Virtually all the products and services available on the market can be ordered via the Internet. Demand breeds supply. New solutions for e-commerce are appearing. They are becoming more affordable and don’t require specialist knowledge on the part of the person deciding to open an online store. Never before was opening an online store so easy and cheap.
Entry thresholds are minimal—low cost, short time, availability of multiple solutions (including solutions related to online payments) of various scales (including “ready-made” ones). The market has also become filled with many professionals who offer their professional support. This is all because the buyers and sellers have appreciated the convenience of trading on the Internet, and thus created the conditions and scale for the development of the industry, and consequently the fall in prices of e-commerce services.
You can start running an online store by “renting” a virtual place of sale for as low as a dozen dollars a month.
Large merchants can order an e-commerce application tailored to their expectations and scale of operation.
Ready-made SaaS (Software as a Service) services are easy-to-implement solutions that allow us to use software and its technical support without having to purchase it. Similarly, there are ready-made packages that can be quickly installed and configured. In both cases, it is possible to easily adapt the solution to individual requirements.
It’s equally easy with the goods. You can find a manufacturer of any existing product. The understanding of the specifics and requirements of e-business has also become common among manufacturers.
In addition, as opposed to brick and mortar stores, products don’t have to be bought, stored, and personally passed to the buyer. This is due to the increasing use of the dropshipping model, where the online store is limited to promoting the products, procuring orders, and possibly providing packaging with the store’s logo, while the rest of the process (packaging and shipping) is handled by the supplier. In such a model, the final customer is convinced that he received the ordered package directly from the online store.
Delivery issues, regardless of the e-commerce business model, are also not a problem. This is facilitated by the creation of more courier companies and brokers, as well as the emergence of parcel stations.
What’s challenging is finding the right idea for the offer, target group, communication, and promotion. The low market entry barriers cause a lot of new stores to appear. The difficulty in creating an online store that will stand out in the market, interest the customers, amd make them buy products, one that will fulfill its obligations, guarantee exemplary service and build relationships with the buyers, causes many online stores to disappear within their first year.
Huge successes of ecommerce brands are inspirational. Commercial and even manufacturing brands that have existed for years are launching their own online stores. No one who thinks about business seriously denies the fact that commerce is moving to the Internet.
In many cases, customers do not feel the need to touch the product due to brand awareness (including, for example, clothing sizes) or its specificity (e.g. books, CDs). Products that, from the perspective of the buyer, require examination or trying on will sell on the web provided they are cheaper than in a traditional store or if the e-seller provides a free return in case of cancelling the purchase and quickly returns the money.
The phenomenon of showrooming also acts in favour of introducing the ecommerce sales channel. This phenomenon consists in potential buyers visiting brick and mortar stores, trying things on, browsing and comparing products, and later acquiring them online. Here, the determining factor is usually the price of the same product.
An online store is a specific type of website. The process of its creation — writing a brief, request for proposals, signing a contract — are similar. However, we must take into account its specificity.
A common mistake characteristic of e-businesses is the concentration of the entrepreneur on the construction of the online store before the business model is created. The elements of the model should be: strictly defined products or services, target market, processes, suppliers, pricing policy, promotional actions, budgets, resources and even content in the form of pictures, descriptions, and regulations. We cannot forget that an online store is a sales and promotion channel. As such, it is one of the components of a larger “puzzle”.
Acting rashly, i.e. “hey, let’s start a store, I know someone who will put it up for us” usually doesn’t end well. Despite the relatively low barriers to entry, an e-entrepreneur must have an idea and be able to verify it. He must also be ready and have the necessary competencies to carry out a range of activities preceding the decision to engage in e-business. When preparing the basis of e-business, various models of developing solutions, notably the design thinking method, can be useful.
Specificity of the brief for an online store
Regardless of whether an e-trader wants—and can afford—to build a tailor-made store or has to look for a ready-made solution, it is important to prepare a comprehensive description of expectations in the form of a brief. In addition to the elements specific to every website, a brief for the online store should additionally include:
- information about the offer/products (how many products will there be, what will their category structure be, whether they will be grouped, e.g. by producer, series, or will they have variations (sizes, colours)
- acceptable forms of payment, e.g. fast online transfers, credit cards, offline transfers, payment on delivery, PayPal, Bitcoin, etc.)
- delivery methods—courier, post, parcel stations, personal collection, electronic delivery, etc.
- a description of the e-commerce process—can sales be made through a typical e-commerce process that is common to most stores, or will it be more specific, such as in the case of B2B wholesale or sales of adult products,
- required integrations—will the online store have to be integrated with some sort of software used by its owner, partners or subcontractors such as warehouse management software, accounting system, etc.
In terms of the platform, there are four solutions available for the store:
1. E-sales on a large platform
E-traders can sell their products on a large platform (e.g. Amazon, eBay). When choosing this solution, you will have to take into account the necessity to pay for listing a product and/or commission fee.
The advantage of selling on a large platform is virtually no initial cost, very low fixed costs and access to a large community of buyers.
