The way people shop today has largely moved online.
Any business that sells products from a storefront now will benefit from selling products on a website as well. Selling through an online store is an easy way to increase your market and get more sales from customers who value convenience.
And anyone starting a new business can save on upfront costs and work by making it an eCommerce store. The costs of building a website are much lower than what you’d spend to rent space and staff a physical store.
Selling products online is a much easier and more affordable way to start down the path of entrepreneurship.
Why You Should Sell Products On a Website
For people to buy your items, they have to be able to access them. When you only sell them in one location (or even if you have a chain of specific locations), you’re limited to selling products to the people who are willing and able to come to you. That means there’s a huge market you miss out on.
If you’ve been hesitant to do the work of building an eCommerce website to sell products, there are a few good reasons to move it up on your to-do list.
1. People spend money online.
In 2017, people spent over $450 billion making purchases online and that number has been growing over the last few years. Any business owner that stays offline is missing out on their piece of those profits.
While some shoppers certainly still make a routine out of heading to their local shopping district or mall, many now skip the trip and do a lot of their buying while sitting at home.
If your competitors make their items available to them there and you don’t, you’ll lose that business.
2. An eCommerce website costs less than a storefront.
Running a storefront requires paying:
- Rent for the space
- The paychecks of enough staff to be there during business hours
- Proper licensing and permits
- Utility bills
- Furniture and decorations
- Building maintenance
- Cleaning supplies
- Selling supplies like POS systems and cash registers
All of that adds up to a lot of expenses – and most of them are ongoing.
Selling products on a website, on the other hand, cuts out most of those costs. You will still need to pay for things like web hosting and marketing and may need to hire some staff, depending on the size of the eCommerce store you run, but the costs are overall more manageable and easy to plan for.
3. Online shopping provides convenience.
When you’re tired, busy, sick, or just feeling a little lazy – you probably don’t want to spend time driving somewhere and browsing a store for the items you want to buy. People have a lot going on and sometimes there just isn’t room in their lives for a trip to the store.
By comparison, browsing an eCommerce site online and making selections is easier, faster, and requires a lot less energy. People are more likely to spend their money when it doesn’t feel like work to do so.
Online shopping isn’t 100% effortless – but it’s pretty close. When you sell your products through an online store, you remove a lot of the barriers to buying that exist with a physical store.
4. An online presence gets your products found in search.
85% of people turn to Google for product discovery and shopping. Without an eCommerce website, your products have no chance of showing up when potential customers start looking for what you sell online.
But when every product you sell is listed on a page on your eCommerce site, all of them will be indexed by Google. That’s the first step to your products showing up in search results.
If you want those product pages to show up on the first page of Google, that requires an investment in SEO best practices. But before you can even start thinking about that, you need an ecommerce website for your products.
5. The growth in mobile means people can buy from anywhere.
Mobile shopping trends show that almost a third of all shopping people now do online is on mobile devices.
Mobile shopping makes it possible for people to make purchases at the exact moment they decide they want something. Whether they’re at a dinner party, strolling through the park, or lounging on the beach – if they think of something they want, they can make the purchase right then.
That creates more opportunities for sales. You don’t face the risk of a potential customer deciding they want an item you sell, only to forget about it by the time they get home to their computer. That’s good for your customers, and it’s good for your bottom line.
How to Sell Products on a Website
The reasons to start selling your products online should be clear at this point. If you’re convinced, here are the main features you need for an ecommerce site.
1. Choose your website hosting.
Be sure to look for a provider that can support ecommerce options. You want a web hosting plan that provides the level of security you need to accept purchases. And it must be compatible with ecommerce software that supplies shopping cart and checkout functionality.
2. Pick and register your domain name.
Your domain name is essentially your address on the web – it’s what people type in to reach your website. You want it to be something easy to remember that people will immediately know to associate with your business.
If possible, a domain name that includes popular keywords people use when searching for your products is a nice plus since it helps with SEO. But that’s a lower priority than making sure it’s intuitive and clearly connected to your brand.
Unless your business already has a unique name, the hardest part of this step will likely be finding a domain name that works and is available. A lot of options will already be taken – especially the .com options.
Before you settle in on an idea, check the domain availability. You may have to do a little bit of brainstorming and searching before you find a domain that’s the right fit for your business.
3. Design your ecommerce website.
Your website needs to look professional and have a design that guides your visitors toward making a purchase. You have a couple of options here:
- You can hire a professional designer.
- You can build it yourself.
Hiring a designer will come with a bigger price tag and may not be necessary, even if your web design skills are limited (or nonexistent).
But an intuitive website builder allows even beginners to become designers. You can work from pre-created templates that are optimized for search and mobile, and use a drag-and-drop editor to make changes to the design without knowing anything about coding.
Make sure if you use a website builder that you choose one that makes it easy to include shopping features on your website. And definitely choose one that offers responsive website templates that work well on mobile. With how common mobile shopping is today, you don’t want to miss out on the consumers who prefer to make purchases from their mobile devices.
4. Get your SSL certificate.
How many news stories have you seen about business data breaches? By now, most consumers have learned to take basic precautions when handing sensitive information over to a business.
The main thing every conscious online shopper knows to look for is the little lock icon and https that show up in the browser when you’re on a secure website.
