This ultimate guide will help you throughout the processes of planning, establishing and running a profitable eCommerce (online business). This guide is not only about starting an eCommerce, but also about running it successfully and growing fast.
Why You Should Invest in eCommerce?
If you are planning to start a business, investing in eCommerce is one of the right options. Even if you are already into a high earning brick and mortar establishment, it’s time to expand your business by building your online presence. Less investment and more sales are the two biggest advantages of any online business. Tendency towards online shopping is ever increasing. Cheap data plans and revolutionary growth in the smart phone industries have enormously empowered people so that they could purchase from home at their own conveniences. People’s choices for online shopping is increasing day by day. Less time consumption, higher convenience, easy accessibility, better pricing, options for comparison, swifter support and greater reliability are few among many reasons. This is why people prefer to purchase online. Customers are already on the internet and the figure is increasing everyday. It’s your term to reach your target customers. Time will never return to you.
One of the rapidly growing sectors at present is eCommerce. Starting from 1.548 trillion dollars in 2015, it has reached 3.462 trillion dollars at the beginning of 2019. Growth rate for next one year is predicted to be 21.167%. It’s a very big figure.MarketVivo
Worldwide eCommerce sales are expected to go beyond $4 trillion by 2020. By bringing your business on to the internet, you can be one among the forerunners. Growing rapidly is the next aspect. However, if you are a beginner in the online journey, you might not achieve the desired goal. You definitely need to know few aspects, such as, where to start and how to proceed. Carefulness is always important. ‘Less investment and more sale’ paradigm may not always works. Therefore, this guide will elaborate each crucial step that is required to successfully start and run any eCommerce business. This guide will also tell you about the carefulness that involves in investing in eCommerce.
Steps to Follow for Successfully Establishing an Online Business or E-commerce
Let me guide you through the complete processes and steps so that you can start a successful eCommerce and build your online business. Let’s consider three alternative situations:
- You are entering into a business for the first time. You have no or little experience in business. You don’t have any knowledge about where to start.
- You are already in a business all through your offline stores and outlets. You want to expand your business through eCommerce, but you have little idea and knowledge about how to do.
- You have already entered into an online business. But due to wrong approaches, you are getting nothing out of it.
In all of the above cases, you need to proceed through step by step. The most important steps in establishing / building an online business are as follow:
- Deciding what to sell online
- Knowing how to manage inventories
- Deciding your role as an online seller
- Identifying opportunities or knowing how to sell online
- Choosing the right name for your business
- Ensuring that products/services are ready for sale
- Registering or incorporating the business
- Registering with online market places
- Getting an eCommerce site
- Start listing your products
- Doing digital marketing and online advertising
- Finally, selling faster and earning adequately
Step 1: Decide what to sell online
One of the most important aspects of any business is to decide what to sale online or offline. It’s important because it determines the degree of success, that is, how much you’ll gain in ROI (return on investment). If you are going to do a business for the first time, this aspect is very crucial for you to handle wisely. If you are just starting your business, I suggest you to read my post about ‘how to start a business’ and then proceed further. Whatever you may go to sell, it should have the capability to compete with other. Competition, demand, buying persona, quality, pricing, key performance indicators (KPI) and ROI estimation are the most important aspects to consider. Prepare a handy report by researching on the internet. Never speed up at the start up. Take approximately two week or more in researching and analyzing the report.
Even if you’ve adequate experience in offline selling, you definitely should go through proper research and planning before your online entrance. Both forms of businesses have many different aspects.
Step 2: Know how to manage inventories
In order to make your online business easily manageable, cost effective and highly profitable, it’s wise to limit the categories, sub-categories and SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) to few and inventory volumes to high. What do I mean by it?
