There has never been a better time to start an online business, according to recent data from the US Census Bureau.
2015 was a huge year for the sector, with total sales estimated at $341.7 billion, a 14.6 percent increase year over year. There’s no end in sight to the rapid growth in this area as traditional retail continues to stagnate. Even so, there’s more to starting an online business than just securing a domain name and installing a shopping cart system.
Here are four tips to help you get some solid footing before diving into eCommerce:
Start with a solid plan. It’s not enough to know what you want to sell and where you’re going to procure it, you’ll also need to define your customer base and establish some useful relationships from the start.
The Internet is a loud place where it’s easy for any single voice to get lost — but if you know your audience and market just to them, your chances of success are greatly improved. Having a team of experts you can tap on an as-needed basis is another good move before opening shop. Some examples include answering services, copywriters and full service logistics companies. These team members often charge by the piece, making them easily scalable as you grow.
Invest in tech. Starting a business costs money, there’s no way around it. Although the initial cost of today’s startups can be significantly less than in the past, if you’re going to get into the eCommerce arena, investing in tech is key. High quality software makes things like shopping cart integration easier and options like a customer web portal will improve the customer experience.
Stay organized. As your customer base expands and sales increase, it’s going to be vital that you have a good organizational system in place and that you use it religiously. Letting orders and customer service inquiries fall through the cracks is a sure fire way to undermine customer loyalty. If you can’t handle the workload, there’s no shame in outsourcing part of your business. A 3rd party logistics company (3PL) can take over the warehousing and distribution side of your eCommerce company, freeing you up to focus on customer service and expanding your offerings.
How you handle returns matters. According to UPS’s 2015 Pulse of the Online Shopper, returns matter much more than you might expect. Customers are still experiencing significant stumbling blocks when trying to return or exchange items they’ve purchased online — you can really impress your customers by simplifying the process for them. Free return postage, a hassle-free returns policy allowing ample time for shipping and a return label in the box can turn an otherwise stressful experience into one that increases your customer loyalty.
Starting an online business means facing tough competition, but the market certainly has room for more well-run eCommerce outlets. If your business and marketing plans are solid and well thought-out, you’re organized and handle your customer returns as enthusiastically as their purchases, you’ll be well on your way to long-term success.