Preparing to Sell Products Online: Steps in the Process

Thinking about selling products online in your business? If you’ve never sold online before, you have some things to consider and some decisions to make. In this article we’re going to cover selecting the right eCommerce solution, setting up a merchant account and other key points, courtesy of Verisign.

About 15 years ago, a man was looking for a pair of Airwalk desert boots at his local mall but couldn’t find the right color in his size. Like many startup entrepreneurs, he had a bright idea, to solve his own problem. What if you could sell shoes on the Internet? Today that question sounds obvious because everybody buys shoes online. But back then it was pretty revolutionary. That frustrated shoe shopping expedition turned into Zappos.com, which today exceeds $1 billion in sales annually.

Year after year, ecommerce sales continue to grow. According to comScore, online commerce growth is now outpacing overall commerce growth in the United States. Some entrepreneurs would like to get a small piece of that growth for themselves.

Setting up an ecommerce site is similar in many ways to setting a brick and mortar store. There are numerous aspects of building and running an online store so you’ll need to take your time and create a solid business plan first.

Once you’ve determined the products, pricing, target audience and store policies, focus on the following key action items:

Step 1: Select a Domain Name and How to Host

A strong, memorable domain name for your ecommerce store is essential so choose accordingly (for tips read How to Choose a Domain Name). Registering a domain name will allow your visitors to find your site more easily and allow you to maintain control of your brand.

Having your own domain name gives you the flexibility to change between ecommerce store solutions as your business grows. If you use a web address that is assigned and features your ecommerce provider’s domain name, you will have to get a new address if you switch providers and your customers may not be able to find you online. Plus, having your own domain name provides your online brand which you can more easily market.

You will also need to determine whether to manage your own Web hosting or have your platform provider host it on your behalf. There are pros and cons with both options so consider the long-term goals of your store.

Step 2: Set Up an Internet Merchant Account

Online customers prefer to pay by credit card so you will need to have a merchant account to take and process payments and send the money to your business bank account. Contact your bank to get more information on how to establish one. For security reasons, they will probably require you to work with a payment service provider (PSP) or “payment gateway.” Most shoppers prefer the ability to pay with credit card of their choice or even direct payment from their bank account, so consider using something like PayPal that will accomplish that.

Step 3: Choose an eCommerce Storefront

Are you just selling one product or multiple products? There are many online solutions that are available based on your business’ needs, like:

1) Simple: You’re selling a single product and only need a way for customers to pay, like a Paypal “Buy Now” button.

2) Hosted: If you need more than a payment button but don’t have the time, money, or bandwidth to install e-commerce software, you can use a hosted ecommerce storefront solution. Solutions like Shopify or Bigcommerce allow you to create a store and they will host it on their server for a monthly fee. Or you can create an online presence by setting up a store on an online marketplace like Etsy, Amazon, or eBay. Going with this solution there are many positives such as set-up is quick and easy, there’s a built-in base of potential customers. It’s a great way to get started with a low-budget online presence.

3) Do it Yourself: For a robust shopping cart, there are many commercial, off-the-shelf options that require the purchase of a license as well as open source products, like Opencart, to choose from. When evaluating any product though, determine if it supports the payment methods you want to use. Consider how much support and help is available to you after purchase, and how frequently the product is upgraded.

Step 4: Describe Your Products

Your customer isn’t in a physical store to look, touch or try on your product. So you need to replicate that experience as much as possible by writing really good descriptions of every item you’re selling. Provide as much information as you can, like weight and dimensions.

Just as important as the written description is high resolution photographs of the products. The images need to look good.

Be sure you have legal rights to advertise and sell the products you place in your store. Use only product images and descriptions that you have created yourself or have the legal right to use (such as images and/or descriptions that the manufacturer permits you to use).

Step 5: Get an SSL Certificate

You know when you go to a site and in your browser bar you’ll see a little padlock symbol? That means the site is secure, and it’s an assurance to online customers that their data will be safe. You provide that by purchasing a SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificate that encrypts the parts of your website that collect personal information, like credit card and customer form details. Having an SSL certificate not only keeps your customers safe from hackers and identity thieves, but also gives your business credibility.

These are just a few of the important things you’ll need to accomplish to set up your site. Ultimately, the more time you have to prepare before you begin, the faster you’ll succeed once you go online.