You might be familiar with the term “e-commerce”, which stands for “electronic commerce”. This is a fancy way of saying that you’re selling and exchanging products and/or services online.
While e-commerce can be a successful business venture for brick and mortar retailers, operating out of physical stores, who have a readymade audience and streamlined inventory management systems, for those businesses seeking to take the virtual route, things can seem more complicated.
The good news is that operating a successful e-commerce store doesn’t necessarily require you to be a digital nomad with a laptop and a cardboard box full of inventory. With a bit of research, strategic planning, and digital marketing know-how, you can bring your merchandise to the attention of potential customers and earn healthy sales without ever having to worry about breaking even or earning a profit.
To assist businesses seeking to enter the e-commerce market, we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide that covers everything from setting up your web space and designing your online store to using affiliate marketing and paid advertising to grow your business.
The Basics Of E-Commerce
Depending on what you’re looking for, the technical aspects of establishing an e-commerce business can range from fairly easy to complicated. To get you started, here are some of the basics:
- Domain name – If you want to register a domain name that’s specific to your business, such as yourbusiness.com, you’ll need to register it with a hosting provider (more on hosting below).
- Web space – The location where your website files, such as HTML, JS, and CSS, live. This is where you’ll need to decide whether to purchase a dedicated web space or use a hosting service’s shared web space. If you decide to go with a shared web space, make sure to purchase a reputable hosting provider from a country with more developed digital infrastructure (such as the United States).
- Dedicated IP – If you plan to use your own server, you’ll need to purchase a dedicated IP from your hosting provider. A dedicated IP is a unique address used only by your website and associated email accounts to prevent any conflicts with other websites or services when sending emails.
- Logins – To access your website, users will need to login with a username and password. You can use the same password for all user logins, or give users the option to choose another password.
- Backing Services – Once you have a functioning website, you’ll need to decide whether you want to use commercial backing services such as PayPal or Google Wallet, or whether you want to process transactions yourself using a payment processor such as Stripe or Square.
- Inventory Management – Whether you operate a storefront in a physical location or offer products and services online, you’ll need a way to manage your inventory. This could be as simple as using a shopping cart service like Shopify, which provides inventory management along with a whole slew of other features, or alternatively you can use a spreadsheet to keep track of your inventory.
- Shipping – If you plan to have products shipped to customers, you’ll need to choose a shipping carrier and establish delivery requirements (such as daily, two-day, or overnight shipping). Setting up automated email campaigns to remind customers of upcoming orders, as well as integrating shipping carriers with business communication apps like Slack, can help drive sales.
- Backup Plans – Just as a physical business can lose its inventory to fire or water damage, your website can lose all its digital content to a hacking attack or crash. An easy way to protect your website is by creating a backup copy on a secure server. You can also purchase a secondary domain name just in case your main one gets hacked or goes down.
Why Go Digital?
As mentioned above, operating an e-commerce business doesn’t necessarily require you to be a digital nomad with a laptop and a cardboard box full of inventory. If you’re looking for a more traditional business model, you can easily apply the above-mentioned basics to create a functioning online store that you can take to the bank each month.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more digital model wherein you and your team work remotely, connecting via video calls, using online collaboration tools, and staying in touch via digital communication channels, then the technical aspects of establishing an e-commerce business can seem much more complicated.
The benefits of going digital include the fact that you can take your business anywhere you want, whenever you want, which is convenient for clients and allows you to scale your operation quickly (if you ever decide to scale up). In addition, working remotely as a team, and being connected 24/7 via the internet, can improve productivity and reduce travel costs for employees.
One of the biggest challenges of operating an e-commerce business, whether you’re physically located in the same town as your customers or you have them all over the world, is keeping up with logistics. If you have in-house or custom-made inventory management tools that work for you, the technical aspects of establishing an e-commerce business can be a breeze.
What Is Hosting?
Hosting is the location where your website files, such as HTML, CSS, and JS, live. Typically, the above-mentioned basics of e-commerce, plus several others, are held on a web host’s server.
Depending on your needs, you can outsource the maintenance and management of your website to a third-party provider (also known as a “platform”) such as Shopify, or you can take the DIY approach and use a free hosting service offered by a reputable company.
Most hosting companies provide a simple, user-friendly interface for setting up your website. After you log in, you’ll see a landing page with a variety of hosting plans, all of which include the above-mentioned essentials for an e-commerce site.
You can compare hosting plans in just a few clicks, and choose the one that makes the most sense for your needs. When you’re ready to launch your site, click on the “launch web host” button to get started.
The Many Forms Of Digital Marketing
If you’re looking to grow your e-commerce business, it’s important to remember that not all forms of digital marketing will get you there. To be effective, your online marketing strategy needs to blend traditional and digital marketing methods to maximize your reach to the right audience and improve conversion.
Below, we’ll discuss the various forms of digital marketing that can help you build your e-commerce brand and drive traffic to your store.
Traditional Marketing – Here, we’re talking about marketing methods that don’t rely solely on digital channels to generate leads. These include things like radio advertisements, TV commercials, and billboard placements.
While these methods can be effective, they are not always the most cost-efficient. For instance, a well-executed radio advertisement can cost you as little as $500 but may only reach a small audience. The same goes for a 30-second TV commercial that may only reach 1% of the population, or a giant billboard placed in a prime location that can cost you $150,000 per month for advertising space alone.
To save you money while reaching a wider audience, some businesses turn to lead generation websites, which serve as a hybrid between a traditional offline marketing method and a digital one.
Generating Leads – With lead generation websites, you can target potential customers who are actively researching a product or service similar to yours. In general, lead generation websites tend to rely on a combination of keyword analysis, matching software, and automated email campaigns to produce leads.
The term “lead” is just a euphemism for “customer”, and a lead typically represents someone who is interested in your product or service.
Depending on your strategy, you can either sell them products related to what they’re researching (ie, if they’re looking for a new mattress, you can sell them mattress pads and other bedding essentials) or you can pitch them specific products or offers that are related to their interests (ie, if they’re a fan of Game of Thrones, you can suggest that they watch the season premier tonight because there’s a chance it’ll be featured in the next episode).
Direct marketing, which is also known as “personalized marketing” or “marketing to individuals”, is the practice of reaching out to past, present, and potential customers via email to promote your business.