E-commerce is a thriving industry, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s convenient, it’s cheaper for consumers, it’s cheaper for sellers, and it allows for levels of flexibility and customisation about which previous generations could only have dreamed.
For those reasons and more, it’s a tempting avenue to pursue if you’ve only ever sold through traditional retail (or never sold anything at all)—and you don’t need to create your own website if you don’t want to. You don’t even need to create your own business.
Through the magical convenience of the internet, you can actually buy an existing e-commerce site outright and start doing business in the blink of an eye. Excellent!
But don’t start looking for a site just yet. Before you take the plunge, there are some things you need to know about selling online. Let’s go through them now.
Cyber Security Is Vitally Important
Back in the halcyon days of traditional retail, store security essentially boiled down to having decent locks, CCTV cameras, and a guard at the doors to keep an eye out for pickpockets.
When retail moved into the online world, everything changed. Store security grew into a juggernaut with the power to lose a retailer money and ruin its reputation forever.
Why? Because of everything between the customer and the retailer. The vast expanse of the internet. Imagine trying to have a private conversation with a friend across a crowded room; you’d be understandably concerned about strangers hearing your secrets. And then imagine those secrets including your address and credit card details.
At an absolute minimum, your website will need to have strong passwords, a valid SSL certificate (nearly mandatory for e-commerce, it reassures users that a website is legitimate), and a hosting solution that is updated regularly to patch security vulnerabilities.
Prove to your customers that they can trust you to keep their information secure, or you’ll find that your level of security undermines your business more than your competitors ever could.
Dropshipping Can Handle The Legwork For You
Wouldn’t it be good if you could have a business without having to do all the hard work involving stock acquisition and distribution? Well, you can, and it’s actually very common at the moment.
The practice, known as dropshipping, sees online stores offer products directly from suppliers—it’s somewhat like using a wholesaler, but instead of buying stock and subsequently selling it, you take payment for a customer’s order and then pass it to the supplier to package and deliver.
You’ll find a lot of dropshipping stores for sale through Exchange, as Shopify, in particular, makes dropshipping extremely easy to configure.
Whether dropshipping is something that might work for you will depend on various factors: how much control you want to take over the day-to-day operations of your business, what kinds of things you want to sell (dropshipping will severely limit the available product range), and how comfortable you are with outsourcing such a large part of the sales process.
You Still Need To Think About Taxes
It’s difficult to know if there’s anyone out there labouring under the impression that making a sale online magically takes care of all the administrative work, but just to be safe, let’s confirm the following:
Yes, you still need to pay sales taxes on your goods. Yes, value-added tax (VAT) is still a legitimate concern, and you need to be aware of the VAT registration thresholds for all of the countries in which you plan on selling. And no, you can’t just sit back and trust that whatever e-commerce business you buy will have everything set up perfectly for you.
Plenty of e-commerce frameworks and hosting solutions have guides, presets and support systems to make it a little easier for you to determine your tax needs, of course, so you won’t be lacking for relevant resources.
Even so, you’ll want to run your plan by someone who knows about the unique financial challenges of online retail first. They can give you an idea of what you’ll need to do, as well as scrutinise the business you’re considering. After all, buying a business that is later revealed to have a history of tax evasion isn’t the best idea!
You Have to Earn Attention
A regular old-fashioned retail store has presence; literal, physical presence. Anyone who’s nearby has a decent chance of seeing it. Even if you have a diabolical location, you’ll likely get some stragglers from time to time without doing a shred of advertising.
Not so with an online store. Google will index even the world’s dullest and least active website provided it has been configured properly, but it won’t rank anywhere, and if it doesn’t rank, it might as well be invisible to those searching.
Before buying an online store, think carefully about how the presence it has established. Does it rank well in relevant searches? Do you like the existing domain name? If you don’t, and you intend to change it, bear in mind that this will impact your search rankings in the short term.
And once you’re running a store, keep marketing it. Write blogs about your experiences and the products you sell. Look into PPC advertising. Establish a social media presence and let people know what you have to offer.
If you don’t, they simply won’t know you exist; and it’s hard to make a customer of someone who doesn’t know you exist!
E-commerce is a challenging world to compete in, so taking over an already-profitable site is a great option; just make sure you know what you’re getting into. Do plenty of research before you get started, and you’ll give yourself a great chance to succeed.
Victoria Greene is an e-commerce marketing expert and freelance writer a terrible habit of making ill-advised late-night purchases. You can read more of her work at her blog Victoria Ecommerce.