E-Commerce is the practice of selling online and the corresponding delivery of goods or services to your customers. As more consumers and businesses turn to the internet to purchase products or services, e-commerce has become a popular for businesses of all sizes.
Preparing for E-Commerce Sales
Before you launch an online store, you'll need solid business and marketing plans.
Choosing An E-Commerce Platform
It can be a daunting task, but we've identified several topics to consider when choosing which e-commerce platform to use.
For your reference, we've compiled some popular e-commerce website extensions and marketplaces. The Pace SBDC does not endorse any of these companies. Business owners should do their own research.
Looking to sell or source bulk products? Find a manufacturer for a new product? There are a number of websites that connect businesses to other businesses looking to buy or sell wholesale products.
Preparing for E-Commerce Sales
A Marketing Strategy: Your product/service is great, but it won't sell itself. Before launching an online store, make a plan as to how you'll reach potential customers and define what your sales pitch will be. Contact the Pace SBDC and one of our business advisors can help with your marketing strategy.
Delivery Options: How will customers receive the product or service? Whether your shipping an item with a postal carrier, providing your own, in-house delivery, or asking customers to pick-up items themselves, you'll need a delivery channel that's clearly communicated to your customers. You'll also need adequate packing and shipping techniques to ensure your product arrives in-tact.
A Business Plan: Don't just open a shop and hope for the best! Have a plan. Contact the Pace University SBDC and we'll connect you with a dedicated business advisor who can help. Your business plan should be written down and clearly detail all aspects of your business. Visit our business planning resource page.
Choosing An E-Commerce Platform
Evaluate Your Business Needs: Do you need orders to be "pending" until you accept them? Looking for something that does online and in-person sales? Make sure the e-commerce platform you choose has all the features you need. Furthermore, try to find one technology that can fulfill all your business needs, as this will make things easier to manage.
Understand All Pricing and Fees: Are you charged a monthly fee? Does the platform take a commission on each sale? Do you have to pay to list more products? Don't sign-up for anything until you deeply understand the pricing structure. Contact the platform's sales team for clarity if something isn't making sense to you.
Know Your Audience: Where are people already shopping for your product? How can you reach them? Is there an online marketplace that aligns with your niche? Look for the platform that would be most attractive to your customers.
Investigate Alternative/Digital Payment Options: You want your customer's shopping experience to be fast and easy. Consider accepting alternate payment methods, like allowing customers to pay using Paypal, Google Pay, or Apple Pay. Investigate the different payment methods customers will be able to use on any given platform and streamline the check-out process of your store.
Online Marketplace vs. Dedicated Store: Some businesses sell on their own websites while others choose to use existing online marketplaces, like Amazon, Depop, or Etsy. The benefit of using a marketplace is that they have an existing audience that's ready to buy. The downsides to using a marketplace are they usually charge higher commissions, give you less control, and can sometimes lead to more sales than you can handle.
Don't Be Swayed By Introductory Offers: Think long-term when choosing a platform. There are many services that offer low or no-commission introductory offers, but these initial perks will wear off.
Popular E-Commerce Platforms
Hosting Your Own Website: Incorporating an online store into your website allows customers to seamlessly transition from browsing your offerings to making a purchase. Whichever content management system your website uses, adding an e-commerce extension directly to your site is often relatively simple. The cost of extensions vary, but generally companies charge a monthly fee and/or take a portion of sales. If you already have a website, see what extensions are recommended by your content management system or website host. Some of the most popular extensions and platforms are:
Shopify is a powerful e-commerce and in-person point of sale system.
There are many e-commerce platforms out there, so do some research, get a few free trials, and find the platform the is best suited for your business.
E-Commerce Marketplaces: An e-commerce marketplace is a compilation of stores selling products/services of all kinds. Using this approach can increase your businesses’ visibility and allow you to access the marketplace’s existing customer pool. A key difference between this approach and hosting your own website is most marketplaces take a larger percentage of sales or charge higher monthly fees because of their existing customer base. Some of the most popular e-commerce marketplaces are:
Specialized E-Commerce Marketplaces: Specialized marketplaces cater to specific products and types of businesses. A few are listed below, but researching your own products may reveal one that fits your business. Some of the most popular specialized marketplaces are:
Facebook Shops allows users to sell items on their Facebook & Instagram pages. Pinterest has a similar feature. If you have a social media following this is a great option.
Selling or Buying Wholesale Online
A number of website exist to help connect small business that seek bulk and/or wholesale orders from new customers, as well as those looking to purchase larger orders from manufacturers or wholesalers for resale. Be sure to do independent research and due diligence before engaging with a given firm, as most platforms simply connect businesses. It's up to each business to ensure the other will make a good partner. Here's a few popular platforms:
Faire is a B2B marketplace focused on the European and North American markets. The site focuses on smaller, independent brands and stores and strives to keep order minimums low.
Alibaba.com is one of the most popular sourcing and selling websites in the wholesale industry. Be sure to speak with an advisor, as many businesses listed here are overseas and involve import/export.
Contact one of our business advisors who are familiar with e-commerce and can guide you through the process of setting up and maintaining a successful e-commerce store no matter what platform or software your business is using.