Have you ever considered adding an online store to your website? If your business has a retail aspect to it, it may be something that you’ve considered. Obviously online sales are a major component of many businesses, and shopping online isn’t likely to get any less popular as time passes. So should you tap into that market and offer your wares for sale on your website? Let’s take a look at some of the factors to consider!
Setting up a successful online shop is going to take some time. Even if you start with only a few items to test the waters you’re going to need attractive photographs of those items (and remember that poor quality photos will kill your sales) and product descriptions that make your users want to click “Add to Cart.” You’re also going to need to spend some time thinking about how you want your store to work (more on logistics later) and, of course, implementing that plan.
There are some great – and affordable – options out there for integrating a store into your website. We’re fans of WooCommerce, which is free on its own, though you would need to purchase any extensions you might need to add more than the basic functionality. You’d probably need to purchase an extension to use with your chosen payment gateway (which will also have a charge associated with it for processing your customers’ payments). You’ll also need to purchase an SSL certificate for your domain in order to be able to accept credit cards securely. Some online store options don’t require an SSL certificate, but those involve sending the customer offsite – to a third party site such as Paypal – for the credit card processing part of the transaction, which keeps the process from being seamless and may deter some customers from completing the sale.
If all of this seems a little overwhelming for you to handle on your own, then you’re probably going to want a web developer to help you out (and hey, speaking of, give us a shout!) which is a great investment if you’re not experienced enough to develop an online store on your own, but it’s definitely an expense that you’ll want to weigh against the amount of profit you expect from your store.
When someone purchases your items, who is handling the shipping? If you’re doing it yourself, do you have time to always ensure that your customers’ items are well packed and shipped properly? Similarly, who is handling your inventory management? If a customer orders an item from your site because that item hasn’t been marked as out of stock and then has to either wait or cancel their order, they may not order from you again.
My usual mantra comes into play in a big way here: make a plan. Even if your sales are slow at first, you need to know how you’re going to handle them when they come in if you want to keep the customers you get.
Speaking of sales starting off slow, it’s very likely that you’ll need to put some time and budget into marketing your online sales, especially when you’re first getting started. Unless your business is already well known and has already built up a demand for online sales, customers aren’t likely to find your shop without a nudge.
Be realistic about the demand for the items that you’re considering selling online. Keep in mind that sometimes people will buy something in a physical store because of the convenience – the item is right there and they can take it home immediately. An item that sells very well at your brick and mortar location faces a different challenge when it’s being offered online: could your customer get it cheaper and faster from amazon? Or any other large online retailer? Don’t rely too much on customer loyalty for online sales; customers that want to support local businesses are more likely to visit those businesses in person – customers shopping online are usually looking for the best price and most convenience.
If your items are original – things you’ve built or crafted that can’t be obtained elsewhere – then you might not face as much competition from large online retailers, but you definitely need to spend some time researching the market. Are others selling similar creations, either independently or through a site like Etsy? If so, how much are they charging? Is the quality comparable? Many online shoppers are savvy – I bought an item from Etsy just last week and I probably looked at twenty-five options, both on Etsy and through other sites, before making my selection. I like supporting independent crafters but I also want to make sure I’m getting a good value and a product that meets my needs.
A Familiar Answer
The answer to the question of whether you should add a shopping cart to your website is one I’ve given many times before: it depends. Here at Slamdot we’ve seen clients who have started online stores meet great success, but we’ve also seen some who have decided, after struggling with low sales, that maybe it wasn’t their best option. Retail is a fickle business, both online and off, and of course it’s not always possible to gauge how successful a venture will be. Thinking through the factors and making a plan, however, will always help you increase your chances of success!