Online selling is by no means a simple task. To sell products online not only requires making use of high end marketing strategies but also involves lots of planning. This article is meant for those of you who intent to start an online store. It is intended to give you a fair idea of what you would need to do and what you need to avoid while planning an online selling business.
The following are the various steps that you would need to take in order to open a successful online store
1.) Designing a website that sells
The first most important aspect of online selling is to have a professional looking website that is designed to sell. You can go about creating the website from code up using web designers or simply go for readymade website templates. If you are purchasing website templates, be sure to go for templates that are professionally designed and have the option of shopping carts. Buying templates from providers who offer allied services like template customization, web hosting; SEO etc would be even better. Some template providers like 'buytemplates.net' offer allied services irrespective of where you actually purchased the template from. To get a rough idea of how your site should be designed you can take hints from successful online discount stores like http://www.ishopage.com, 'gap.com' and 'bestbuy.com'.
2.) Hosting your store online
There are many factors that you need to take into consideration before selecting your web host when it comes to online selling. Some of the major factors are discussed as follows.
a.) Secure servers
Firstly you got to make sure if your web host offers you with SSL encryption which is very important for secure money transactions online. Most web hosting companies would offer you with SSL secure server facilities along with a regular package whereas a few would charge you an extra amount for the service.
b.) Up time guarantees
Your business is only as good as it remains online. Make sure to go for web hosting service providers who promise you an uptime guarantee of 99 %. Also check to see as to how they back up their data and what kind of back up systems they have in place in case of emergencies.
c.) Private CGI-BIN
A CGI-BIN directory is a location on your web server where you can upload your binary scripts or interactive programs. This is very important for payment processing and shopping cart management. So be sure that the hosing company gives you a private CGI BIN directory.
d.) Web logs and web statistics
Web logs and statistics are vital for your online business. Studying the web logs can give you much needed information about your customers and your sales records. Understanding your customer behavior can help you retain customers and attract new customers.
e.) Customer support
Get as much information about the hosting company's support policies and the type of support they offer. Go for web hosting companies that offer 24/7 customer support.
Most web hosts promise you lots of goodies but may not live up to it. Make sure to test the web host's credibility by asking them for references. The existing customers of the hosting company can give your first hand information on the service that you can expect to get.
In addition to this you should also look for services that offer you Mysql database and PHP scripting, unlimited emails and a minimum space of 10GB.
3.) Deciding on shopping carts
If you are selling more than a handful of products then having a shopping cart on your site is a good idea. You have three major options of getting yourself an online shopping cart. First one is buying a shopping cart software program, the second is using services of an ASP and the third is programming it yourself.
Your best option as a beginner would be to go for ASP services. These services are cheap and come with flexible options. As time passes and you online business develops, you can hire programmers to design yourself a customized shopping cart or buy shopping cart software programs that can be set up in your server. Some good ASP's that offer shopping cart services are 'SecureNetShop' (SecureNetShop.com) and 'GoEmerchant' (GoEmerchant.com).
Shopping cart software programs are a costly option for beginners and can cost you anything between $ 150 - $ 800. Some good shopping cart software programs are 'shopfactory 6' (shopfactory.com) and 'storefront' (strorefront.net) One more option as already discussed above is making use of ecommerce website templates. These ecommerce templates have pre installed shopping cart systems and can help you set up a store in minutes. Some of these template providers also offer template customization services that would allow you to get your ordinary templates in selling modules.
4.) Deciding on how to accept payments
No matter what the speculation, credit cards are still the best way to accept payments. So make sure that your online business has facilities to accept credit cards. There was a time when you had to have a merchant account from a bank or financial institution to process credit card payments. But today there are enough options available that allow you to accept credit card payments even without a merchant account.
Paypal (paypal.com) is perhaps the best payment gateway and has no initial joining fees. Their service fees, per-transaction is very low and they allow you to accept payments from all over the world. In addition to Paypal some other good payment gateways are '2checkout' (2checkout.com), 'clickbank' (clickbank.com) and 'paysystems' (paysystems.com).
Payment options other than credit cards
It is by no means necessary that all your customers will have credit cards. As a matter of fact many of your customers don't have credit cards, many don't like to use credit cards, many have credit card phobias and the remaining may not wish to share their credit card information online. Under such a situation it would be best for you to provide alternate payment options.
Internet checks are as popular as credit cards when it comes to paying online. Internet checks are comparatively safer and are best if your customers are from international destinations. This technique would involve your customer's to make payments by an online blank check provided by an internet check service provider. This information is sent to the service provider for authorization. The merchant can also print the check on his printer immediately afterwards. Some good service providers who can offer you internet check services are paybycheck (paybycheck.com) and cross-check (cross-check.com).
In addition to internet checks there are some other options of accepting online payments like money orders and electronic checks. But these methods are suitable only if your customers are from nearby locations.
The best way to decide your payment options is analyzing your customer behaviors. You can also have online check boxes or feedback forms on your website to collect information about your customer's payment preferences and act accordingly.
5.) Promoting your online store
No promotion equals to no sales. You can promote your store using online marketing strategies like search engine optimization, email marketing, banner advertisements and affiliate marketing among others. While promoting your business you got to make sure to stay clear of any kind of illegal methods like spamming, cloaking etc. Your promotion activities should create a positive awareness about your online store that leads to trust building.
Even after all this is over there is no word like 'remaining stagnant' in online marketing. You got to keep on moving and adapting yourself to newer technologies and better marketing techniques to stay ahead and abreast of all those pesky competitors.
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