“If you are successful, you will be cloned. That’s life. In fact, it’s a sign that you’ve made it when clones of your website, mobile app, and business start cropping up.” – Fred Wilson
You’ve got a product you want to sell and everyone’s doing this online now so it must be easy, right?
In fact, most people who are in this position seem to think that in order to sell their product all they need is an e-commerce website to sell it on. What they don’t realise is that there are a lot of considerations to take into account when setting up an e-commerce website.
This can range from something relatively simple such as what shipping services they will use, to whether or not they should be worried about PCI compliance. It’s not uncommon for the amount of work involved and the implications of e-commerce to be greatly underestimated.
Let’s run through some of the things you need to consider:
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- Platform – There are lots of e-commerce technologies on which to build an online store – but do you even need a platform or should you consider Ebay and Amazon first? Will you use an “out of the box” package or will you go for bespoke? Will you buy a theme or have one made especially for you? Of course no package works “out of the box” for all the reasons below and some platforms can become very expensive to get a custom look for. There are a number of places offering cheap or even free themes but these can be difficult to install, painful to manage, or just be plain not suitable for your products.
- Shipping – What shipping will you offer? Will there be next day delivery? Will you offer free delivery to customers who order over a certain amount? Will you accept returns on any products? Will you ship internationally or just to a single country? Do you want to exclude certain countries? Is your shipping and delivery policy clearly defined and transparent on your website for your customers to see? For some services you will even need to generate documentation from the site in order to ship anything at all, for example FedEx. And then if you want to offer onsite tracking for shipments this is something else to think about, not all services offer this.
- Payment – How will you transact payment? Will you offer PayPal or take credit cards (there are lots of credit card transaction service providers out there including Stripe, WorldPay, SagePay, etc)? What about more traditional methods of payment such as cheque or purchase order? Does the customer enter their credit/debit card information on the website itself or somewhere else? These questions come with a whole load of other issues surrounding PCI compliance and data protection issues. If you’ve never heard of this then you’ll need to brush up on what you know fast!
- Products – What type of product are you selling? How should they be presented? How do competing sites present their products? Obviously certain kinds of products should be presented in different ways, a store selling confectionery wants to present differently from a store selling boutique clothing … in turn they want to look different from a company selling the latest high tech gadgets.
- Selling – How will you reach your customers and how will you market your e-commerce website? If you’re a new store you need to find your point of difference. Why should potential customers buy from your store over any other online store selling the same or similar products? How will they find you? Will you advertise on pay per click (PPC) mediums or through social media? What about on other e-commerce sales channels such as Amazon or eBay? Will you run any concurrent marketing such as newsletters or offers?
- Legal – Be aware that there are legal issues here too. It is a legal requirement to provide a full company name declaration and to provide clear terms & conditions, returns policies, etc. Ignorance of the law is no excuse and you should seek legal advice here. There are 4 main laws you should observe compliance to: The Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002, The Data Protection Act 1998, The Distance Selling Act 2000 and the ICO Cookie Law.
This list is by no means exhaustive and if this seems like a lot of questions already then good, selling online successfully isn’t easy; it takes time, careful thought and plenty of planning.
If you are thinking about starting an e-commerce business, then you should make sure you’ve thought about all of the above questions and you have a considered answer for each of them. You should also have answers to questions that aren’t even on this list as there are, in actual fact, many more things to take into account – largely focussed on ‘customer experience’ and trust.
If, for any reason, you feel you need to brush up or learn more about any of these issues then there are experts on hand to help you with this.
It isn’t as easy as you first might think, but you need to make it as easy as possible for your customers to buy from you whilst complying with the law. See independent advice and expert help for compliance but also for customer experience issues.