Do you have a store that sells a product? Perhaps you have been serving your local community for sometime now, expertly selling your product. You would like find new customers and increase sales. You know that the Internet has been responsible for creating wealth for countless entrepreneurs, but you still have not figured out how the Internet can help your business.
If you are a small to medium size retailer or wholesaler who would like to learn how the Internet can create more revenue with minimal cost increase, then this article is for you. If you already have a web store, and are not happy with you current results, this article will be helpful to you as well.
Why limit your sales to your local community when the whole world is available to sell to? If you sell items that are shippable, then you owe it to yourself and your business to establish an e-commerce platform. The following information will help you get ready for this transition. You will either need to have a member of your staff who is very Internet and computer savvy, or you will need to hire an outside Internet Marketing company.
1. Prepare your inventory
First, make sure that you have an accurate count of your existing stock. There is nothing worse than selling a product on your website only to go to find that it's not on the shelf when you go ship. This creates multiple problems.
First, you need to figure out if you can actually fulfill the order. Can you restock the item fast enough so that the customer will still be satisfied?
Secondly, you will need to contact your customer and break the news. If you are unable to fulfill their order, I recommend offering a coupon with a discount-off their next order. You need to convince your customer that you are not in the habit of selling items you do not have. You also need to entice them to try your shop again when they have the need again. I usually offer a 10% off coupon code that can be used one time. Do not forget to refund their money PROMPTLY!
If you are able to restock and fulfill the order, tell the customer immediately that there will be a delay. DO NOT wait for them to contact you looking for their order. Its better that they know the same day they place the order. I recommend contacting them via telephone and following up with an e-mail. This will tell your customer that there is a living, breathing person behind this website that they justave their money to. I recommend offering to refund their money immediately if the new timeframe does not work for them. If you do these things, more than likely the customer will be understanding and accept the later shipment. Offer them a coupon for their next order!
The lesson learned here is: be sure you know what's on the shelf before you start selling to the rest of the world.
Specific Details on Inventory Preparation
For every item that you plan to sell on the web, gather and catalog the following information:
1. Item Name
2. A unique id number (if it has a bar code, use it!)
3. Item Description
4. Unit of Measure (each, case, etc)
5. Weight – Use pounds and ounces in the US
6. Item dimensions
7. Manufacturer Name
8. Manufacturer ID number
9. Your cost
10. Your listing price
11. MSRP (optional)
12. Any variations (color, size, etc.)
While performing this gathering of information, it is also a good idea to take a product photo or find one readily available on the web. Please try to size your photos to 800×600 pixels at 72 DPI. (Helpful hint: use your unique id number to name your photo: "uniqueid.jpg")
2. Prepare to accept web payments
• Go to your bank and request a merchant account. You can also call upon a virtually limitless pool of merchant services providers. Be sure to compare costs.
• Get an Authorize.net account
• Sign up for a Paypal account
3. Identify your shippers
• Generally, you will want to offer shipping through USPS, UPS and FedEx. If shipping large items that require a freight hauler, be sure to know who you will use and know how to access their rates.
• I recommend establishing online accounts with any agency you plan to ship with.
• If you do not already own a parcel scale, get one!
4. Gather sales tax information
In most states, you will need to charge sales tax to customers ordering and receiving goods in your home state. Some states have a different sales tax by county and municipality.
5. Construct your website and shopping cart
I recommend hiring someone who is knowledgeable in this arena. E-commerce websites are a special science. There are a few "do-it-yourself" platforms available, such as Network Solutions E-Commerce, but generally, these pre-packaged programs are very limited in design capabilities and you may find that there are certain features you would like that are not available. Support is very limited unless you are willing to pay for it.
Do your homework and hire an e-commerce consultant who has experience in building web stores. This person can either set you up to manage the website yourself, or be there for ongoing support.
6. TEST, TEST, TEST!
Be sure to run several test orders before going live. It is important that you are able to successfully receive order information, able to effectively transfer this data into your in-house inventory system and be able to fulfill the order in a reasonable amount of time.
7. Market your new website
• Submit your website to major search engines.
• Utilize social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, etc)
• Get listed on your Chamber of Commerce website
• Submit your listings to Google Shopping, Amazon, Monster Marketplace, etc.
• Exchange links with other websites – offer to advertise your collections' websites in exchange for them advertising yours.
Mobile Version: More and more people are using smartphones, iPhones and tablets for browsing the internet and making purchases. Do not lose out on this valuable sector!
Data Handling: If you are successful in attracting new business, you may need to consider an automated method of moving sales information from your new website to your in-house accounting software. Your e-commerce consultant should be able to provide a method for doing so.
Drop-shipping is a very lucrative aspect to e-commerce. If you have an established relationship with a vendor, ask about their drop-shipping capabilities. This way, you will not need to actually stock the item you are selling. Once you receive an order, you can notify your vendor of the sale, provide shipping information and have them "blind-ship" the item to your customer. They may even be able to include a copy of your invoice and place your return address on the package. Be prepared to pay a small fee for this service if it's available. You can either absorb this cost into your profit margin, or pass the cost to your customer via a "handling change."
Coupons: I mentioned these earlier. I am a big believer in online coupons for many different purposes. You can give your best customers a special discount code. These codes can also be included in e-mail and snail-mail marketing. They can be used in social media. Advantages to using online coupon codes:
1. You set the discount.
2. You set the expiration.
3. You control how many times they can be used.
4. You can control exactly which products are eligible … and which are not.
5. You can easily track their usage and profitability.
By taking your regular inventory and making it available to the rest of the world, you will certainly increase your revenue with minimal extra cost. Most of the extra cost does come up front in the creation of your e-commerce store. There are many different companies who offer these services. Be sure to do your homework and choose the e-commerce consultant who has considerable experience and success. If you or one of your employees are Internet and computer savvy, you can certainly build an e-commerce platform on your own … just be sure to take into consideration the learning curve. With today's technology, almost anyone can build and launch a website. An e-commerce website is a science all in itself.