The cons include minimal customization capabilities, complete dependence on the platform, and the difficulty of building your own brand.
2. Renting an online store
You can operate an online store using SaaS (e.g. Shopify), which can be compared to renting a store. Such a solution involves the payment of a subscription, and less often a one-time installation fee.
The advantage of using SaaS is low start-up costs and a fixed subscription fee (no commissions), continuous development of an app running in a stable and secure environment. The store operator doesn’t have to worry about infrastructure.
The disadvantages of renting an online store include little ability to adapt it to your needs, the need to agree to many compromises, and the lack of readiness for a sudden rise in sales and the scale of the operation.
3. Your own website on standard software
Your own online store can be launched based on one of the proven platforms (e.g. WooCommerce, PrestaShop). In this case, there is a significant cost of implementation. The cost of maintaining the online store is not high. Fees apply to hosting and updates, as well as possible development work.
This solution provides a great personalization opportunities, the ability to match infrastructure to any scale, and does not require an attachment to one vendor. Another advantage is the fact that the main features are based on proven solutions.
Disadvantages include the specific cost of implementation, the need to continually update the server and application, and the burden of application development divided between the software provider and the website owner.
4. Dedicated app
The most expensive solution is to build a dedicated e-commerce application from scratch. Such a solution makes sense in case of very specific needs or an atypical sales process.
The high cost of implementation, full responsibility for infrastructure, security, and application’s development being the responsibility of the online store owner are the biggest drawbacks of creating such an application.
In return, however, you can enjoy unlimited possibilities of personalization and scaling of the online store.
Choosing the online store developer
You can create an online store yourself. However, when thinking about success in a very competitive market, it’s better to use a specialized contractor. This will allow you to start with a polished online store.
The best solution is a request for proposal for an online store developer. You need to invite experienced companies specializing in e-commerce, that carry out projects of similar scale and character.
The point is not to talk to companies working for huge enterprises when planning to launch a small store. In such a case, it’s difficult to hope for a good price, but the matter of flexibility regarding the original (formal) arrangements may also be problematic.
Large players usually have much greater means of promotion, which affects many elements of the e-commerce solution.
It is, therefore, worth spending time on the web looking for online stores that are similar to our idea and see which company has carried out these projects. This approach also helps to identify items that are worth using and those that do not fit the concept of the new online store. Here once again the well-known brainstorming idea of developing someone’s ideas works well.
Providers of services for the online store
The store developer and the manufacturers of the goods are the key partners of e-entrepreneurs, but not the only ones. Aside from them, you—with the help of an experienced store developer—need to choose providers of the following services:
- courier company,
- production of packaging,
- marketing automation,
- advertising (price comparison websites, auctioning websites, marketplaces, etc.),
- monitoring (availability and functioning of the store, internet mentions, competition prices, etc.).
When choosing suppliers of particular services, it is better not to be guided solely by the price. The quality of the solutions provided by the supplier influences promotion which facilitates customer acquisition and the customer service that allows you to maintain the customer and gain their good opinion or recommendation. All these elements affect the success of an online store.
The market for e-business solutions continues to grow. It is worth keeping up to date with information about it. This can be accomplished through visits to e-business fairs organized in several cities in Poland and daily tracking of information on Polish and international websites.
Specificity of launching an online store
The process of development and deployment of an online store differs from other commercial websites in one but very important element. Particular attention should be paid to the issue of entering data. The store may offer several thousand products in many varieties. Therefore, it is necessary to determine in advance whether the relevant data can be automatically imported or who will input and format it. The same applies to product descriptions. They must be written and placed in the right place. From the point of view of the search engines it is important that they are unique. It influences the website’s SEO.
Big players, such as DIY stores that operate online (selling construction materials, tools, interior fittings), commission the creation of tens of thousands of descriptions to external companies, where each drill has a different description despite the fact that it differs from the previous one only in diameter. Such descriptions are checked with anti-plagiarism software.
Promoting your online store
The plan to attract customers should be prepared before you start working on an online store. The lack of a concept for the promotion of an e-commerce website is synonymous with being unprepared for creating it.
An online store without advertising—even the best-designed one that offers the best products at the best prices—will be like a shop in a street that no one walks or drives through. Hence, many stores located in the streets are moving to shopping centres to use location-based promotion.
The specificity of the e-commerce business makes it so that promoting an online store is more of a mathematical than creative process, although the latter is also important and its quality cannot fall below the level appropriate to the nature of the product and the target audience.
Promotion of an online store is largely about paying for clicks from carefully selected price comparing websites or marketplaces, CPC bidding on Google AdWords, continuous SEO optimization, and so on.
The e-commerce market offers tremendous opportunities. Solutions for e-entrepreneurs are readily available. Anyone can open an online store virtually immediately. Nevertheless, it is not easy to succeed in online trading. To do this, you need to find a niche, prepare a great product and a great offer. Then you need to build a good website and finally strive to attract users, which is the biggest challenge.