Steve: I read your previous column where you suggest that if business is slow in my area (and it is) we should consider getting into e-commerce. I like that idea, but I’m not sure how to start, and I’m not sure what to sell. Thoughts? — Deanna
Deanna: You bet. In fact, I recently did a webinar at AT&T called E-Commerce Essentials that explains the process of creating an e-store and selling online.
Basically, it is a seven-step process:
1. Notice what works: Whether it is eBay or Amazon, e-commerce sites that succeed tend to do the same things right: They are attractive, intuitive, engaging, and easy to navigate; they tend to offer plenty of inventory; shopping is easy; and they usually offer discounts. Remember: The Web is a culture of discounts.
2. Analyze the competition. Who else sells what you want to sell? Buy some stuff from them and ask yourself what is it they right and wrong, and how it can be improved.
3. Pick products: If you are already in business, then adding your inventory to your online store is easy: Take pictures, add them to your online catalogue (see below) and write some great copy. If you don’t know what you want to sell, there are no shortage of wholesalers and distributors from which to choose. In fact, over at my site —
MrAllBiz.com — we offer a wholesale product search engine. You can find wholesalers for just about any product you are looking for.
4. Create a great site: You have just a few seconds once someone finds your site to impress them, so you must have a site that is graphically pleasing to the eye, unique and useful.
5. Consider drop shipping: Drop shipping is an arrangement between you and a wholesaler or distributor in which you offer their products on your site but you don’t actually physically stock any inventory. If someone clicks and buys, notice is sent to you and the wholesaler, the wholesalers ships the product using your labels and logos, and you split the profit. If you think this is a great way to get started, you are right. There are no products to buy, no huge up-front costs, and no labor expenses. You can find drop shippers for most any product by typing “drop shipping” into the product search engine at my site.
6. Create your store: There are two parts to your e-commerce store — the front end and the back end. The front end is what the world sees — your products, promotions, policies, and so on. The back end is what you see — inventory control, reports of what sells, etc. You will need to find an online partner/Web host to help you build your store. Of course, I’m partial to my colleagues at AT&T; their software will create both the front end and the back end. It allows you to create thumbnails of your products, write copy, etc.
7. Handle sales: To sell online, you need a merchant account (an account with a credit card issuer) and/or the ability to
accept PayPal payments. You will also need to be able to handle inquiries, returns, exchanges, and refunds. Don’t underestimate shipping and related costs either.
Plenty of other Oregon small businesses have made the leap to online success, and if they did it, so can you.
Steve Strauss is the small business columnist for Oregon Business.