Topic overview

Sell online

Sell onlineSetting up a web shop so your business can sell online can be straightforward and very beneficial to your company. Many companies start off selling products offline through retail outlets before realising the internet's potential.

So, is ecommerce right for your business?

Why sell online?

Even if you already have a company website, you could see lots of benefits from setting up an ecommerce website to sell online:

  • Find new customers. If you don't already have a website, building an ecommerce site makes it easier for customers to find you.
  • Widen your reach. A web shop allows you to take orders from around the world, not just your local area.
  • Boost profits. Your new customers should increase profits – especially as web shop overheads tend to be low.

However, building an ecommerce website isn't without problems. Although you can take security precautions, there is a risk of fraud. You also need to establish how your online operation fits with other sales channels. For instance, are you going to charge the same prices online as you do in store?

Remember to abide by relevant regulations too, like distance selling and data protection rules.

Web shop components

In order to create a successful ecommerce website, you need to take care of these key areas:

  • Your product catalogue, so you can display what you sell to customers.
  • Payment processing, to accept payments online, usually by credit card.
  • A way to handle enquiries, so you can deal with questions.
  • Stock control. You might want to display stock levels online.
  • Fulfilment and returns. Shipping items out can take a lot of effort.

Not all these functions can be performed by an ecommerce system. For instance, you need to ensure you have adequate staff and procedures in place to handle enquiries, shipping and returns.

There are three main ways to actually build your ecommerce website:

  • Use a marketplace. Sites like eBay and Amazon offer marketplaces where you can sell online. Because the marketplace takes care of all the important online shopping functions, it's easy to get started. You also benefit from being visible on a popular marketplace site. However, marketplaces lack flexibility and can be expensive, because they take a cut of every sale.
  • Use an ecommerce service. Usually offered by web hosting companies, these packages include everything you need to start selling online. Think of them as a web shop in a box. You just pick a template for your website and add information about your products. They cost from as little as £15 per month and are a good way to get started if you don't already have a website.
  • Use shopping cart system. Most shopping cart systems are designed to add online shopping functions to an existing website. They offer lots of flexibility and allow you to build an entirely customised web shop. However, they take longer to set up and are typically more expensive. You might pay £15 per month for a package from a company like SellerDeck.

When evaluating these options, consider how well suited they are to the type and volume of products you sell. In particular, some marketplaces and ecommerce services restrict the number of items you can offer for sale.

Your existing website will also be a key factor. If you have a website already and want to add an online shop to it, a shopping cart system is the best way to do this. If you opt for a marketplace or ecommerce service, you'll probably have to set up a separate online shop and direct customers there.