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The 7 Steps to Selling Online

Creating a website for the purpose of selling products or services online entails careful research and planning. Here are the 7 important steps entailed in establishing an e-Commerce website.

Step 1: Create a Business Plan

One or more brain-storming sessions may be required to chalk out a good business plan for your online business. Without proper planning up front, your vision and goal may not be clear to you, your business partners and even potential customers. The following items should be discussed and suitable strategies worked out for implementation:

  1. Major goals and objectives - short-term, medium-term and long-term goals
  2. List of products that you would like to sell online
  3. Competitor research – understand the competition, review their websites
  4. Profile your target customer
  5. Budget – Work out the start-up and recurring costs
  6. Assign Responsibility - Allocate a team to handle online sales and manage the e-commerce website
  7. Marketing Strategy - finalize how you intend to drive traffic to your website
  8. Sales forecast - Define your sales target for online business
  9. Define timelines with key deadlines.

Step 2: Finalize your Website Name

You will need an address for your website, which is referred to as a domain name. Keep in mind that search engines analyze domain name to figure out what you sell and accordingly index your website under appropriate category. Hence you should select a domain name that accurately represents what you are selling and helps brand your business. If possible, try using a domain name that includes the most important/relevant keyword or key phrase.

For instance, if you are selling college books, your domain name could be - collegebooks.com or collegebookstore.com. Likewise, if you sell shoes, your domain name could be bestshoes.com or shoesonline.com. A .com or a .in (if you are an Indian company) domain should be preferred over other domain name extensions, though technically it does not matter if you use other extensions. Also, you should grab the same domain name existing in other extensions such as .org, .net, .biz, .co.in, .ws, etc. so as to retain your brand.

You may make the .com domain as your primary domain name where your website will be hosted and redirect the other domain names to the .com website with a 301 redirect.

Step 3: Get a Merchant Account

It is important to give your customers a wide choice of online and offline payment options. Success in online business is greatly dependent upon the ease of payment facility available to your customers. For most types of business, an instant online method of receiving payments helps take advantage of impulse buying and thereby helps in increased sale. To provide such a facility you will need to enter into a direct agreement with a payment gateway service provider and obtain a merchant account.

Selection of the right payment gateway service is very important as there are recurring costs and per transaction costs (known as TDR, short for Transaction Discount Rate) associated with each online transaction and hence it is necessary that you choose a service that charges minimum TDR. Payment gateway services charge anywhere for 1.5 - 7.5% TDR on each transaction, depending upon the transaction type (viz. credit card, debit card, net banking, etc.) and also depending upon your monthly transaction volume. This can considerably erode your margins and make it difficult for you to sell at competitive prices. Hence, look out for a payment gateway service provider who provides competitive TDRs and further negotiate with them if you are expecting a higher sales volume. You must also look at the reputation of the payment gateway company both in terms of payment processing server up time and transaction security.

Step 4: Setup your e-Commerce Website

Select the right e-commerce service provider to setup your e-commerce website. Stay away from venturing out to make your website yourself. This is not your core business line. So let the experts do it for you. Also stay away from free and open source software. They are usually not free from bugs and security leaks and you will have to get technically involved in setting them up. Look for a professional service provider who already has a ready e-commerce system available. A hosted e-Commerce solution is recommended as this will keep you free from technical hassles of integration and timely upgrades.

Technically, an e-Commerce website setup would entail the following components:

  1. Website address, viz. domain name
  2. Hosting account for hosting your website and email accounts
  3. Security components such as dedicated IP, SSL certificate, firewall, etc.
  4. A website that -
    • Integrates various business functions such as sales, sales-return, CRM, accounts, inventory and purchase
    • Integrates seamlessly with your payment gateway merchant account.
    • Provides you with easy interfaces to manage your products, pricing, tax rules, shipping rules, etc.
    • Enables your employees to operate your online business conveniently.
    • Provides relevant reports and analysis to enable you to analyze your business and take quick strategic decisions to boost sales and improve customer service.

A good e-Commerce website system integrates all of the above components appropriately and ensures that your e-commerce website is up and running 24x7 and without any troubles. Building such a system is technically quite involving and is better left to the experts.

Step 5: Build Content and Product Catalogue

After you have selected your e-commerce service provider and have your website setup, your e-commerce provider will provide you with a back-end website management system. You will need to setup the website as per your business requirements. The initial setup/configuration exercise would involve activities such as setting up your company information, defining departments & profit centers, defining your chart of accounts, defining payment and receipt methods, defining tax and freight rules, defining currencies in which you will sell, defining exchange rates, defining document numbering schemes and templates for various sales & purchase documents, etc. etc.

Next you will need to define your product categories and define products under each category. Product definition would entail providing product details, images, sales parameters & pricing, discounts, etc. You should spend adequate time in defining your products and writing descriptions and other content for your website that will give your customers the information they need in order to make a purchase. Writing appropriate content for your web site with an effective sales pitch is extremely important and is better done by you since you know your business better than your service provider. An informed visitor who can get as many details about your products as possible from your site is more likely to buy.

Finally, write your store policies regarding refunds, exchanges, cancellations, and shipping, and make it easy for your customers to access this information. Creating a set of pages to answer frequently asked questions would also be a good idea.

Step 6: Train your Staff

The web provides an entirely different paradigm of customers who are impatient and want quick action. They do not like to wait. They want quick response to their queries. They want quick delivery, etc. etc. It is therefore imperative that you gear up your business operations accordingly and train your staff and make them understand the essence of speed. Remember, word-of-mouth publicity works equally well on the internet just like it does for a brick-and-mortar business. And therefore, creating a dissatisfied customer is like killing an entire chain of prospective customers.

Step 7: Promote your Website

Once you have launched your e-commerce website and are ready to go, it's time to tell the world about your new site and let your potential customers know that you exist.

Below are some of the steps that you can take:

  1. Make your website search engine friendly so that your website is found when people search for products they are looking to buy.
  2. Submit your site to popular search engines and also enlist your website in popular business directories.
  3. Give Advertisements.

Search engine friendliness should be taken care by your e-Commerce website software itself. You should purchase an e-commerce system that takes care of automatically making your pages search engine friendly by virtue of their inherent design. That being achieved, you can focus on various forms of online and offline advertising media available and depending upon your business plan, marketing strategy and budget, you may take advantage of the various promotion medias.


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About the Author

Rajeev Kumar
CEO, Computer Solutions
Jamshedpur, India

Rajeev Kumar is the primary author of How2Lab. He is a B.Tech. from IIT Kanpur with several years of experience in IT education and Software development. He has taught a wide spectrum of people including fresh young talents, students of XLRI, industry professionals, and govt. officials.

Rajeev has founded Computer Solutions & WebServicesWorldwide.com, and has hands-on experience of building variety of web applications and portals, that include - SAAS based ERP & e-commerce systems, independent B2B, B2C, Matrimonial & Job portals, and many more.

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