E-commerce: Is It Time To Take Your Business Online?

According to the U.S. Online Retail Forecast, 2011-2016, done by Forrester Research, Inc., 15% more consumers will be shopping online and spending up to 44% more when they do. Forrester also projects that online spending in the U.S. will increase by 62% by 2016. With improved retailer websites and the widespread adoption of smartphone usage, cybershopping is becoming easier every day. Taking your business online is no longer a question of if, but when.

But how does a business owner even start to think about hopping aboard the e-commerce train? Selling online can take several forms, so how do you know which option is right for you?  And what about folks who run service based businesses? How can they get on board with E-commerce?

Explore your three basic E-commerce options

When it comes to E-commerce, you have three basic options. The first option is to sell products through a third-party site like Amazon or eBay. The advantage here is that you don’t have to maintain your own site, and there’s already a built-in audience who finds your products through searching the sites.  Look at it as a way to dip your toe in the water before committing to something more involved.

Your next option is to add online ordering or a shopping cart to your existing website. This is a popular option among many small businesses and it makes a lot of sense for people with product lines consisting of a few basic products. The advantage here is that the technology is fairly simple and you can maintain the whole thing yourself. You can use a third party E-commerce site like Volution or Shopsite to get started.  These are great, but they do have their limitations. If you find that you need something more robust, then you can take your third option and go for a fully integrated E-commerce site.

A fully integrated E-commerce store is perfect if you have a large number of products and you need things like advanced reporting, a point of sales integration, system, real time inventory, order tracking, wish list or send to a friend capabilities, or you’d like to be able to suggest related products.

The benefits of E-commerce

Obviously having E-commerce capabilities is going to help attract new customers. That’s the hope, anyway! If you think about it, building an E-commerce site is like opening up a whole new location—a cyberlocation that allows a new group of folks access to you. And of course, that also means that your site must be mobile friendly. If you’re gonna go, go big and make it easy for everybody to get to you!

But that’s not the only benefit to going cyber. You also have a great way to collect customer contact information when people place an order with you. It’s also a way for customers to take a look at your products and get to know you a little better—in their own time and in their own space.

What if you don’t want to actually sell anything?

If you’re not really ready to go for it with an E-commerce site, but you think it’s important for customers to be able to take a look at your products before visiting your store, you can always have an online catalog.  It looks like an E-commerce site, but doesn’t have a shopping cart. Popular clothing retailer H&M does this. Their site details all their products along with price tags, but does not sell anything online.  A simpler option is to make a PDF made of your catalog and post it to your website.

How service based businesses can use E-commerce

If your business is based on a service like a personal trainer or a dog groomer, you’re not left out here!  E-commerce is all about making life easier for customers, so why not make it possible for them to schedule appointments, check your availability, pay for services in advance, or purchase a gift card?  Imagine how cool it would be if a customer booked your time and paid for it ahead of time? That would naturally lead to fewer cancellations!  And, the convenience factor speaks for itself.

No matter what kind of business you have or which E-commerce option is best for you, setting things up can be complicated and there are many pieces to put together. You need to set up domain names and email, establish a payment method and shipping policies. It’s a lot to pull together, so if you find yourself getting overwhelmed, make sure you ask for help. There are plenty of qualified folks out there who can help you make solid decisions and get you up and running smoothly.

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