As small and simple as it is, this lets your visitors know that they can safely provide their credit card information to you without it becoming easily accessible to hackers. Many consumers won’t consider buying anything from your website if you don’t have this as a way to secure a website from hackers. And as a business owner, it’s your responsibility to take this basic step to keep your customer’s data secure.
As an added benefit, Google has a preference for https sites. Getting your SSL certificate will not only make you more trustworthy to your visitors, but also help your SEO efforts by increasing your authority in the eyes of the search engines.
Some web hosting plans include a free SSL certificate, so this may be a step you can knock out at the same time as signing up for a hosting plan.
5. Set up a merchant account.
To sell products online, you need a way to accept payments. A merchant account is a business bank account that enables the processing of credit card payments. Any merchant account you create will charge fees for the payments you process, but the specific fee structures they offer vary.
In most cases, you can expect to pay a fee for each transaction as well as a percentage of the amount charged. You may also encounter monthly fees, setup fees, statement fees and others. This is one of the costs of doing business online and should be factored into any business budget.
You have to spend something to accept payment, but do spend some time researching the different payment options available so you don’t end up spending more than necessary.
6. Figure out your pricing.
Now that you know how to get paid, it’s time to figure out how much. Setting the pricing for your products is often one of the hardest parts of doing business. If you charge too much, consumers will go to your competitors. If you charge too little, you’ll leave money on the table and may not make enough profit to stay afloat.
The first step here is to research what other businesses are charging for similar products. Look up a number of your top competitors and make a note of the prices you see on their website. Capture this information in a spreadsheet or database so you can more easily compare what you find.
Make note of how your competitors handle shipping costs as well. Shipping is a significant part of the cost involved in online shopping. Passing the full shipping cost on to your customers can lose you sales, but swallowing too much of it can end up costing you big. Seeing how similar businesses handle shipping will help you stay competitive there as well.
Next, figure out your own expenses. Tally up everything from the cost of buying or creating your products or to the fees you’ll pay to process orders to cost of maintaining your website. If you’ll be hiring help, that’s another big expense to factor in. Do the math to figure out how much profit you need to make for the business to be worth it.
Pricing is notoriously difficult. The information you obtain by doing everything in this step will give you a starting point for now, but you should also do price testing over time to figure out if the initial prices you chose should change.
7. Take high-quality product photographs.
Many people are image driven. And for many types of products, being able to see what you’ll get plays a big role in the decision to buy. So your product photography needs to be effective.
If you can afford it, consider hiring a professional photographer. They’ll already have a good handle on the best lighting and angles to make your products look great.
If not, at least invest in the right equipment to take the best photographs possible yourself. Use a good camera, a tripod, lights, and a background to set up the shot just right. Take a lot of different shots so you can choose the best one.
The right photograph can make the difference in whether or not a customer decides to buy.
8. Write effective sales copy.
The photos will tell consumers part of what they need to know, but you need the right words to fill in the rest. This is another area where you’d benefit from hiring a professional. Sales copywriters know the best strategies and techniques to get visitors to take action.
If that’s not in your budget at this time, do the research yourself to get up to speed on copywriting best practices. Websites like Copyblogger and Copyhackers are good resources to educate yourself on writing copy that drives sales.
9. Create a plan for packing and shipping orders.
Online shoppers expect to get their orders fast. You need to be ready to package them and ship them out soon after they come in. Make sure you have a system in place for this. Buy the packing materials you need. Create a system for storing your products that makes it easy to find the item you need at the moment you need it.
Set up business accounts with the carriers you plan to use and figure out how you’ll be getting the packages out. Most carriers offer the option to schedule a pickup (sometimes for a fee), or you can get the packages to the carrier’s office yourself.
The amount of time customers spend waiting on an order has a big effect on how satisfied they’ll be with their experience. Having a system in place for dealing with shipping will make you more efficient and prepared when you start getting those orders.
10. Promote your website.
Building an ecommerce website isn’t enough to start selling products online. Now you need to help people find you. Online marketing is an important part of any business website’s success. Look into the tactics available to see which ones sound right for your business.
Some of the main ecommerce promotion tactics to consider are:
- PPC advertising – Buying ads that show up on the search engine results page and other sites around the web that you only pay for when someone clicks to visit your site.
- Social media marketing – Developing a social media presence by starting accounts on different platforms, interacting with relevant people, and promoting your website to your followers.
- Content marketing – Creating quality content that’s helpful to your target audience to improve SEO and build trust with your readers.
- Email marketing – Building an email list and sending marketing emails and promotion offers to your subscribers.
- Affiliate marketing – Affiliate programs and partnering with bloggers and other content creators around the web to have them promote your products in exchange for a cut of the profits when their followers make a purchase.
You don’t have to do all of these, but commit to doing some marketing activities to start getting your website out there where people will find it.
Online marketing is an ongoing process and a lot of the most effective tactics take time to pay off. But if you want people to find your website and buy your products, it needs to be a part of your business plan.
Ready to Sell Products on Your Website?
The option to sell products on a website has put entrepreneurship into the hands of many people who wouldn’t have been able to afford the costs of starting a business otherwise. While it does still require time and work – like any business does – the upfront costs are comparatively low, making it a less risky way to run a business.
Whether you’re a long-term business owner that’s been dragging your feet on getting online or a hopeful entrepreneur-to-be trying to learn the ropes to get started, building an ecommerce website could be the path to higher profits and long-term business success.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.