In today’s market, business owners often weigh the benefit of opening online businesses or creating a marketing strategy for scaling brick-and-mortar to e-commerce markets. The US Department of Commerce recently released the Quarterly Retail E-Commerce Sales report showing a third-quarter revenue of $1,268.9 billion US sales with 9.1 % belonging to the e-commerce market. Brick-and-mortar enterprises like Walmart and Target have dominated local markets and put small business owners at a competitive disadvantage. The local economy has forced owners to find out more about how to start an online business. With access to the global market, e-commerce has provided opportunities for smaller businesses to compete. E-commerce is thriving since just as many consumers use online e-commerce as do brick-and-mortar stores. With online sales expected to rise because of convenience, it is crucial to know how to go about setting up a free online store.
What is E-commerce?
E-commerce is merely electronic commerce (EC) where products and services are provided via the internet. There are a variety of e-commerce and e-business models that potential store owners should be aware. Some companies solely market to other enterprises while others market to consumers or government agencies.
It is essential for a person entering the e-commerce market to know the type of services and provider you will be. It enables you to use online business analytics to identify your consumer needs and grow as an online retailer. The top business models where services and products are concerned are business to administration, business to business, business to consumers, and consumer to consumers.
- Business-to-Administration (B2A) is a business model that allows businesses to market services and products to public administrations. There are many types of companies that fall within this model as e-government agencies need higher levels of products and services. Many government agencies depend on secondary sources for internet security, software, or after-hours customers service.
- Business-to-business (B2B) enables companies to sell products and services to other businesses. When most people think of business-to-business, they understand it as the process of one provider selling products or services to another provider which is a significant part of the e-commerce economy The US Department of Commerce reported that seven out of ten online transactions fall within the B2B business model with a global revenue of 7 trillion dollars. Most businesses depend on online providers for services like supplies, IT services like security and software, or outsourcing by hiring others to do back-office jobs. In this industry, many B-2-B participants negotiate contracts and are more formal than business-to-consumer markets.
- Business-to-Consumer (B2C) is a business model that markets products and services directly to consumers for personal use. Some companies deliver products and services online while others depend on payment processing companies and carrier services to complete transactions. Globally, B2C is a $2.4-trillion-dollar industry. Enterprises like Amazon and eBay have revolutionized the online marketing arena to a point where consumers feel comfortable purchasing from smaller online stores since much has changed regarding safety and protection policies. Business-to-consumer marketing campaigns have opened the retail industry internationally which has made the access to quality product and services a genuinely competitive venue.
- Consumer-to-Consumer (C2C) has been a response the success of B2B models. This business model, however, allows consumers to buy, trade, or sell new and used products with one another.
- Companies like eBay and Craigslist allow consumers to resell products, but the same safety and purchase protection standards apply which has changed the customer base of sellers of second-hand While the other industries might have the customer bases to accept credit cards, this part of the industry can rely on companies like Paypal to process payments which allows them to compete with larger competitors. Applying for a business banking account to receive online payments and a credit card to pay for operating costs quickly can also be of immense benefit.
Preparing for an e-commerce business
There are a few things you should do before opening your store online. You must have in place a concrete business plan because online marketplaces can be overwhelming for even the seasoned sellers. Though you are selling online, you still need to operate as if you were a brick and mortar store. If you are not confident of this step, there are e-commerce consultants and e-commerce developers who assist companies and sole proprietors in having a developing a strategy for transitioning into the online market. Every business plan should have a clear understanding of what your goals and product are and how your business will operate.
- Operating Costs: One of the things people do not consider when starting a business online is the cost of operations. Whether you have an actual store or you decide to do business online, there will be costs associated with getting the products to the customer. You may have operating expenses like additional employees, rents or utilities, packing and shipping charges, or online vendors who either provide the platform or payment processing.
- Funding: If you are starting an online store as a part-time revenue opportunity, more than likely have a full-time job to supplement your income. If the online store is your only means of revenue, you need to make sure you set aside funds to tide you over during periods of slow business. New website owners must use SEO and online marketing strategies to build traffic and customer bases. The process is not instantaneous. Making sure the funds are there in case you need them will give you a better chance of success than someone who does not plan financially.
- Inventory: There are two issues when dealing with stock: price and storage.
Your product is everything. Quality will always equal sales quantity. Is your product unique? Is the cost competitive with other online vendors? The most successful online vendors check supply and demand. You may have the most excellent product in the world, but if there are no customers, it will not matter. A great way to decide on products is to search for the online products trends. Knowing what consumers want helps you quickly become a reliable online seller who reliably provides what people are searching for in the online marketplace.
