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Girl online shopping and sitting with delivered packages

As web designers in Kitchener Waterloo & Cambridge, we have built and launched dozens of online stores for our customers.  Some of these already had "brick and mortar" stores and also wished to tap into the online market while others were first time entrepreneurs who were wildly optimistic and determined to claim their piece of the explosive, multi-billion dollar online shopping phenomenon.  With fleets of UPS, Fed Ex and postal service delivery trucks dropping off packages to every corner of civilization, it's obvious the world has embraced online shopping in a big way. This frenzy has created a "can't go wrong" mentality among entrepreneurs who naively believe all they have to do is throw a line in the water and they'll reel in boatloads of orders with no end in sight.


Never that simple...

Unfortunately, it's just not that simple and we often find ourselves having to "ground" many of our clients to the realities of launching an online shopping website. Yes, the world marketplace and sea of potential online buyers is vast but so is the ocean of online vendors and the ultimate trick is getting yourself noticed and creating a hype and buzz around your products and online store. This critical ingredient is absolutely essential in the success of your online business and requires a lot of hard work and creativity that extends well beyond the confines of the actual website.

Why should people buy from you?

Selling online involves marketing either products or services.  A revenue generating service might include a weight loss program, online courses, movie streaming, online dating, etc.  Products might include items you have created or manufactured yourself or products you source from a distributor but may be in competition with other online sellers who are sourcing from the same distributor(s) as you are. Regardless of what you're selling, it's important to identify the reasons why people should buy from you and not the next guy. Is your product unique or cutting edge? Does it offer benefits nobody else has?   Is your pricing cheaper than other vendors?  Is the quality better?  Do you have the best selection?  Does your product solve a problem that lots of people have?  Is your service or warranty a cut above the rest?  Will you offer free shipping or maybe a no-hassle return policy?  Make a list of all these benefits.  Also, make a list of things that potential buyers may perceive as negatives and look for ways to turn those lemons into lemonade.  For example, our website design business has always been home based where we enjoy the convenience and freedoms of working within a comfortable and "non-having-to-drive-to-work" environment.  Some potential customers may see this as a lack of stability or permanence.  However, we flip this into a positive by pointing out that, by keeping our overhead costs low, we can pass substantial savings on to our customers in the way of cheaper prices without sacrificing quality or service.

Keep your expectations real

Learn to manage your expectations.  We have had clients that literally stare at their computer screens from the moment their new online store is launched fully expecting a flood or orders to come streaming in.  When ten minutes pass and no orders arrive, the look of concern on their faces in almost comical.  It's like, "My new website is accessible to millions of people. How come nobody's buying? Where are my customers? Where are all these orders I thought I'd be getting?"

Promote, Promote, Promote...

It's so important to promote the heck out of your online store.  Get the word out on social media.. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  Make a promotional video about your product or service and post to YouTube then link it to your social media accounts.  Sign up on MailChimp or Constant Contact and create an email campaign about your online store. If you have a cool new product or service, pitch it to your local media to see if they would be willing to feature a story on your business.  If it's free and it gets you publicity... take advantage of it.   Think about using Google or Facebook Ads to promote your new online business.  A few well-placed ads can reach tens of thousands of consumers that can be specifically targeted as candidates more likely to buy your product. You might also think about pitching your product to stores in your area to gain some shelf exposure.  Offer to provide them with a line of your products on a consignment basis to eliminate any risk on their part.


Other things to think about...

Consider offering FREE SHIPPING on your website or at least offer to ship for free if the customer purchases over a certain value. You may wish to pad your product pricing by a certain percentage to offset your shipping costs.  Remember, online shoppers are a thrifty and fickle bunch that routinely seek out websites offering free shipping as well as a no-hassle return policy.

If you are sourcing your products from a distributor or manufacturer, see if they offer a "drop ship" service as this can save you the hassle of handling and shipping product.  You would simply forward your orders to the distributor and they would look after packaging and shipping direct to your customer.

Figure out how your customers will pay online.  At Pixweaver, we use PayPal to handle credit card purchases. PayPal is the largest and most widely recognized online payment platform.  It's free, easy and fast to set up. PayPal charges 2.3% on each purchase plus a $0.30 transaction fee.  Transferring funds from your PayPal account to your bank takes about 3 business days.  Refunding customers is also easy through their interface.  Remember that PCI (Payment Card Industry) requires online credit card payments to be made through a PCI compliant internet payment provider.

Be sure and investigate sales tax policies for your online store.  Typically, sales tax is charged based on the customers "ship to" location.  For example, if you are Ontario based but are shipping to a customer in British Columbia, you would charge BC sales tax. Also be aware that charging tax will also require you to remit the tax to the appropriate government agencies and will likely require the services of an accountant to ensure this is done correctly.

Make sure to dedicate a page on your website that details your return policy.  You have to be crystal clear on the conditions that must be met in order to return goods or obtain a refund should the customer not be satisfied. Is there a time limit?  Does the customer have to cover the return shipping cost himself?   Before returning product, does the customer have to submit a "Return Authorization Form". What if the customer has consumed, used or worn the product?  What are the restictions?  Also keep in mind that bad reviews from unhappy customers posted to Google, The Better Business Bureau and other online forums can plaque your business for years and be almost impossible to get rid of. Make sure to keep your customers happy and that can frustratingly also include the unreasonable ones.

Your online store should be fully mobile friendly allowing your smart phone customers to browse your products and also order through their phones.  The vast majority of people who purchase online are also hardcore smart phone users so make sure your store is mobile compatible.

Most importantly... never give up.  If you have a quality product (or service) that's reasonably priced and offer outstanding support and customer service, you will ultimately succeed and turn your online business into a thriving success!