Bricks to Clicks

Steps to Selling Online

Selling your products online can be daunting for any business. From the technical aspects of running the website to the marketing challenges, the entire selling process can intimidate all but the most determined of businesses.

We have provided this guide to assist you through the various steps required to start selling online:

Step 1: Choosing the right platform

The first step in creating a competent ecommerce strategy is to pick the right sales platform. Depending on the size and scope of the business, you can choose from any of the following three strategies:

A. Selling on existing platforms: With this strategy, you leverage existing platforms such as eBay, Amazon, Etsy, etc. to sell your products.

  • Advantages: You can leverage the platform's existing audience. The platform also takes care of payments, technical issues, setting up listings, etc. There is also higher trust quotient associated with popular platforms.
  • Disadvantages: You are bound by the rules of the platform and don't really own any of the "virtual real estate" that houses your listings. Difficult to scale the business after a certain stage. It also dilutes your brand.

This is a good strategy for small businesses just starting out with ecommerce. Creating listings on popular sales platforms is also a good way to bag additional sales, even if you run your own ecommerce store.

B. Using a hosted ecommerce platform: This includes services like Shopify, BigCommerce, Volusion, etc. These platforms charge a flat fee per month to create and run an ecommerce store for you.

  • Advantages: The platform takes care of all technical aspects of running the store, including payments, creating listings, hosting, etc. so you can focus on generating sales without worrying about the backend.
  • Disadvantages: Scalability can be an issue for larger retailers. You are also limited by the technical capabilities of the platform.

Hosted solutions are a great way to get started for small businesses. The setup process is quick and painless, and you get access to robust marketing capabilities. Once you grow large enough, you can switch to a self-hosted solution.

C. Using a self-hosted ecommerce platform: The third option is to build an ecommerce store from scratch and host it on your own servers. More often than not, you can use free software like Magento to build the store.

  • Advantages: Extremely flexible and scalable. Software like Magento runs ecommerce websites for some of the world's biggest brands like Nike, Olympus, etc. Since the store is hosted on your own servers, you can modify the backend to fit any need.
  • Disadvantages: Setup can be very difficult and requires a lot of technical know-how. You'll most likely need a dedicated technical team to maintain the site. This can be very expensive for most small businesses.

Self-hosted solutions are great if you run a large business with thousands of products and want something scalable. For most other businesses, a hosted solution is a better way to get started.

Step 2: Setting up your sales process

After you've selected the sales platform and setup your store, you need to figure out a sales process and strategy. This is an exercise in operations as well as marketing. Essentially, you need to ask yourself two questions: "How will I ship this product to my customers (and get paid in return)?" and "How will I make sure that customers know about my products?"

Operational aspects of an online business

This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Working out payments: If you're using hosted solutions, this should not be a problem. However, with a self-hosted solution, you need to choose the right payments processor. Not all payment processors work in every country. You will need to pick a processor that works for a majority of your customers.
  • Shipping and logistics: Unless you are delivering digital goods, you will have to sort the logistical side of the business. How do you plan to ship products out after receiving an order? Do you have existing warehouses? What shipping service will you use? How much will you charge for shipping? All these are crucial concerns before you can start selling.
  • Customer service: How do you plan to deal with customer complaints and queries? Smaller businesses might get by with just email, but any serious business should look into a customer helpdesk. This includes picking helpdesk software that integrates nicely with your chosen ecommerce platform.
  • Marketing/sales integration: As your business grows, you will need to use more powerful marketing and customer relationship management (CRM) tools. Make sure that your chosen ecommerce platform can integrate with these tools.

Step 3: Getting found online

The next step in the sales process - assuming you've setup your store already of course - is to get found online. Given the intense competition online for every click and eyeball, this can be very difficult for all but the most experienced of digital marketers.

  • SEO: Search Engine Optimisation is the process of getting your website found on search engines like Google and Bing. This includes creating and promoting content, building backlinks to your website, etc.
  • Social Media Marketing: Social media, i.e. websites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. can be a very valuable source of traffic. Any competent business today needs to chart out a robust social media marketing strategy to attract customers.
  • PR: Online PR is the process of getting your business mentioned in existing publications - industry websites, directories, bloggers, etc. It also involves spinning a positive narrative around your business.
  • Paid advertising: The above three are often classified as "free" sources of traffic (though content creation and promotion require resources as well). You can also get traffic by paying for it in the form of media buys, contextual ads like Google AdSense and search engine marketing. Paid advertising can be expensive, but gives you instant access to a vast amount of traffic. Highly recommended for businesses with strong budgets and an ability to focus on the ROI.

Setting up a business online is challenging, you need to choose the correct platform for your needs, figure out the logistics and chart out a competent marketing plan. By doing your research first and having a solid plan in place you will find it easier to get started on the right track.