Setting Up Shop Online – 10 Top Tips

Chris Barling, CEO of ecommerce software supplier, SellerDeck is co-author of Selling Successfully Online – over 120 top tips for running an ecommerce website.

The wild west of the internet has been largely tamed and lots of people are succeeding online. There have been casualties, but the good news is that you don’t have to follow in their footsteps. Here are some of the good practices that have been developed over the last few years, which can help you start out in ecommerce safely.

1. It’s about your product, not technology

Don’t try to implement the latest cutting-edge technology, or let fantastic design overshadow your business objectives. Focus on providing something that customers want, that they are willing to buy online, at a price they can afford.

2. Let the world know

For your business to be profitable, people have to know about it. Find out where and how people are looking for your types of product. What key words do they search for? Sites that can help you include, and Offline marketing like advertising, PR or direct mail can also help in promoting your online venture.

3. Remember your existing customers

Existing customers are your best customers. Encourage them to return to your site by making special offers and letting them know what you are doing. Try email newsletters and loyalty or affiliate schemes.

4. Sell from the second they arrive

Once someone arrives at your site, marketing is over and selling begins. Leave the smooth talk out, and make it easy to find your products. Have a clear link like "Shop Here". And don’t ask people to register before they can browse. You can get their name and address when they order.

5. Think about payments and hosting

You can download orders and process payments through a PDQ machine, but banks increasingly frown on this. It is better to use an online payment provider. For a comprehensive list, see Offer alternative options that do not involve a credit card. For hosting, choose a specialist rather than a jack of all trades. Type “web hosting” into Google to get a list.

6. Make arrangements for shipping

Shipping is not as daunting as you might think. Many merchants ship abroad without any problems, and there are many specialist firms to help. The big boys are UPS, Fedex, DHL and ParcelForce. Try to get advice and recommendations from other businesses that use shipping already.

7. Comply with the EU Distance Selling Directive

Under the Distance Selling Directive, you must provide full contact details including address and phone number. This is helps build trust. You must also accept goods for return for any reason within 7 working days. Tell your customers, "We comply with the following legal and tax regulations" – anything that adds credibility will help you.

8. Get your tax right

If you are VAT registered, you should charge VAT at your usual rate when selling to the EU. But if you exceed the individual VAT threshold for Germany, France, etc. then you should charge VAT at the appropriate country rate when selling into that country. If your customer is a non-Irish business in the EU and registered for VAT, you should allow them to quote their VAT number and be exempted from tax. You don’t have to charge VAT when selling outside the EU, such as to the US.

9. Avoid fraud

Fraud is a potential problem when selling online is, but do keep it in perspective. No-one has managed to eliminate shoplifting either. Orders from certain countries are more prone to being suspect. If in doubt, stick to Western Europe and North America. Look out for these indicators of possible fraudulent orders:

  • They tend to use the most expensive shipping method
  • They tend to choose the most expensive products
  • They tend to use free email addresses such as Yahoo! or Hotmail.

You can check if the customer and card details match by contacting your payment processor. You can ask for a faxed copy of the back of the credit card, or proof of name and address. And you can telephone to check that the phone number is genuine. Most fraudsters give up at the first hurdle.

10. Go for it

You may have been wondering whether ecommerce would be worth it. Well the results are now firmly in, and it’s very clear. Ecommerce is growing rapidly, while conventional retail is at best static. What’s stopping you getting your share?

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