Let me clarify it with few examples. Let’s take the example of a typical offline fashion outlet on a city street. Here, the store owner has inventories in two categories, such as, apparels and accessories. Both the categories have three primary sub-categories, such as, men, women and children. Each primary sub-category has many secondary sub-categories, such as, jeans, trousers, tops, shirts, caps, shoes etc. Each secondary sub-category has numbers of SKUs consisting broad ranges of fabrics, genres, designs, colors and sizes. The more broad ranges of SKU, sub- categories and categories the store posses, the better chances of higher credibility and more customer flow can be predicted. But more volume in a single SKU or item might lead to unsold product hike that normally leads to loss. In a limited market, the store runner has limited numbers of customer.He will not find much customers who are interested in a particular product in a particular design and color. No wise store manager will wish to keep heavy volume for this particular specifications or SKU in his/her store. However, the condition is completely opposite for an online business. The more the categories, sub-categories, secondary and tertiary categories and SKUs, you have to take more headache. Why? Because you need quality images of each SKU except size variation. For more varieties you need more images to upload on your online store. For each quality image you require, you need to spend some amount and money and time. Along with images you need detail product description for your online customers. Only if you keep high volumes in each variety, you can save considerable amount of money and time that required for product images and descriptions. But high volumes in inventories will not probably cause any problem to you. Consider a single SKU, for instance, a pair of boot cut blue denim jeans for women in size 30 inches waist and with white embroidery work on the back pocket. You may keep hundreds, even thousands of pieces in this particular SKU. Since online market is many times larger than an offline one. Larger accessibility to your products will probably lead to more sale. While more volume in this SKU will create trouble in offline business management, this will lead you towards more sales through online stores. In an online business, you can sell thousands or more pieces of a particular item if yours marketing strategies are well set up. You may receive hundreds of order in a single day from different cities, regions and countries.
Step 3: Decide your role as an online seller
You may sell your product either as a manufacturer or a reseller or a drop-shipper. If you are a manufacturer, attempt your best to produce something different from other who are selling online. Keep a competitive price level. If you are a reseller, try to avoid purchasing from those manufacturers who have already online presence. It’s difficult to compete with them on similar platforms. There price ranges will be definitely low than you. Choose only those manufacturers who are not selling in retail on any online platform.
Drop shipping is a very effective idea. You don’t need to keep any inventory with you. Rather you require displaying the products of other manufacturers with detail of price, discount and specifications on your online store. When you receive an order for a product, you will ask the manufacturer to dispatch the product on behalf of you to the customer. To be a drop-shipper, you must have considerable online marketing skill so that you can sell more than the manufacturer. And only for this reason, the company will take the responsibilities of shipping the product for you without any prepayment.
Step 4: Decide how to sell online
You have three options to do business online. Those are:
- Selling only on existing online market places such as Amazon or eBay,
- selling only on your online eCommerce site and
If you are going to sell on existing online marketplace, you don’t need your own eCommerce site, payment gateway and shipping partner. You just need to go through a simple registration process on the online merchant portal of the certain market place and to upload your product images and description to the store assigned to. Shipping and payment will be automated. You have to pay certain percentage as commission to the marketplace if your products are sold.
If you choose to have your own eCommerce site, you need to make arrangement for everything you require for selling online including partnership with courier companies and payment gateway provider.
However, it’s better to choose both the options simultaneously due to two basic reasons –
- Your won online store will help you in building brand recognition. It’ll provide you a good platform for marketing. A simple but effective online store will not cost you more than 200 US dollars or 12,000 INR annually.
- However, for initial few months you may not get any customer through your online store since it’s yet unknown to the world. Only after strategic marketing and few other steps people will know about you. It’ll take time to establish your reliability among the online customers. Only after establishing reliability, you can sell through your eCommerce site. Contrary, an existing market place like Amazon or eBay are already earned worldwide reputation and reliability. Selling through these platforms is comparatively easy. If your products have some good reasons to attract customers, you can start selling the next day after listing them on any good online market place.
Step 5: Choose a name for your business
Choosing a name for a online business is one of the crucial aspect. Never take it lightly.
If you are already running offline stores and want to expand it through eCommerce, you definitely have already a business name as well as a legal name for your firm. But while you go to create your own online store, you will require a domain name that is the name of your website. Open the website of a domain registrar such as GoDaddy, BlueHost or BigRock and check whether a domain name exactly as your existing business name is available or not. In some cases, you may not get an exact matching domain name to your business name. This happens due to the provision of uniqueness of each domain name with a particular extension such as .com or .in. With an example, I’m making it clear.