Second, where will you store your inventory? If you are running a small business out of your home, you may have an extra room to dedicate to an office and storage area. If you have an extensive inventory, you may require a secondary storage area. Scalability is something all business owners think about at some point. When you decide to look into scaling your e-commerce store in a new market, you will have to make some changes in the way you handle inventory. Larger companies outsource a lot of these services. Smaller companies, however, may decide to use a storage facility or a cheap rental office. You want to gauge your company growth and make the decisions based on your business model, customer base, and rate of growth.
- Internet Marketing Campaign and E-commerce Website Solutions:
Branding and identity mean everything online. It all starts with how you decide to set up your online store. You may choose to engage in digital marketing campaigns to get the customers to your page which could be useful for new online stores. Knowing how to use search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the most important things to learn how to use strategically. Search Engine Results Pages (SERP) algorithms define your ranking. The sellers who can use SEO has the advantage over those who do not. A first-page ranking is ideally where online sellers strive to be. When advertising, owners who use a mix of anchor text formulas like a generic, a naked URL, a long-tail, a partial, an exact, and a high-domain authority can build up traffic because of the internal and external linking formulas that consumers use to learn about services and products. Sellers can also create backlinks to the products by advertising in web content articles. It can also be of great benefit to develop partnerships with other sellers to maximize your selling potential.
An easy way to gauge your online marketing is to use Google’s Search Console. An online seller can sign up for alerts about page issues, analyze performance, and check to see if a web browser is correctly interpreting your site. There are many online SEO strategies for stores. Having a clear vision for using online marketing strategies can make all the difference in your prosperity and achievement as a new online entrepreneur.
- E-commerce Customer Support Plan: This is a tricky avenue to travel because the online community is global, and the policies can differ from one country to the next. The online community has not caught up to local government where business policy is concerned. Customer service policies should be of utmost importance as they are what drives your business. Will you provide your customer service or will you need additional help? If you are a large vendor, will you need to outsource? While experience is a good teacher, you do not want to learn a lesson at the expense of your customer base. Your customers are the cornerstone of your business, so treat them with respect and courtesy so they will want to come back.
- E-commerce Package and E-commerce Tracking Providers: There are quite a few providers that have a track record of being reliable carriers. USPS, UPS, DHL, and FedEx all offer competitive rates. You will need to have a strategy in place for the cost of packaging and shipping. Do not assume that every container, box, or envelope is the same. Do a little shopping around to find the most affordable and dependable packaging and labeling supplies, and then check the rates of each carrier to increase your revenue.
Tracking will also be an issue at some point because e-commerce fraud is a multi-billion-dollar issue online. Finding Whitepapers like those from Juniper Research can help online vendors learn a lot about e-commerce vender protection. Customers lose packages every day, and that cost transfers to the seller. Sellers try to save money by not purchasing insurance, and this is a significant cause of revenue loss. Even with coverage, sellers often okay the carrier leaving packages on the doorstep or mailbox. At that point of delivery, protection is no longer meaningful because the mail service providers have fulfilled their delivery instructions. Spending a bit more to ask for a signature will raise costs, but it will protect you and the consumer from package to delivery processing. Customer complaints will add to your revenue loss by having to make a claim which will increase labor costs in time spent on the phone apologizing to the customer and then dealing with the carrier. Think carefully about packing and then choose a tracking method that promotes you as a reliable seller because it will boost the confidence of the consumer.
- Terms of Service Agreement: Companies like Amazon and eBay have customer purchase protection policies that are customer friendly meaning they usually side with the customer on returns. In most cases, customers are not even required to send the products. Policies like this will be a hit to your bottom line because you are losing both the product and the shipping costs. Taking the time to go over the leading vendor platforms for terms of service agreements (TOS) can save you a few guaranteed headaches along the way.
- Set up a business email account: You should probably think about setting up a separate email address that matches your vendor name just so that customers see uniformity. Additionally, if you use your personal email address, relevant vendor information could get lost among the mountain of emails you undoubtedly receive daily. You will need this when you register your domain name, so it is essential to do it before starting the next phase of setting up your store.
The important thing about an online business plan is that you will be less likely to make mistakes compared to someone who just goes straight to the online website. While you will still experience trial and errors, you will have the relevant information to help your business compete with other online vendors who have been in business for years. When you complete your plan, you are ready to proceed to the next step which is starting your store.
How to create an e-commerce website
Everyone should research how to build a free online store before doing it. There is some discussion online about which format is better: registering a domain initially or selecting a web host provider. If you register your domain name first, you can move it to other hosts. If you register the domain name after choosing the host, the set-up is simple. So, keep in mind that the first two steps are interchangeable depending on your opinion on domain registrations and host providers. Do some research to see which one is more suitable for your means.
- Choose your brand identifying domain name. Whether you register your domain independently or choose a hosting provider, you should put some thought into the name you want because this will determine your uniform resource locator (URL) that will help customers find you. It can be a critical decision because of SEO ranking. You want to choose a name that has potential to rank high in SERP algorithms. You can choose to brand your store name or something that is unique that helps you stand out from your competitors. Using your store name as a naked URL formula not only brands your identity but gain organic traffic which is guaranteed to help you rank on search engines.
