eCommerce, a term that describes the act of selling goods or services online, is very different from selling offline. In a brick-and-mortar store, a merchant may have to consider things like the store’s physical location, layout, product display, security cameras, staffing, décor … the list goes on and on. But ultimately, the primary focus is selling products. eCommerce is the same, but the way a merchant goes about selling products is different.
Location no Longer Matters
While a brick-and-mortar store’s physical location is often one of the most important factors to success, an eCommerce site doesn’t necessarily have a physical location and is therefore accessible to a much, much higher volume of people. In other words, the opportunity can be much larger online.
But Choosing the Right eCommerce Solution is Everything
There are thousands of eCommerce solutions available to online merchants today, and it can get overwhelming fast. Below is a roundup of the most common eCommerce solutions merchants use today:
1. All-in-one eCommerce Software
These software packages offer merchants everything they need to sell online: a website, an order management and fulfillment system, a shopping cart and a payment gateway. For merchants new to eCommerce, an all-in-one solution may be more than what’s actually needed to get started online. These software solutions often require quite a bit of customization, and they’re not cheap.
2. Online Marketplaces
Online marketplaces, like Etsy or Amazon, are perhaps the simplest solution for small online merchants. No need to build a website, buy expensive payment software, or manage orders – it’s all done on your behalf within the marketplace’s back-end system. The downside to selling on an existing online marketplace is that you can only customize your online store within the limits of the marketplace’s parameters, and that’s not a scalable solution for merchants with big growth plans.
3. Alternative Payments
Some merchants choose to build a website first and integrate the eCommerce functionality second. Many small merchants use eCommerce website templates from website providers like Squarespace or Wix, and then use an alternative payment option to accept payments. Alternative payments, like PayPal or Stripe, provide a bit of code that can be easily embedded on an existing website to capture orders. This is an attractive option for many merchants because customers who are already using a specific alternative payment type are much more likely to buy from a merchant who offers that payment type as an option.
Driving Traffic is Critical
Just because your products are accessible online doesn’t mean customers will be able to find and purchase them. There are a variety of ways to drive customer traffic to your eCommerce site, like online marketing, social media, customer reviews, word of mouth, referrals and advertising.
Fulfilling Orders is the (Semi) Final Step
After a merchant has carved out a space for themselves online, driven traffic to the site and started selling products, the next step is fulfillment. Depending on order volume, it’s beneficial for merchants to have a fulfillment plan in place before that first sale rolls in. Merchants will also need to consider which delivery provider to use (most use either UPS, FedEX or USPS, but there are others available).
Here are the most common fulfillment methods for online merchants:
1. Merchants Handle Fulfillment In-House
For merchants who are just getting started online, order volume may be quite low. There’s no reason fulfillment can’t be handled by one or two people who review orders, package products and ship to customers.
2. Merchants Pay to Outsource Order Fulfillment
When order volume increases, it can become overwhelming fast. In this scenario, it’s best for the merchant to pay a logistics partner to manage fulfillment. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of logistics services and providers available to merchants of all sizes and at varying price points.
The final step? Getting those Customers to Buy Again!
Once a merchant has launched a website, driven traffic to products, captured sales and fulfilled orders, the next step is to keep those customers coming back. Like driving traffic, this can take on a variety of forms: email marketing, text messages, flash sales, discounts, and even loyalty programs can give customers an extra incentive to come back and buy from the merchant again.