There are many kinds of entrepreneurs. Some of us write for a living, others are photographers, and some sell online products such as t-shirts, logo design, handcrafted items, or more. No matter what you do chances are that you have an online presence to help you get your products in front the eyes of others.

Starting an Online Store: What You Need to Know

Back in the so-called good old days, opening a store could be quite different to how it’s done today. Stores were basically brick and mortar. Now, the basic principles remain more or less the same, with deciding on a product or service to offer, choosing the right location, marketing the operation, and then sitting back and waiting for the customers to flood in. The development and popularization of ecommerce as a form of retail has changed the way in which many small business owners conceive the plans for their operation, as operating exclusively online has many advantages over the more traditional model.

The internet essentially takes the physical store out of the picture which slashes the operating costs of a retail operation, and this is of course rather logical – you don’t need an actual building or office so the associated running costs are little to none. And you do not need to employ sales staff, so there are massive savings there. When learning how to start an online store, there are a few tips and tricks that can make the whole process much quicker and easier, although of course some hard work is always needed.

The Customer Experience

You might not have a physical location for your store, but it’s important to have a top quality virtual equivalent (aka a nice looking, user friendly website). Research and planning are key, and while you want to create a unique experience, you can certainly take inspiration from other online ventures. Take a look at the websites of online stores that offer a comparable product or service to the one you plan to offer, and explore every aspect of the site from a customer’s point of view, noting both positive and negative aspects of the experience. Don’t simply randomly browse the site, but act as though you are a customer and select a product using the available search functions before proceeding to the checkout. You will learn what works, what doesn’t, and what you’re up against.

Building Your Online Store

Since you might not know how to start an online store yourself, it can be tempting to hire a website designer to do the job for you. This is a viable option, and can be the best choice depending on the extent of what you want on your website. For example if you want to integrate your online store into a blog, or existing website, you may want to leave the coding up to a professional. But if you are building a simple standalone store, hiring a pro could be an unnecessary cost when you consider the benefits of using an online shopping platform. You can choose from a range of options to build the site yourself with full support at a fraction of the cost. Don’t be afraid if you’ve never attempted anything like this before, as the whole process is remarkably simple and your online store can be operational within hours.  There are many options such as Etsy, Cafe Press, and eBay to name a few. The one you choose depends on the type of store you want to setup.

Many online shopping platforms charge a small ongoing monthly fee, but this covers hosting of your site, as well as many vital additions, such as payment processing, and anything that makes it easier for customers to buy your product is worth it.

Brand Awareness

Social media is a valuable marketing tool and one that you need to utilize. You should be skilled at writing short and catchy posts – the type of thing that has the potential to be shared on social media. Tangible information about your products is useful, but try to include entertaining content that might only have a loose association with what you’re selling, even if it’s sourced from other media outlets. A wide social media reach might not necessarily convert to sales, but it’s invaluable for building your brand awareness. Remember that it is important to engage your followers and talk to them, not just post product link after product link. In this way they are more likely to click on your link and check out your products.

Customer Service

Just because your store doesn’t have a location, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be there for your customers. Ensure that you can be easily reached via phone or email, and implement processes to ensure that customer satisfaction is maximized, such as 24 hour guarantee to respond to all emails. If anything, word of mouth has more impact when it comes to ecommerce than with traditional retail. If a customer received poor service in a store, they might tell their friends and family, but if a customer receives bad service from an internet based store, then they can vent their frustrations in online forums where a vast number of people could potentially read it. And if you choose to be on social media, such as Twitter, remember that customers may reach out to you this way as well. Make sure that you have a process in place for responding to consumer questions and complaints in this manner. The important thing is to make things as easy as possible for the customer when it comes to other aspects of your operation.

Final Thoughts

As you will discover, running an online store is a vastly different experience to the traditional retail model. Never forget that the customer is king, and just because the customer doesn’t have a face to face interaction with you, it doesn’t mean that they should have anything less than a professional and satisfying retail experience that will keep them coming back for more.