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E-commerce basics: 3 keys to online sales success

Starting with a detailed plan is the best way to avoid problems down the line

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The Internet is great because it lets you punch above your weight in attracting customers. In fact, with a well-designed website, your business can reach just as many people as a much larger company.

What's more, creating an e-commerce site has never been easier—making it possible to sell to a global audience, 24 hours a day.

Here are three steps to help your business reap the benefits of e-commerce:

1. Plan

Start with an online strategy—a roadmap that guides your Internet activities while supporting your overall business goals. A lack of planning can lead to wasted money and effort.

Your online strategy should identify goals for your web presence, your target audience, your content strategy including key messages, and a mobile strategy to ensure your content is accessible on smart phones and tablets.

Finally, you need an action plan, including a timeline, who will do what and a publishing schedule for online content.

2. Build your e-commerce presence

Next, you’ll need a website with an online store that attracts Internet traffic and convinces visitors to buy what you’re selling.

Many options exist depending on your budget. The simplest solution for entrepreneurs with little web experience is to hire a web designer to create an e-commerce enabled site.

If you’re more budget-conscious, you might want to consider various free or low-cost e-commerce services. Examples of free services include OpenCart and PrestaShop, while providers such as Shopify, Volusion and eBay Stores charge a small fee.

These services provide tools to create a basic website that includes an online store with a digital shopping cart, payment via credit cards or other methods such as PayPal. They also allow you to offer an online product catalogue, options for customer reviews and feedback, and data on your sales to help you track performance.

Generally, the cheaper the service, the fewer features and customization it offers. (For a more complete list of providers, see our Free to low-cost applications section.)

Remember: As you set up your online store, feature attractive product images, clear descriptions and an easily navigable layout so visitors can quickly find what they’re looking for.

3. Be ready to fulfill orders

Before you launch your site, be sure your company is ready to handle the new business. You’ll need the infrastructure to handle orders, shipping and returns.

Also make sure to integrate your online efforts with your other operations. For example, sales reps should know about any online promotions.

Order fulfilment is a huge part of e-commerce, but it’s often an afterthought for businesses. If you have all these orders but can’t fill them or make mistakes and get tons of returns—there goes your investment.


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