Suppose the name of your business is Craftico Apparel. You wish that the domain name of your website will be craftiico.com. In case, someone has already taken the name for his/her website, the domain name will be no more available. In such case, you have to choose from available alternatives, such as –
- Instead of craftico.com, you may keep the name craftiicoappaarel.com if available. Even if second option is not available, you may opt for a third option such as Apparel Craftico which will appear as apparelcraftico.com, if available.
- If you are not going to sell internationally, you may opt for a domain name with extension related to your country such as .in for India and .us for USA instead of .com. Your domain name will be craftico.in or craftico.us
- You may use a different extension such as .store or .online instead of .com, if available such as craftico.online.
- But I’m putting few things for your note. Dot com extension is the most preferred for a commercial website. It’s one of the top domain name extensions. Other top domain name extension such as .org is used for non-profit organizations only. While you choose country specific domain name such as .in or .us, you can’t sell internationally. .online or .store or other similar extensions are not top domain extensions and hence may not be given preference by search engines like Google. It’ll lead to less visibility of your website on Google or Bing search and resulted in less visitors to your eCommerce site. Hence it’s wise to make little modification of your business name if required for the cost of a top domain extension like dot com.
If you haven’t any business yet, spend adequate time in choosing a name. Keep two aspects in mind:
- Name of a business should be short, easy to remember and attractive. This will help you in getting more visitors to your online store. Once a visitor visited your online store, there are more chances of subsequent visit if he/she can remember the website’s name. It’s obvious that short and beautiful names are easy to remember.
- Your business name, domain name and legal name need to be same so that you can get the benefit of effective branding of your business. Its better, for example, if your business name is Craftico Apparel, you domain name will be craftico.com and legal name will be Craftico Apparel Private Limited or Craftico Apparel LCC. Like domain name, legal name also have to to be unique. Therefore, before finalizing the name for your business, ensure that the exact domain name and legal name are available. Check the website of company registrar of your country for availability of the name.
Step 6: Ensure that product or service is ready for sale
Before proceeding further, you should keep stock in advance if you are not going to drop-ship. This will help you in not wasting time after getting your website or/and getting registered on an online market place.
Return to steps 1 and 2. Decide the categories, sub-categories and SKUs. Think whether everything is ready. Can you meet the demand continuously? Is there any difficulty in making the products available? You require sufficient homework before proceed. Run off of products/services listed on your online store will lead you towards heavy payment.
Step 7: Register/incorporate your business
Depending upon the type of your business entity or the country/state you belong to, you require different legal documents during registration processes with online market places, payment gateways and other service providers. Make them available in scanned PDF and JPG format to upload when required.
Document you will require are:
- Your passport size photograph in JPG format.
- The scanned copy of your identity proof, in India it’s your PAN card in PDF format
- The scanned copy of the PAN card of your business in PDF format, if your business is not a sole proprietorship firm.
- Your business entity proof in PDF format.
- Scanned copy of your tax document in PDF format, in India it’s your GST registration certificate.
- Bank account statement
I’ve illustrated a typical example of documents required in India. Depending upon your native place, the name or type of the documents varies.
You may choose one from different available options to form your business entity. In India you may opt for any of the following options:
- Sole Proprietorship
- Partnership Firm
- Limited Liability Partnership
- Private Limited Company
- One Person Company
Click here to know which type of entity you should choose depending upon size, nature and people involved. If you are a single person and your business is small, you may better prefer to form a sole proprietary firm, because it’s simple to form. Each form of entities has some advantages as well as disadvantages. Be clear about each type of entity before registration.
After forming your business entity, open a bank account for your business where the amount of online transactions will be deposited. The bank will ask you to submit some documents to help you in opening a business account. In most of the cases required documents are similar as the list provided above.
Make sure that you have registered your business for taxation. GST registration is compulsory to do online business in India. Most of the countries have similar taxation rules.
