The following article originally appeared on Kizer & Bender's popular blog, Retail Adventures.
If you are in retail today, it is likely you are charting unprecedented waters of forced closings or perhaps you are open and experiencing a lack of overall foot traffic due to social distancing and other precautionary measures. Can you still sell to your customers when they can’t access your physical store? ABSOLUTELY> and it doesn’t take a degree in Computer Science nor do you have to hire an IT professional to get up and running.
Choose a selling platform
Don’t just sign up for the cheapest or easiest e-commerce platform. You may have to forego some advanced, “sexy” features in the interest of getting up and running, but that’s okay. You can easily add these features later. Changing your e-commerce platform isn’t something that is as easy – or economical – to change so compare a few options and choose wisely.
Go with a tried and true e-commerce platform like Shopify
. Despite the immense number of features offered, Shopify is one of the easiest tools to create e-commerce sites available. I am going to use Shopify as an example in this conversation.
What’s the cost?
You can build a respectable e-commerce site with all the basic features you would need for approximately $29.99/month. There are, however, some added costs to figure into your budget:
Short term, upfront costs:
- If you want a special domain for your online store, i.e. myshop.myretailname.com, you will need to register a domain or subdomain name. Cost for this is around $30 a year.
- Advertised pricing might be $29.99 per month to start with unlimited products, but expect to pay be a transaction fee. Spotify charges a transaction fee of 2.9% + 30¢.
- If you don’t like their cookie-cutter cart themes you can add another for about $50-$300, depending on the feature set/design you choose.
- Live chat to assist customers on Spotify will run about an additional $19/month.
Both Shopify and BigCommerce offer each of the following add-ons should you need them later:
- Professional product pictures
- Advanced payment options (PayPal, Amazon Checkout, etc.)
- Real-time shipping rates/options (Be careful about how you charge for shipping in the meantime.
- Customer reviews
- Reward programs
- Gift cards
- SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
After choosing a platform whet comes next?
Now you are ready to start customizing your store, uploading products and setting up payments and shipping. There are 5 main steps:
1. Choose a theme or a Layout
All themes come with a comprehensive list of modifications you can make without having to touch a line of code. The premium themes come with more modifications, but you can also achieve a great looking site with a free one.
This step is more critical than you may think. A theme is more than just colors and font styles. Be sure to check out the functionality and reviews. If you know you will want to implement a rewards program, make sure the theme has a rewards page built into it. If not, expect to pay a Shopify theme developer to make one.
2. Add products to your store (self-explanatory)
3. Set up your payment gateways
A payment gateway allows you to take payment from your customers via your website. The gateways built into your monthly fee will allow you to accept the four major credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express. PayPal and other special payment methods are not included but can easily be added by turning on a checkbox after you launch your store.
4. Set up your tax rules
5. Set up your shipping rates (Very Important!)
If your shipping rates are too narrow, or you don’t give enough options, you may lose out on some sales. Shopify will only calculate a shipping rate for your customers based on the rules that you define in the Shipping page of the admin. You need to make sure that the rules you set up protect you from making no profit on a sale or even costing you!
- Do you offer free shipping, flat-rate shipping, or exact-cost shipping? Exact-cost shipping is ideal, but it is not practical to set up carrier accounts and implementations for a quick store launch.
- How heavy are your products? Any odd sizes?
- Where are you shipping from? Where are you shipping to?
There is good news! Shopify has partnered with specific carriers to make the process even easier for you. If you ship through Shopify Shipping with USPS, UPS, or DHL Express in the United States, or with Canada Post in Canada, you’ll be able to pay for and print shipping labels directly in Shopify.
Do I need to add PayPal? Why would an advanced payment program be necessary?
Costs to use the PayPal payment system are minimal. There is no setup fee, monthly fee or monthly minimum to use the payment system. Instead, you pay a small fee per transaction. For those with less than $3,000 in monthly sales, the fee is just 2.9 percent plus 30 cents per transaction, meaning PayPal would charge you $3.20 for a $100 sale. The cost per transaction goes down the higher your volume of monthly sales.
At the end of the day, the biggest reason for using any advanced payment program is sheer convenience for the customer. An individual can shop on their phone and log into PayPal (or any advanced checkout system) to complete a purchase, without ever having to get up off the couch to find a credit card and tediously enter all the billing and shipping information.
When you choose PayPal, for example, your transactions receive 128-bit encryption, fraud screening CVV2 (card verification) checks and address screening for free. You also receive complimentary seller protection coverage, which protects you from unauthorized charges and fraudulent "item not received" claims. And because PayPal has a reputation for being secure, consumers will feel more comfortable buying from your website (especially if you are not yet a well-known merchant) if you offer a PayPal option.
How soon can I be up and operational?
If you plan on launching with a reasonable number of products, from the time you sign up to the time you complete a test order is often 2-3 days. Again, what is your goal? Are you looking to generate revenue from the most popular items your customers cannot purchase now or have them browse through all 500 products you can sell? Add hot items now and then commit to adding 5-10 products a day afterward.
Where can I sell using one of these platforms?
The Shopify Lite plan is for anyone who wants to sell products without maintaining an online store. If you want to sell your products on social media or if you want to embed a Buy Button on your personal website or blog, then you can do so with this plan.
Starting at a very affordable $9/month, you can also use Shopify Lite to have customers purchase products directly from your Facebook business page. They don't have to leave Facebook to make a purchase, cutting down on the number of steps to make a sale. The store merges with your current Facebook Business page since it adds a Shop tab on the page and allows for product galleries and your own shopping cart inside Facebook For some businesses, it may be the perfect solution for selling products online.
WHAT ELSE DO I NEED TO KNOW?
Remember that an online store is an on-going investment of both money and time. Be sure to devote time each week to maintain and enhance it. Otherwise you will have added another monthly expense to your overhead that isn’t likely to bring added benefit – people just don’t shop anymore at stale websites. However, these uncertain times have taught us that IT IS worth the effort to be prepared for the day when your customers cannot access your physical store.
The bottom line: whether it’s via Shopify or Facebook, eBay or Etsy, it’s easier than you think to sell online.