- Choose a web host service provider: If you are new to the IT world, building your webpage can be time consuming and overwhelming. Web host service providers write the code that is stored in files on their servers in which users interact and perform operations. The host supplies the server, IT security, and file data management services. Most of them also offer 24/7 customer support in case of downtime or page configuration issues. 7
Free E-commerce Platforms: You may choose an e-commerce site or a free webpage builder that has e-commerce add-ons, but make sure that you research each of them for reliability and dependability. Some free sites are notorious for downtime, and it could cost you some customers if your website is not online.
Step one: Create an account
Step two: Visit online store and choose template
Step three: Edit your store name and info
Step four: Choose “Manage My Store” to add products and services.
Step five: Choose “Business Setup” to add options for your store info like shipping and payment options.
Step six: Publish for access to e-commerce webpage
WordPress Ecommerce Plug-in
Step one: Create your free WordPress account
Step two: Choose your theme
Step three: Go to your e-commerce dashboard.
Choose “Plugins, Add new, Search Plugins.”
Step four: Search for “Woocommerce” plugin.
Step Five: Install the plugin and activate it.
Step one: Create your free web host account (WordPress is excellent).
Step two: Choose your theme
Step three: Download the WordPress or Woocommerce plugin from the store.
Go to your landing page dashboard. Choose “Plugins, Add new, Upload.”
Step four: Click, install and activate the plugin.
Free E-commerce Software: There are many e-commerce software solutions available online. You will want to remember that they may require coding specialists or add-ons for your site. You will want to keep in mind that these sites offer free and paid services. They also follow file transfer protocol (FTP) which requires some knowledge of software installation.
Step one: Choose a host server that provides a minimum of PHP of 5.2 and MySQL.
Step two: Download and extract OpenCart or osCommerce plugin.
Step three: Upload files to host site.
Step four: Access installation wizard
Step five: Go to your website dashboard.
Free Web Hosting Providers: There are many free web hosting providers. There are a few things to consider before choosing your provider like access to developer APIs, amount of expected web traffic, upgrade costs (in anticipation of growth), support features, customer service, terms of service agreement, and a user-friendly interface. You will also want to take note of network connectivity, disk space, security protocols, and up-to-date software updates that the provider furnishes.
Step One: Choose your host provider.
Step Two: Choose a domain name that represents your e-commerce goals and vision.
Step Three: Design your e-commerce home page.
Keep in mind that free sites limit the amount of disk space. If you decide to post images and video, you will require more disk space than some free sites provide.
- Design your webpage layout: Much goes into setting up your online webpage just like you would a window display. Your homepage is introducing you to consumers.
- Keep it simple and user-friendly.
- Make sure that your company contact information and the “About Us” page defines your online presence. Keep it simple by quickly telling consumers who you are, what services you provide, and how you serve your customers.
- If you are already an established brick-and-mortar store, you probably have a logo, color scheme, and profile. If not, you need to take a moment to do so. Several online sites can help develop a logo such as Canva.
- Choose a template that has a pleasing color and background correlation. Make sure the preferred choices accentuate your products instead of distracting consumers from them.
- If you are going to have other products, make sure your call to action (CTA) buttons are interesting enough to get your customers to click them. More than 90% of online consumers prefer videos. Remember that images and video can often say much less than a lot of Optimize your homepage in a way that interests people to want to know more about your company. You should always add a visible link on your website to your customer support page as it lets consumers know you take service seriously and will be readily available should they need it.
- As an e-commerce site, you should display your partnerships because they help authenticate your business. As an example, if you use Amazon or Ebay to sell your products, adding their badges can be beneficial.
- Display payment methods and service guarantee so that customers have a good idea what to expect should the need arise.
- Create links to your social media platforms so that customers identify alternative methods for contacting you or finding out about new products.
- Display customer comments and reviews on your page. There is no better way to authenticate your customers’ experiences than letting potential customers read the reviews about the quality products you sold or the excellent services you provided.
- Visit your online competitors who are continuously top SERP ranking to see what stands out about their web pages. Look at things like font, layout, title page, and image placement can help you get ideas on what your page should strive to accomplish.
Online Business Ideas
There are many ways to make money online even if you do not have any products and services. While e-commerce is undoubtedly the most substantial part of the online economy, there is plenty of e-commerce business ideas for people who want to work remotely or supplement income.
- You can start a drop shipping business very easily if you do not have any products. You merely partner with a wholesale provider to provide your products and a supplier who receives your orders and ships directly to customers.