Step 8: Register with online market places
Registering with online market place is simple, easy and well supervised. Open the website of any market place you want to register with and a click a tab or button indicating ‘sale with us’ or ‘partner with us’ or with minor variation. Click the tab. You’ll be redirected to create your user account. Your user account will be activated only after you are being verified through email or text SMS or by both. Then complete your profile by entering required details and agreeing with the terms and conditions. You may be asked to attend some webinars or watch some video tutorials to learn the processes so that you can create your store, list your products and start selling. Some market places such as Amazon may assign a Store Manager to help you in understanding the processes in creating a store and selling effectively.
The following is a screen-shot of Sell on Amazon link page. You may click the link to get onboard.
Step 9: Get an eCommerce site
Having an eCommerce site is one of the most exciting experiences in your journey. In order to get an eCommerce site or online store, you have to choose one from many options. Each option has its own strengths and limitations. You need to be little careful before choosing any one. I’m listing prominent few with pros and cons.
Option 1: Use an eCommerce site builder
E-Commerce site builders like Wix, Shopify or SquareSpace are self hosted platforms those provides easy solutions to eCommerce. All these are ‘do it yourself’ (DIY) platforms. You don’t require to posses any technical skill regarding website development and design, while using this platforms. All these platforms offer multiple convenient plans so that you can choose most suitable one in accordance to your requirement and budget.
It’s easy. Choose a template that suits to your business and edit it by dragging and dropping tools and add-ons. Most of the DIY or self hosted platform provide free domain and hosting services for any of their paid plans. If you are just a beginner, you may opt for a self hosted solution.
As I compared with different self hosted eCommerce site providers, I found Shopify as the best option since cost effectiveness and flexibility matters a lot. Payment gateway and shipping partner integration are default to Shopify Online Store along with a lot of exciting features. The best thing about Shopify is that it offers you a 14 days free trial period with all exiting features. So, why shouldn’t a try?
Option 2: Use a Content Management System (CSM)
CSM provide more freedoms in designing a website or eCommerce store. If you use any CMS like WordPress, Joomla or Drupal through a managed hosting service provider like GoDaddy, BlueHost or BigRock you can create a stunning website with little technical knowledge. You need to insall few plugins so that you can add eCommerce features to your website. After installing and activating a plug-in like BigCommerce or WooCommerce, you can add complete eCommerce features to you website like product listing, adding offers and coupons, integrating payment gateway and more.
Since WordPress is the most popular CMS powering about 67% of websites worldwide and it’s free, I recommend using WordPress. You can install WordPress by few simple clicks by purchasing a hosting plan from Godaddy or BlueHost. Both offer similar feature and cost equally to you. WooCommerce plug-in is supported only with WordPress software and one of the best options for small and medium businesses.
After hosting your domain, choose a WordPress theme from the recommended gallery and customize it in accordance your necessity. Then install and activate WooCommerce plugin and few other plugins as required.
However, using CMS is little difficult than using a self hosted platform. While self hosted platforms help you in building your site through simple drag and drop, CMS involves scratching which further requires knowledge in cascading style sheets (CSS). But note that it gives you more power to control both the design and function of your online store.
If you face any difficulty in setting a CMS, you may contact my team. Alternatively, you may take help directly from me by using the comment box at the end of this post.
Option 3: Hire a professional to develop and design your online store
In case you don’t want to take any headache of building and designing your online store, you may hire a professional to assign the task. You may find a local web developer by searching the local directories on the internet or assign the task to any of team member working at BusinessKrafts just by dropping an email at email@example.com.
Step 10: Start listing your products
It’s time to list your products on your eCommerce site as well as on the stores provided by the leading online market places to you. In order to ensure your product listing will be converted to sales, follow the steps bellow.
- Take quality images of your products by using a good camera. It’s better if the images are with white background. White background makes a clear sense of the product through the image at the center. Many online market places like Amazon don’t accept images if those are not in white background. Click here to learn how to take powerful images for eCommerce and especially with white background.
