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Why Small Businesses Should be Selling Online and How to Get Started

Shopping online. Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend in the US, saw online sales totalling US$1.98 Billion this year, a 17% increase over 2011, and IBIS World research forecasts online revenue growing at 8.6% a year over the next five years.

Compare that to the GDP growths of most major economies, which is somewhere in the 2% – 3% range.

What does that mean for small business owners?

The message is loud and clear: if you’re a small business owner you need to be making your products and services available for purchase online, because that’s where your customers are, increasingly, going to be doing their shopping.

So how difficult is it, really, to set up a shop online?

Actually, probably a lot easier than you may think.

How to set up a shop online

Whether you add a shop to an existing website, or create a new dedicated eCommerce site from the ground up, there are a few basics you need to get to grips with:

What platform will you use?

You have a wide range of choices here but, because we base all the sites we build on WordPress, we come down to two options:

  1. Add an eCommerce plugin to your WordPress based website. Our plugin of choice for this, EcWid, is a hosted solution which is designed from the ground up as an eCommerce platform
  2. Install a platform, such as Prestashop, that is natively a pure eCommerce platform

If your website already has a fair amount of content – product descriptions, company background and so on – the plugin solution would be good.

EcWid is designed as an eCommerce platform and fits very neatly into your existing site, with the minimum of hassle. You can actually integrate it into any site, irrespective of the platform your site is running on.

On the other hand, if you don’t have a site yet and you want to set up an online shop, then going for a platform such as Prestashop may be a better solution.

Prestashop is a pure eCommerce platform on which you set up your shop. The difference between Prestashop and EcWid is that EcWid does need to be integrated into an existing site, whereas Prestashop is a self-contained, stand-alone solution.

Taking payments

The next thing to consider is how to take payments.

If you already accept credit cards, your bank may simply extend their support to your online shop. In many cases, though, they will require a higher deposit and the lower your level of business, the higher the deposit they will request.

For that reason, most small businesses will be better off opening a PayPal or Google Checkout account. I talked a bit more about payment gateways back here.

There are several advantages to using one of these platforms:

  1. They’re free to set up
  2. They don’t require a deposit
  3. Your customers are familiar with them
  4. You don’t ever see the customers’ financial details which makes the security requirements your site needs to adhere to less stringent
  5. They offer your customers a wide range of payment options: debit cards, credit cards and eCheques, which smooth’s the customer journey

Configuring your shop – taxes and shipping

Once you have your basic platform in place and linked up to a means of taking payment you will start to load up your products.

The only steps that require some thought and attention are setting up taxes and how you set up shipping or delivery charges.

If you’re selling to a global market place you’ll need to negotiate delivery arrangements with one of the courier companies or the postal service.

Inevitably there will be different charges for different destinations but this is made simpler by the fact that most of the couriers use zones (or regions) to differentiate their charges.

So you will need to reach agreement with your chosen carrier on their costs for delivering different weight packages to the markets where your customers live, and then you will need to set these up in the admin area of your shop.

It’s not complicated, but it does require some care because you don’t want to be losing money as a result of setting up the wrong shipping costs!

Of course, if you’re selling just to your local market working out the shipping and delivery charges becomes a lot simpler.

The other thing you will need to check carefully is setting up taxes. We don’t have a sales tax in Hong Kong, which eliminates the need for this step for those of us living here but, if you do have a sales tax in your jurisdiction, then be sure to set it up correctly!

Both EcWid and Prestashop handle taxes correctly – you just need to make sure you set them up in the first place.

Once you’ve got your taxes, shipping and delivery charges set up the rest is pretty straight forward: you just need to upload images, descriptions and prices of all your products, check them, publish them and you’re in business.

Summary

I’ve seen a lot of small business websites recently that display and sell products online, but force site visitors to place an order via email in order to buy.

How much easier, and better for business, if your customer can simply complete the transaction online, in one visit, without having to send a separate email and a separate payment!

Setting up a shop online is neither difficult nor expensive.

As we saw at the beginning, the growth of online retail is far outstripping the GDP growth of most major economies and, since online is where your customers are going to increasingly be doing their shopping, that’s where you need to be too!

If you’d like to talk about setting up an online shop on your website (or a website with an online shop!) contact us here.

Cheers,

Martin Malden.

Here to help: Hi, I’m Martin Malden. If you’re worried about the ever-increasing flow of new security threats online, don’t have the time to maintain your site properly, or you could use some WordPress training, please get in touch.