With online retail sales in the U.S. expected to grow to just shy of $280 billion by 2015, more and more people every day decide to try to get a slice of that pie. Whether you’re an existing business with a brick and mortar location or an entrepreneur wisely focusing on online first, there are several things that you should consider before starting an online store beyond what products to offer on your virtual shelves.
Below are four of the biggest things that too many people set aside to deal with later after they’re already up and running—often to the detriment of their business.
Customer service. No matter what you sell, you’re going to need to provide customer service to the people who decide to go with you. In the beginning, the volume might be small enough that you can handle dealing with people’s issues yourself, but customer service can easily become a full time job if you let it. Do yourself a favor and come up with a game plan ahead of time for how you’re going to address people’s issues quickly and efficiently so that they’ll be encouraged to buy from your store again.
Shipping costs. One of the biggest drawbacks for any non-brick and mortar business is that you have to find a way to get your product into the hands of your customers. Unless you’re working on an entirely digital model where your products can be “mailed” through the computer, this means you’re going to have to deal with shipping. How you approach this seemingly small part of your business can go a long way towards determining your success or failure.
Most web shoppers are savvy enough by this point to compare not only the cost of products, but also things like shipping. If you can offer free shipping and still turn a profit, you’ll have a leg up on most others. Often this isn’t feasible for newer or smaller businesses, though, which means they have to work to balance the money they need to offset shipping costs with the desire to attract customers.
- If you sell products, you’re going to have to deal with people wanting to return them and get their money back. What is your return policy? How does the product or products you sell impact this policy? Again, the key is balance – you want to keep customers happy without being so generous that you end up losing money.
- This is such a big, all-encompassing category that it’s hard to boil down into a paragraph or two. Good marketing means knowing the kind of consumer you want to target and tailoring your product and messaging to those individuals. But beyond this specificity, almost everyone thinking of starting an online store should employ a marketing strategy that includes social media outreach and an email list where those who sign up can learn about new products and upcoming sales. And everything should have your store’s address on it so that people can quickly and easily click through if they see something that interests them.