Ask SCORE
 
In E-Commerce, Good Planning Always Pays Off
 
Submitted by Bob Pohly, SCORE Central Oregon Marketing Chair
 
 
Shopping online has become so routine, it seems consumers almost expect to be able to purchase virtually anything via the Internet.  According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the nation’s e-commerce sales topped $262 billion in 2013, up nearly 17 percent from the previous year.  E-commerce now accounts for nearly six percent of all sales, a figure sure to rise in the coming years.
 
E-commerce is also a great way for a small business to reach customers and sell products anytime.  Although there is a wide availability of e-commerce software that can make setting up and running an online business easier, good planning is a must.
 
Tania Rojas, Sr. Product Manager for Global E-Commerce at GoDaddy, details four must-have components for every successful online store:   
 
  • Website.  A typical online storefront has a minimum of four to five pages about your products, your company and contact info, and checkout pages. 
  • Product Information.  Be as detailed as possible with the products you are selling.  “Include price, material, origin, and any other information that someone might want as they’re perusing the product from their computer or smartphone,” Rojas says.  “The higher the resolution of your product images, the more attractive they will look.”
  • Shopping Cart and Payment Provider.  Use a trusted payment provider so that shoppers don’t abandon the checkout process due to security concerns.  “PayPal or Stripe, which are fast and easy to set up, will help you start collecting revenues in no time,” Rojas says. 
  • Order Fulfillment.  Keep the cost and administrative time to fulfill a customer’s order to a minimum.  “Your e-commerce tool should email customers automatically when an order is received, shipped, or cancelled,” Rojas says.  “You as a merchant should be able to see detailed information about the customer, such as contact information and shipping address, what the order consists of, and when it was purchased.” 
 
An overarching goal for any e-commerce operation is customer convenience.  Give visitors the option of setting up an account if they expect to be regular shoppers (email addresses make ideal user names) or simply doing a one-time purchase as a “guest.”  The site should be easy to navigate, with the ability to easily backtrack through a product search.
 
Other good practices include keeping the visitor’s shopping cart visible at all times so that he/she has a running estimate of the cost of what’s already been selected.  A fully-enabled search function is also an invaluable tool for helping users identify specific items in your inventory.
 
“Consumers are more likely to buy from an online store with all the info they want upfront, without having to call for additional details,” Rojas says.  “Make sure that the value your products are providing stands out.  The most successful online stores know their customers’ needs and sell them exactly what they want.”
 
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This Ask SCORE column is provided by the SCORE Central Oregon Chapter.  SCORE is a nonprofit association with 11,000 volunteers, business experts in 320 offices in communities across the country.  SCORE is a resource partner with the U.S. Small Business Administration.   To request a free small business mentoring session go to www.scorecentraloregon.org