Opening your Own Online Store

It has never been easier to become a merchant, selling goods or services using the Internet. This can become either a full time job, or be a part-time extra-income earner for you, depending on your goals, available time, capital or facilities.

Like any other merchant, the online merchant will have to make some decisions concerning:

  • What to sell: What goods or services to sell?
  • Whether to carry stock/inventory: and if so, how much, and where to store it. Carrying stock enables you to quickly dispatch goods once ordered, resulting in a satisfied customer, but it will cost you in up-front capital outlay. Deciding not to carry any stock/inventory will result in a longer lead time for your customers if you only seek to acquire the goods once you receive an order.
  • Pricing: What price to charge for the goods or services you sell. You will have to consider such things as:
    • What the market will bear
    • At what prices the goods/services can be obtained from other merchants
    • Ensuring that your prices cover your costs, with some margin for a profit for your efforts.
    • The charging of Value Added Tax (VAT)/sales tax, if applicable.
  • Delivery: How are you going to deliver the ordered goods to the customer? Does the shopping cart software have the facility to calculate the delivery charge and add it to the total charge to be paid at checkout?
  • Payment options: What payment methods will you accept? If credit/debit cards are to be among the payment methods, have you got an arrangement set up with a payment processor to handle online payments? Furthermore, if you are going to accept card details on your website, you are opening yourself to a number of security concerns which must be addressed. Some shopping cart systems remove the need for you to actually see or store the payment card details, whereby the customer is redirected to a secure payment processor during checkout.
  • Returns Policy: You need to write a terms and conditions document which defines the rules concerning online orders for your shop, including what should happen if the goods arrive to the customer in a damaged condition. These should also state the customer's rights with regard to a "cooling off period" (allowing for a change of mind), or if the delivered goods, although in good condition, don't fit the customer, in the case of items of clothing etc. Compliance to applicable laws needs to be ensured. A useful reference document for those trading in the European Union is the European Consumer Centre's Shopping Online guide.

In addition, the online merchant has some extra things to pay attention to:

  • Privacy concerns and data protection: It is good practice to inform your website visitors of the information which you collect about them, what you use it for, and whether it is shared with third parties.
  • Attracting vistors to the online shop: How will online shoppers find your online store?
  • Search enging result ranking: How will your shop's pages be ranked by the search engines? Be sure to optimise your pages for search engine purposes.
  • Overcoming security concerns: How will you convince your customers that it is "safe" to shop at your store and to make online payments.
  • Providing sufficient information: about your products/services so that your customers can determine if it meets their needs. Try to anticipate their questions, and provide photographs, descriptions and technical specifications as appropriate.
  • After-sales support: With traditional physical shops, the customer could always go back to the shop for assistance. You need to put some effective arrangement in place whereby customers can contact you with queries, concerns or complaints. "Word-of-mouth" recommendations or "avoid" recommendations, are very powerful force which can work either for you or against you as you attempt to grow your online business. So endeavour to make the experience a positive one for your customers.