If you are a small retail business owner, but you have yet to take the plunge into online sales because you think you don’t have time, or don’t know where to start, read on. Online retail sales are estimated to reach $204 billion this year according to a Shop.org study conducted by Forrester Research. That’s a 17% increase over 2007. Your retail business needs to be online, and here’s how you can start:
- Go broadband. If you are still using a dial-up connection, now is the time to get that fast broadband connection. You don’t want to waste time uploading pictures, emailing, processing sales, etc. A typical DSL connection will cost you around $50 a month.
- Register your domain name. Even if you don’t plan to use it right away, it is a good idea to register a domain name for your business before someone else does. Also, after you register your domain name, you can use a business specific email address (i.e., firstname.lastname@example.org) to gain credibility and a sense of professionalism online.
- Start small, but think big. You don’t have to launch a website to get started selling online; Internet auction sites can be a good way to begin selling inexpensively. However, for the best returns in the long term, having your own e-commerce website is the only way to go.
- Liquidate. Don’t try to sell everything you currently offer at your retail location. Start by selling your older stock or open package return items on sites like eBay and Amazon first. This will give you more experience selling online while providing a new sales channel for your slower selling merchandise.
- Get listed. Update or create a listing in the major online local business directories. The top five directories are: Yelp!, CitySearch, Yahoo Local, Google Local, and MSN Live. Make sure you include a link to your website or other selling platform (i.e., eBay Store). This will also generate additional local store traffic.
- Use your current employees. If you own a retail store, chances are you already have the workforce you need to support your new e-commerce endeavor. Your current employees can take over the data entry work once you have a clear idea of what you are doing.
- Integrate your current inventory system. This might seem like a big step, but relax, it can be painless. You can simply use your current point-of-sale system and inventory software as if your new online customer was standing in front of you. As your online sales grow, you will want to consider upgrading your current POS to handle your e-commerce sales more efficiently.
- Final destination, your own website. Ultimately, you should be working towards establishing your own e-commerce website. Since you will have already registered your domain name for your business by this point, the next step is finding a web hosting services provider. The best fit may be a solutions provider that has e-commerce experience and product offerings. Do your research; don’t necessarily choose the first company you see, there are a lot of e-commerce solutions available, so make sure you pick the right one for your business. There are several entry-level turnkey providers – ProStores (an eBay company) or Network Solutions are two examples. Do your due diligence in research, choose one with whom you’re comfortable, and you’ll be up and running quickly.
You can be on your way to opening a new sales channel for your business that can attract customers that were once unreachable. Just remember one thing: marketing. Online marketing, as a concept and total amount spent, has grown considerably since the birth of the web. Having a shiny new website that is void of an online marketing campaign is like having a store in the middle of the desert. Of course, the goal of e-commerce is to attract paying customers, so as you establish this new sales channel, consider hiring an online marketing firm to help you generate and track search traffic. Before you know it, you will be the envy of your competitor down the street and another Internet success story.
Use these tips. Go forth and prosper.