When we talk about selling online, what are the first thoughts that come to your mind? If you say store setup, marketing, and shipping, you’re absolutely right. But online sales don’t begin, or end, just there. From digital marketing to choosing shipping partners, setting up payment gateways, and choosing your inventory, there’s so much to think of when you sell online. Worry not, because we have you covered in just 7 steps!
The purpose of every business is profit. The channels you choose to sell on are only accessories to the fact that you need to sell. Period. Profit margins play a key role in determining how well you do as a business. The costs of setting up an online store are much lesser than its physical counterpart – you don’t have to deal with renting out space, utility bills, POS systems and also warehouse space and staff. However, costs such as packaging, shipping and returns will always be your responsibility.
Hence, the choice of products you sell online must be very different from what you’d choose in an outlet. Apparel and consumer electronics make up a major chunk of products that sell online successfully. Over a span of six years beginning in 2012, sales in these two categories were projected to grow at about a 120% each.
Just a simple comparison of the interest over time in product categories will tell you what you can expect future trends to be like. In the graph above, the blue line is the ‘interest over time in apparel online sales’ while the red line represents ‘interest over time in furniture online sales’. Furniture generates fairly steady interest over time as compared to apparel. Depending on your risk appetite, you can choose one of these product categories – furniture for steady sales and apparel to play the number game and cash in on seasonal spikes.
Consider how much warehouse space your products occupy. Furniture does have potential for higher markups, but it occupies a lot of space as well. Compare this to apparel that also has a higher markup but occupies significantly lesser space. While deciding which product to sell, consider what kind of appetite you have for expenses such as leasing and maintaining a warehouse space.
Also not to be ignored is shipping. Customers usually don’t appreciate having to pay for shipping, unless it is a standard fee that seems low enough. If you were to keep it generic and let the shipping fees be fluid, people may leave your site without checking out their carts.
Most importantly, the burden of all of these fees and low margins should not turn you into a loss-making enterprise.
We just spoke about choosing products with greater margins. Should this be the only criterion in deciding what to stock? The obvious answer is no.
There are some products that go viral and sell tremendously for a period of time – think selfie sticks. The obvious advantage of selling a viral product is that you can quickly get your stocks to move. The downside is that should the fad run out suddenly, you’d find yourself with no takers for your product. So if you can jump in on the bandwagon and deliver viral products quickly, you can make some good money on them.
There are also benefits to selling products that have multiple sellers but also multiple takers. Since there are multiple sellers, you know that the demand for the product is high. Therefore, chances of you selling it are higher too. At the same time, can you afford to get into a price war with other sellers in a marketplace? Do you have a distinct cost advantage that they may not have?
Ready For A Sale
When customers shop online, the only way for them to see a product is through pictures. This is why several ecommerce sites invest in photography, complete with props and all. Even if you don’t have the budget for a fancy photoshoot of all your products, you still need high resolution pictures that look good. If you sell home decor or furniture, you may want to photograph the product from as many angles as possible, as well as include dimension info. With apparel, it is always good to shoot against a neutral background. Unless you are truly cash-strapped, invest in a good product photographer.
You then need to create product SKUs, or Stock Keeping Units. An SKU code is the product’s unique identity, and it will help you keep track of inventory without actually having to count each time. Whenever a customer adds a product to their cart, the SKU is what is mapped back to the actual product in the warehouse.
Choosing Your Channels
There are several avenues for selling online and they all have their own advantages and downsides too. For example, Etsy has sellers with a variety of stuff, but it has established itself as a place to buy and sell handmade and DIY products. What’s more, about 3.5% of all pins on Pinterest come from Etsy, so if you’re a small setup manufacturer and seller, Etsy may be your channel and Pinterest can help you with marketing.
Selling on marketplaces such as Amazon is distinctive and is a massive opportunity. Amazon provides something no other marketplace has been able to so far- Fulfilment By Amazon, or FBA.
If you choose to sell through Amazon FBA, you can completely avoid having to lease a warehouse and maintain it, because Amazon takes care of that. You’ll be paying them a fee for keeping your products, and a commission on every sale you make. Another advantage of FBA is that all post-sales activities such as shipping, delivery, and returns are taken care of by Amazon.
There’s always the time-tested practice of having your own web store, either by building it from scratch or by creating a store on sites such as Shopify. Doing this, however, involves paying upfront for the web store in question. On Shopify, you would be paying a monthly fee. The advantage is that you’re the only seller in your store, and with deft marketing, chances of your products being discovered minus the competition are higher than in a marketplace.
There are several ways of marketing your products online- with a blog, through social media and even with emails and newsletters. The crux of all of these activities is to generate clicks back to your online store, hopefully resulting in a purchase. To appeal to an invisible customer, your marketing tactics need to appeal to their ideology in one way or another.
Having your own business blog can help build trust in your brand as a voice of authority in your product domain. If you sell handmade soaps, consistent and informative articles on your ingredients, sourcing and manufacturing process can help. Email marketing is a great way to stay in touch with subscribers and generate repeat orders. Social media channels are many, as is their utility. You can use Facebook and Twitter as platforms for dynamic interactions, while Pinterest can help increase brand awareness value.
Choose your online marketing tools wisely, because you’ll be spending quite some time and money on pursuing it.
Packaging, Shipping And Returns
Any seasoned online retailer will tell you that shipping and handling can eat into your margins severely. Not only are shipments charged by weight, their volume plays a major role in determining fees. However, you simply cannot pack fragile items without all the excess padding and hope to have made a successful sale.
Perhaps the best way to deal with fee uncertainties in shipping is by signing up with multiple shippers such as UPS, USPS and FedEx.
Most major shipper also have strict packaging guidelines, and they are happy to have you purchase packaging material from them. Doing so can help avoid confusion about weight and dimensions. If you have several orders going out the same day, be sure to take advantage of bulk shipping rates.
Also, never underestimate returns. Your sale is not complete until you don’t receive a return from a customer within a certain period of time. Having a lean returns policy in writing on your website will help you. Specify aspects such as the time period within which you accept returns, products for which returns cannot be accepted and who is responsible for shipping the product back to you.
Also, figure out how you might like to add these products back to your inventory. Indeed, if the product is damaged, you’d have to provide a refund and write it off as a loss.
Learn And Repeat
However well-prepared you think you might be, never slack off. Theory is all good, but you’re sure to encounter several unique situations once you actually start selling. What if you sell through Amazon FBA and your products sit in fulfillment centers for too long? If several of your products are being returned, where could the problem lie? How can you keep changing your product assortment so that you always remain relevant? Selling online is a process of continual course correction. Take your learnings from each sale and use them to tweak your business.
When you find that you’re doing something right, consider what aspects you’ve gotten right and apply these principles across your sales channels. If you’re making mistakes, accept them and do what you can to correct them.
Software is now available to help you out with most aspects of online retail. Choosing a service like Mailchimp can help you automate email marketing to a good extent. Accounting can be handled using Tally or Quickbooks. Primaseller can help you manage inventory and handle orders across multiple channels.
Online retail can be quite the rollercoaster, so buckle up and prepare for an adventure that’ll give you plenty of stories to tell along the way.
Hasita Krishna is a Content Writer for Primaseller