufacturer for the product until it has already been sold. Not all manufacturers will accept the dropship process, but it can be worth hunting around for one that does.
Similar to physical retail outlets, careful design and color coordination of a website design sets the tone for your online shop. Be prepared to invest a reasonable amount of money to engage the services of a top quality website designer, although this is not your only option. It’s best to have a general idea of what you’re after, although a good web designer should be able to anticipate your needs after discussing the project and design accordingly. Some design companies can also help you to secure a domain name for the website, and this is something that can actually influence the name of your online shop, if your first choice has already been registered.
Online Shopping Platforms
The Australian government’s business resource center reminds entrepreneurs that spending money on website design isn’t always the best way to go, as there are a variety of online shopping platforms that allow you to build your own website from a wide selection of templates. These systems are cost effective and very easy to use, even for those of us with minimal technical skills. There’s a small monthly charge for a website built using one of these platforms, which can increase depending on how many individual products you plan to offer. When you contract a web designer to build your site, their job generally ends as soon as the site goes live, but with an online shopping platform, you receive support as needed, and they generally offer payment facilities as part of the package, allowing you to accept a number of forms of electronic payment. You will still need to register a domain name, but the platform will act as the web host.
Marketing Your Online Shop
There’s no sense in starting an online shop and expecting that customers will automatically find it in the dark corners of the internet. Remember that you’re now alongside some very large ecommerce operations whose brands have become household names. While you might not plan to directly compete with them, you need to ensure that you don’t get lost in cyberspace. Much like how using an online shopping platform allows you to set up a website to your specifications, there are a number of forms of effective internet marketing that you can easily accomplish by yourself. Familiarize yourself with the basics, and the For Dummies series of books has a number of specialized titles that can teach anyone the ins and outs of internet marketing. Never forget the importance of social media, and so make sure you set up a Facebook page and Twitter account for your business, offering tangible information about your products, as well as loosely related anecdotes and statements – anything that people are likely to share, which increases your online profile.