Many people are surprised to learn that I hate to shop. It’s true. I’m not one of those women who takes pleasure spending a Saturday afternoon at the mall. But I am an online shopping junkie, and I’m not alone. This past holiday online sales were up about 12 percent over last holiday season.
Are you ready to take advantage of this online business boom? If you’re interested in creating an e-commerce web site for your small business, here are some critical factors you should consider.
* Create a plan. Just as you would do for any business, you need to create a plan for your site. Is it going to be an extension of your brick and mortar retail strategy or do you plan to sell only online? How will you price your online products? How will your market your site? Make sure you set realistic expectations and goals.
* Choose the right web host. You wouldn’t want to run your business in an unreliable, dilapidated old building so you want to make sure you select a web host that is reliable and cost effective. Determine what features you’ll need to run your site effectively and then do your homework. Make sure your provider can handle traffic spikes and is quipped with back-up resources in cases of an emergency. Also inquire about the level of service and technical support the host provides. If potential shoppers have a bad online experience, you’ve probably lost them forever.
* Decide how to accept payment. Online stores can accept a variety of payment types the most popular of which is credit cards. If you don’t already have a merchant account you’ll need to establish one with your bank to accept credit card transactions. Make sure your e-commerce provider is equipped to handle such payments. The key is security. Although sending a credit card number over the Internet is extremely safe, customers still worry. Make sure your customers know their information is absolutely secure.
* Market your site. Don’t assume your online site will automatically draw traffic. You’ll need to create a marketing strategy to make sure customers know you’re there. Leverage social media to spread the word. You should also optimize search engines by making sure your content is rich in relevant keywords. Embed Google Analytics code on every page of your site so you’ll have information about where your customers come from, where they go on your site and how long they stay. All important data for marketing your business and building your customer base.
* Make customers happy. Remember, just because you’re on the Internet doesn’t mean you can ignore good old fashioned customer service. Make sure you provide information on your site about how customers can contact you directly and respond promptly when they do. Also ship merchandise in a timely fashion and make returns easy.
* Don’t Rest on Your Laurels. Once your on-line store front is up and running, keep refining it. Give your customers a reason to come back. You wouldn’t return to the same store time and time again if you knew you’d only find the same stuff you saw the last time.
On-line business is big business for small businesses. Don’t miss your opportunity to expand your market.