Creating an online store may sound like a daunting task to many but it isn’t necessarily so. Unlike many years ago, so many user-friendly tools and affordable web hosting are easily available today, that building your own e-store is not that difficult anymore.
There are many websites that you can sell your products online e.g. eBay. We have also highlighted some popular Malaysian online marketplaces earlier that you can take advantage of. But why not build your own online store instead?
Why Build Your Own Online Store
Most importantly, you get complete control over the website e.g. its designs, layout, content and everything else. The other reason is to save costs. True, you will still need to fork out hosting fees and payment gateway processing fees but at least you can avoid transaction and listing fees, which in the long run, may benefit you when your sales increase.
Are there any drawbacks? Well, I would say it’s the challenge of getting traffic to your site and building credibility. Why should potential customers buy from you and not from a larger organization like Amazon or eBay? But we’ll look into this shortly.
8 Simple Steps to Selling Online
Regardless of whether you are building an online store from scratch or creating an e-commerce website as an extension to your existing brick-and-mortar business, here are 8 simple steps to selling online.
Establishing Your Business
This means getting the basic stuff of your business all mapped out. Like determining what products or services to sell. A business plan would be good to keep you on track. Of course your contact details e.g. address and phone numbers or email address. OK, those are obvious and I’m pretty sure you have all these sorted by now.
There’s another thing I would like to address here. Remember when I mentioned about the potential challenge of generating traffic (hence, sales)? Well, one of the tips for getting more visitors is higher SEO ranking and to achieve this, you will need lots of good and original content. So be prepared to provide informative articles related to your products and services on your website.
Search for Web Hosting
The next step is to subscribe for a good web hosting plan. You can find lots of helpful tips on 100Webhosting.com e.g. web hosting types comparison, how to choose the right web hosting company and so forth.
You will also need to register a domain name of course. A good domain name is always linked to your business name. And remember to register for a few variation of your business name too.
The other thing you need to obtain is a dedicated IP address and private SSL certificate in order to gain your customers’ trust. These cost approximately $2 per month and $150 per year respectively. You can use the shared SSL certificates that are provided free by most web hosts but your customers will see a warning that the SSL certificate does not match your domain.
Some hosting providers provide free dedicated IP addresses. Two of the most popular ones are:
Designing a Website
I would recommend the popular WordPress as the content management system (CMS) to go to when designing your online store’s website. It’s free and is user-friendly and allows you to easily build a professional store regardless of whether you understand programming language or not.
Moreover, most hosting providers offer WordPress as part of their package so you shouldn’t have any problems installing it.
You can easily install WordPress with just a few clicks of the mouse if your web host is using the highly popular cPanel control panel. In cPanel you can almost certainly find Fantastico or SimpleScripts application installer.
Next, you get to choose your theme. There are lots of e-commerce themes available for WordPress, both free and premium. Since you are doing online transactions, I would suggest that you choose a premium theme to build a powerful and reliable website that is easy to manage. Free themes’ scripts may not be optimized or updated frequently (if at all) and that can make your e-store a hackers’ easy target.
The eStore eCommerce WordPress theme from Elegant Themes is a simple and effective e-commerce theme. This professional theme is easy to configure and integrate easily with other e-commerce plugins. And you will receive updates and support for as long as you have a valid membership, which by the way, costs only $39 per year for full access to ALL their themes.
Shopping Cart Applications
You do not need to do this step if you have chosen to use WordPress and a good e-commerce theme & a shopping cart plugin. Otherwise, you can install and use a shopping cart application for your online store.
Nowadays, most web hosts have both free and premium shopping carts already included in the hosting plan. Zen Cart (free) and Magento (premium) are some popular e-commerce shopping cart software solutions. Just look under the e-commerce features in your hosting plan.
Good web hosting companies generally have 1-click script installer which comes with at least a couple of shopping cart applications. For example, SimpleScripts from Bluehost, QuickInstall from HostGator and Softaculous from WebhostingHub so installation will be a breeze.
Your E-Store’s Navigation
Once you have decided on your theme or shopping cart application, you can get down to customizing your e-store.
First thing to look into would be your products or services categories. The navigation through these categories should be concise. Don’t put too many categories and thus, confuse your customers. You can always create sub-categories. Remember to add a search box at the top of your website too.
Do name your products clearly. For example, if you are selling a “Burberry”, you could list it as “Burberry Nova Check Tote Handbag” together with a few clear images of the bag. Oh, do remember to put in a detailed description of your product.
Finalizing Other Details
The other thing that you will need to look into seriously is payment methods. Please make sure your website accepts online payments and not requiring your customers to bank in manually to you!
I would highly recommend that you integrate a reliable and secure payment gateway, for example PayPal, Authorize.Net and 2Checkout. Try to avoid accepting credit cards payments directly on your website. There is a long list of security standards to meet and on top of that, you have the additional work (and not to mention stress) of maintaining the security for this service.
Shipping is pretty simple to manage. Just check with your local post office or courier services (DHL, Fedex and UPS for example) for quotes and do up a table according to weight and distance and upload it on your website. Alternatively, you can incorporate the shipping charges into the items and offer “Free Delivery”!
Once it is up and running, you would still need to do maintenance work. It is of utmost importance that you update your software and plugins in order to ensure that bugs are fixed and security are intact. You can’t afford to lose your customers’ trust and your reputation!
Do remember to update your product’s inventory as well as the product information too!
So you see, starting an online store is not that difficult. It may take some effort but then, nothing comes free right? If you should have further queries, do post them on the comments below and I’ll try my best to address them.