[Paul Gerst of TeaDog, offered up this introduction to ecommerce for small town retailers. He has some terrific questions for you to think through. -Becky]
In doing some preparation, you may learn that ecommerce is the right step. You also may discover that starting a store blog or improving a web site would be more fitting. You might find out that using sites like Etsy.com or Amazon Marketplace work better for your business.
As a retailer, you have advantages that may make ecommerce beneficial. For example, you already accept credit cards so you have a merchant account. You currently sell items so you have relationships with suppliers. Maybe most importantly, you know the type of customer that buys your products and what is important to them.
Despite the proliferation of ecommerce and an economic slowdown, opportunity still exists to sell online. The Dept of Commerce indicated US retail ecommerce sales for the second quarter of 2009 rose 2.2% to over $32 billion from the first quarter while total retail sales decreased slightly. Overall, ecommerce accounted for 3.6% of total retail sales.
Although it may not seem logical, technology should be one of the last items to consider. Other factors will have a bigger effect on the success of your ecommerce business.
To begin, determine a measurement of success. What will make your ecommerce site successful? How will you measure success? Is it revenue? How much? Is it the fun of a new challenge?
Also, carefully, consider roles and responsibilities. Since you are already busy, who will manage the site? How will you handle shipping? Who will handle marketing? Marketing the site will be your biggest challenge.
Next, consider the competition. Even though you successfully compete regionally, you now face a bigger audience. What differentiates you from Amazon, eBay and Internet-only stores? Determine your unique selling proposition and make sure to be consistent. If your store competes on service or offers unique items, then do the same online.
Then, if you decide to sell online, the first step is picking a shopping cart. Determine your goals, level of technical expertise and amount you want to spend. Most of today’s shopping carts are built for small businesses and made for people who are not programmers or developers. A little skill can build a robust ecommerce store.
Make sure to get all the fees and exactly what is included in the cost. Beware, some carts charge a percentage of monthly sales. Make sure you know about this. Take advantage of the 30-day free trial many offer to build a small site.
In doing research, review sites with similar items or ones you really enjoy using. Find out the carts used by these sites. You can look at the footer of the site, which often tells the shopping cart platform. It may say “Online Shopping by …” or some variation.
With the right preparation and answer to a few questions, you will make the right decision to enhance the value of your small business store.
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.