While any website created for the purpose of adding to sales is officially engaged in ecommerce, the generally-accepted definition of this term is a retail website set up to take and receive orders online. Interestingly enough, this direct-to-consumer business model is often off the radar of the Internet Marking crowd, which tends to focus on monetizing information. But ecommerce is a great way to get started making money online and, when done correctly, can result in a lot of cash fast.
Here is a basic step-by-step process for getting your first ecommerce project off of the ground.
Step 1: Decide What to Sell
Like many others launching an ecommerce site, you probably have a product line in mind already.
Perhaps you want to focus on one of your passions by selling fishing gear, golf clothing, or scrap-booking supplies. After all, it’s always a good idea to go with what you know.
Maybe you’ve even noticed a gap in the market and have a unique product idea that could fill a distinct need. Or perhaps you’ve identified a special, under-served market for an everyday item and want your own site so you can tap into the opportunity.
Then again, others just get into ecommerce sites simply because they recognize a good business model often overlooked by other marketers. That’s fine too, but you obviously need to iron out your entire site concept before you get going.
Step 2: Figure Out How to Provide the Product
This really depends on how involved you want to be in the process. You can create, manufacturer, and supply your product yourself, but if you aren’t ready to take on all that investment and work, you might consider affiliate marketing or drop-shipping.
In fact, these “hands-off” options provide a great way to test out your business model, and then you can consider getting into the manufacturing side of things after you see some success.
Step 3: Create Your Website
Web design is not something you want to skimp on, but if you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you can create your own site these days using the many user-friendly programs available on the web. Some, like Shopify, are created specifically with ecommerce merchants in mind.
Another option is to hire a web designer. Put out ads on Craigslist or Elance to find a good provider, making sure to ask for live examples. Even better, get a referral from a friend. There are just as many bad or unethical designers these days as there are good ones, and if you’re new to online commerce, it’s hard to know the difference.
Keep in mind that while there are many decent designers available for dirt cheap abroad, you often get what you pay for in terms of customer service, work ethics, and reliability.
As for hosting, it’s best go with dedicated plans if you’re in for the long-term, but some entrepreneurs choose to started out on a shared plan early on and switch over later.
Step 4: Set Up the Site to Process Orders
How will you process purchases on your site? You need a shopping cart program that takes orders, automatically calculates shipping and tax, and launches an automated order delivery process as well as any follow-up communications. Some popular software options are OsCommerce, Magento, CubeCart, and ZenCart.
Step 5: Set Up a Merchant Account
If you want to accept credit cards over the Internet, go to your bank and open an Internet Merchant account, which manages all charges, fees, and refunds. If you have trouble getting accepted, put in applications with other banks and threaten to move your personal accounts for some bargaining power. You can also find companies online that offer credit card processing.
Step 6: Create a Payment Gateway
You need a Payment Gateway Account as well, which connects your merchant account with your customer’s credit card accounts, acting as an “intermediary” when they place their orders so that neither party has access to the other’s information. Your payment gateway essentially provides security so we can all do business online.
Note: PayPal is an easy way to get set up without a Merchant Account or a Payment Gateway, allowing anyone with an email address to get or receive credit card payments, and they’ve even got a Pro version that comes with a shopping cart.. But keep in mind the fees are quite high.
Step 7: Test Your Site
Now that your site is up and running, make sure everything is working properly by running a test. If that proves successful, have a friend place an order next to ensure the process is not confusing to an unfamiliar party.
Step 8: Start Marketing
How will you drive traffic to your new ecommerce store? Ideally, this is something you thought about before you built the site, but a traffic generation plan is always evolving. Different strategies to consider include social media marketing, media buys, blogging, SEO, and magazine advertising.
Ready to gain some traction with your ecommerce site? Stay tuned for more articles because we’ll be giving specific tips on how to drive traffic later on.