- Prepare an eye catching description of your product. Your description should be concise and comprehensive. Use simple and accurate words to describe.
- List Product specifications. Give details such as design, genre, fabric, color, size and alternatives for a piece of garment or RAM, Rom, processor, connectivity, bandwidth, battery capacity, camera pixels, resolution etc for a mobile phone.
- Mention price, offer value, discount coupon code etc.
- Specify inventory quantities and how you and your customers will be informed when stock out.
- Arrange the products in categories such as featured, popular and hot selling products. Take help from the plug-ins and add-on installed with your store.
Step 11: Do marketing
Marketing is one of the prominent lifelines of any business. Without marketing none of your potential customers would know about your products and services and you can’t able to sell.
E-Commerce has rich potentialities to market directly their products and services on highly credible platforms such as social media and search engines. In order to do marketing of your online stores and products, go through the following steps:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO is the first and one of the major steps to execute properly. You may wonder what SEO is and, therefore, let me make little elaboration.
When you search something on Google or Yahoo or any other search engine (SE) by typing the exact words or phrases (or with little variation) in the search box and click the enter tab, within seconds you’ll find lots of relevant results for your search terms on the search engine result page (SERP). Now you have many options. You may click on any of the results those appear on the top of the SERP or you could scroll down to find out more results or you may possibly go for the next pages. But as a general indication, most of the users of search engines, click on any one of the first few results that seem to be more relevant for their search terms or implied requirements. May be the user satisfied with the information or services or products available in a single search result or he/she might search for another website depending upon his/her requirements and satisfaction. Out of more than 5.47 billion web pages, there might be many thousand results for a particular search term. The web pages those are not visible at the top of the particular search result or are found in second, third or fourth pages of the same search result or is not at all available on any of the search results may have equal relevance for the user in action. In fact, this is the technique and art of SEO that stands for Search Engine Optimization. The websites or web pages those are visible at the top of any SERP do not happen as an autonomous process. Rather, the web master of a website need to optimize his/her website with well defined techniques and skill to increase visibility on SE. Google or any other SE, while display the result one after another, a complex mathematical algorithm of indexing works. In compliance to the algorithm, SE decides which web page or its content is more relevant to the search term entered. The spider based crawl technology makes an instant ranking in harmony to the relevance and index it accordingly.
The webmaster of a website needs to understand the entire processes. A website or its contents only can be visible to a SE, when the site is connected to the SE console. After connecting to the SE console, the webmaster or admin need to set a meta-tag and description tags along with search key words to get better ranking and optimized for SE. Getting better optimization for SE is not an easy task. It needs plenty professional skill and experiences. The entire process is known as Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO is an unpaid service you can avail from any search engine provider like Google, Bing, Ask and Yahoo just by agreeing with their terms and conditions. In the dictionary of Digital Marketing, any of the free or unpaid service is termed as ‘organic’. Wikipedia rightly defines SEO as “the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine’s unpaid (organic) results”.
If you are using a Wix online store, follow their instructions available on dashboard. If your store is build on WordPress, install a SEO plug-in like ‘All-in-One SEO’ and follow the instruction. However, the first step in SEO, you need to perform is submitting your site to search engines. So as to submit your site to Google, click the link and follow the instruction. As well open the link to submit your site to Bing. The following is a screenshot of Google Search Console. Follow the link to get your website listed on Google.
SSM and PPC
SEM stands from Search Engine Marketing, which is slightly differs from SEO. While SEO is unpaid or free, you need to pay for SEM. You can run an advertising campaign on Google or any other SE by agreeing to pay on daily expenditure basis at the end of your billing cycle. On the basis of your daily agreement amount, target audience and selected key words, your web pages and the content there in will get more chances to be visible on SERP.
