E-Commerce 101: How to Start Selling Online | Technology > Software Services & Applications from AllBusiness.com
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E-Commerce 101: How to Start Selling Online

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If you have decided to take your business online, there are a few things you will need to take into consideration before you launch your new site.

First, you will need to write a privacy policy that will protect your company and provide your customers with trust in your site. Online buying is based on trust, and customers deserve to know what you plan to do with the data you collect. See What Should My Business Web Site's Privacy Policy Cover for more information.

Second, you'll need to make sure that your online transactions are secure. SSL (secure socket layer) encryption protects your customers' sensitive information, including credit card and personal information, during online transactions. Many web hosting companies will let you share their SSL certificate. If you'd rather have your own, you can expect to pay $100 to $350 a year.

A shopping cart is a necessity for any online business. There are lots of cart applications to choose from, so make sure the one you choose is easy to install and use. Try a few trial sales with your cart to ensure that it's user-friendly and easy to understand. Check out Shopping Cart Options for Small Business Web Sites for additional advice.

You'll also need a way to accept online payments. You have more choices than ever for processing payments online. It can be as simple as a PayPal account, or as complex as your very own merchant account. If you opt to go for a merchant account, you will need to decide how you plan to process payments, either in real-time as the customer enters their data; offline, where you process all of your orders at once; or over the phone.

Order fulfillment is a facet of selling online that's commonly overlooked. Turnaround time is critical in keeping customers happy. Before you end up with a backlog of orders that need to be sent, make sure that your current system can handle an influx of orders.

Telephone ordering is also often ignored, as some consumers still aren't comfortable giving their credit card information over the Internet. A toll-free number is a worthwhile expense to ensure that you can accommodate these customers.

Now that you have the back-end ready, you're ready to launch your new site. To ensure you’re your launch isn't greeted by an overwhelming lack of customers, you'll need to develop an advertising plan.

Advertising is essential to online success, and you may need to spend a considerable portion of your start-up money attracting new customers. Before you commit to a costly customer-acquisition strategy, explore all your options and do small test buys to see what works. Online ads, mailing list buys, and search engine placement are some of the most popular online marketing tools.

You will also need to make plans on how to keep your customers coming back. This can include special incentives for repeat customers, free gifts with purchases, or coupons to use on future purchases.

Just because your site is live doesn't mean your work is done. A stagnant site virtually guarantees your sales will dwindle. Keep updating your site, and add informative content in addition to your products. Fresh content and other information will keep customers coming back time and again.

Selling online is not that different from selling products in a traditional store. Just because you're selling your products online does not mean that you can let your customer service slide. Don't forget the personal touch, either. Customers appreciate being remembered, both online and in real stores.

Customers are the lifeblood of your business. Even if you spend thousands of dollars attracting new customers, it will not do you much good if your store leaves them with a bad experience.

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