Step one: Research and choose a distributor for your e-commerce store. Alibaba, Wholesale Central, and Dropship Direct are the top free drop shipping wholesalers online. If your wholesaler does not have drop shipping services, you will need a supplier to distribute the products. It will be beneficial to have a primary distributor and supplier and a backup so that you are never without product availability.
Step two: Do your research and find the top grossing products. It is a wise choice to check to make sure the products are available before advertising them. Do not assume that just because your wholesaler has it listed that it will be available. Stock issues are always an issue in the drop shipping industry.
Step three: Get an EIN from the IRS to conduct business (US residents). You may also need a business license depending on your local business ordinances.
Step four: Choose your platform for selling your products. eBay, Amazon, or your website store are preferred ways to succeed in drop shipping.
Step four: Manage inventory, shipping, and supplier lists. The back office tasks are areas that can be extremely trying of patience if you lack organizational skills. Inventory needs, wholesaler product choices, supplier lists, and shipping are full-time jobs. However, it can also be lucrative if you master these competency skills.
- An affiliate marketer is a person or website that sells other people’s products for a commission. If you have used the information above to start a free site like WordPress, you can use your blog or webpage as an advertising referral program that pays up to top ten percent of the product cost. As noted above, people pay for advertising as part of their marketing campaign strategies. If you are an avid product reviewer and persuasive writer, you have all the things you need to start your own online business because you can drive the traffic while e-commerce business owners could not.
- Blogging: While you might not realize it, online traffic is an excellent source of revenue. While you may make some income with traffic under 10,000, you can monotonize your sight with anything over 50,000 clicks. Some companies have built up their site and sold them for tens of thousands and even millions of dollars. Google AdSense is one of the biggest revenue generators online. You choose the ads you want, decide where you want them on your page, and the advertisers will bid for it. You can also use Google’s Adwords Keyword Planner to strategize marketing campaigns, keywords, competitive bidding and budget information. Keyword competition is big business online. A clickthrough rate (CTR) helps website owners and advertisers see how often users are clicking on ads. If you, the website owner, aim for 1% of your traffic, you can make a decent amount of money if you manage to get people to click on your ads. While many e-commerce companies ignore the ads, others are capitalizing on their ability to market and advertise using SEO optimization strategies. The most popular niches are finance, health, IT, online marketing, and technology. Gossip, entertainment, and recipe sites are lower paying advertising.
- App developers are in high demand online. Most online traffic comes from mobile users. It makes sense that newer app developers aimed at iOS and Android users. The most massive revenue generating outlets online, which will not be a surprise, are Google and Apple. Google compensated 150,000 app developers more than $900 billion, and Apple spent an estimated $5 billion for more than 1.25 million apps.
- To link a developer account to payment details:
Step one: Sign in to your Google Play Developer Console
Step two: Click “Settings”
Step three: Click on “Account Details”
Step four: Click on “Merchant Account”
Step five: Click on “Set up Merchant Account”
Step six: Enter your business profile information.
- Social media consultants are in high demand because many people need help to effectively brand their online identity and get the traffic to your site which is not an easy task. If it were easy, no one would need social media consultants in the first place. Rates can vary drastically. If you are a newbie to online content, you will want to choose a price that equals your experience.
- No Experience: $15.00 to $40.00 an hour
- Two to five years of experience: $40.00 to $80.00 an hour
- More than six years of experience: $80.00 to $100 an hour.
- You can also gauge work with a client to negotiate a fee based on ability.
- Remember that milestones or projects can also be lucrative to freelancers.
- Web content writers, researchers, and proofreaders are always needed online. It is also a great way to work remotely. There are many people online who need content to build traffic but lack the skills necessary to write SEO-friendly articles. There are also many niche companies who pay writers for web content, product descriptions, or industry-specific knowledge. The pay scale can vary in this field, too. More importantly, it can be time-consuming. You will want to build a clientele of repeat customers so that you have reliable and steady sources of income.
- Online customer service is readily becoming an excellent revenue generating industry for remote workers because of the number of e-commerce stores that lack sufficient personnel. Hiring a person online to pick up overflow phone calls, chat, and emails can help in expanding your business. If you have a large company, you may decide to outsource all of your back office tasks. If you are a small company, using a freelance group will provide you with customer service representatives who are highly skilled and bi-lingual. As many of the sites cater to international databases, you can obtain the help you need for a relatively affordable price.
Online retail is an industry that continuously changes. That sentiment is even more so for people who are trying to maximize the services and features of free online platforms and services. Regardless of a complimentary or a purchased site, profit can remain low if you have not mastered the techniques necessary to compete in strategic marketing campaigns. If you have learned the skills required to start an e-commerce store, then you have what it takes to sell online as well. As you grow your business, you will learn tips and tricks that help you improve. Success will not be found overnight. You want to see a pattern of growth, but it requires you to work hard and maximize the techniques that other leading companies have mastered.