PPC: The acronym stands for Pay per Click and is not unrelated to SEM. There are two phenomena of PPC. When you opt for SEM, you don’t have to pay the SE until your link will be clicked by a user. The good news for you is that, just by advertising on Google or Yahoo or Bing, you’re not going to pay for it. Your payment will be calculated, only on the basis of the number of clicks on your link. Next good news is that the mechanism of PPC doesn’t singularly serve for SEO. Rather, PPC mechanism automatically places your advertisement and promotion on other relevant third party web pages those are approved by the SE as partners’ pages and the SE is paying its partners on the ground of mutual terms and conditions. On which page and for which visitor, your ad will be visible, is decided by the complex algorithm of the concerned SE, based on the constant automated records and analysis of online user behavior. In order to activate SEM/PPC, sign-up to Google Ads link.
Social Media Marketing
It’s a strategy to create brand awareness through follow, like, comments, shares, recommendation and invitation on social media posting and converting the individuals on social media to potential buyers. Among various modes of Digital Marketing, social media marketing is the most prominent one. Almost all brands and businesses prefer to have a business account on each popular social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest etc. About 49% of conversions come only from social media. Facebook individually does half of the conversion. Besides, almost all social media give you wonderful tools to easily interact with your audiences and keep them actively engaged.
Social Media Marketing is on both free and paid terms. If you have already earned moderate brand image, you don’t necessarily pay for the social media for getting more followers and boosting your posts. You can get active audience engagement naturally if your posting are considered by the viewers as valuable or interesting or both. But at initial stage or for stepping up, you may spend few dollars on daily budget basis for promotion and advertisement of your brand. The advantages of SMM are that it’s very flexible, cost effective and able to provide you immense interactive platform. For status, repute and brand awareness as well as for purely commercial promotions, no other platform as available on the date is better than the social media.
Note down that you must have your presence on all popular social media so as to able to grow your eCommerce. The following is a screenshot of a popular online store’s presence on Facebook. You may create a business page on Facebook by clicking the link.
Content Marketing is the king of all marketing methods as well as of art and will be. Content Marketing doesn’t directly promote a product or a service or a business or a brand; but it stimulates interest for it through creating and sharing online content like blog posts, videos, images and info-graphics. In other words, it’s a strategic marketing approach focuses on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and reliable content to attract and maintain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action. The purpose of content marketing is to help brands or businesses to create sustainable brand loyalty and provide valuable information to consumers, as well as to create a willingness to purchase products or services in the future. It’s clear that it doesn’t involve direct sales. Instead, it’s a mechanism of building trust and rapport with the audience. Not the advertisement but the story, not the commercial but the show – is the basic of content marketing.
You need to produce large content on your online store and share the same on social media and search engines. If you are running an apparel and clothing business, post few images on good style making or write some blog post on suggestive summer or winter fashion, post some video on your brand journey etc. Note down that all these are parts and parcel of your business.
Add more marketing tools
Gradually you may add more marketing tools to your business such as email marketing and affiliate marketing. All the digital form of marketing are cheap and end user result oriented. Whenever you need, don’t forget to ask the Marketvivo team.
Step 12: Start selling
The most auspicious moments are in your way. Just catch them and go ahead in your journey. Declare some inaugural or promotional exiting offers on the homepage and landing page of your online store. Share the story of new business on social media. Ensure that your store is visible on search engines. Make sufficient link to your offer page on social media. Arrange quality packaging materials. Make some big guarantee like payment security, hassle free return etc.
Within a week or two you’ll definitely receive some orders. Dispatch the order as soon as possible. It shouldn’t be more than 24 hours in between receiving the order and dispatching product. You should minimize the time as much as possible. Make sure that you have chosen right courier company that will deliver the product to your customer at minimum time. Before dispatching check for if there is any defectiveness. Pack well and tight to avoid any type of shipping breakage. Insert some freebee in the packet if possible. Attempt your best that your customer will smile while receive the package. Note that first impression lasts long.
Running an online business is not much difficult task for those who are aware of each processes it involves. However, the number of failure in eCommerce is also ever increasing. The big mistake they do is not consulting with any experienced consultants or strategist.
Being an eCommerce consultant and strategist, I’ve helped many businesses in growth. You may have some other significant queries that I’ve not covered in this post. Please feel free to ask me anything relevant you want to ask. I’ll respond you within 48 hours of the query raised. You may also ask me personally by email communication.