The way customers shop changed forever on the 11th August 1994 when the first ever online sale was made. It was a CD sold through a USA retail company and opened opportunities for entrepreneurs to reach customers all over the world. Since then, ecommerce has expanded for all types of businesses both retail and service and has levelled the playing field for small business.
Developing your online presence
When it comes to selling online there are a few basics you need to think about.
- Website platforms
- Online Marketplaces
- Payment Gateways
- Shipping / digital downloads
- Legal requirements
Choosing the right Website platform for your business
Before jumping into the latest trending online website platform, you need to analyse your business’s needs.
Where are your customers located?
Customers demand rapid page load times; if it takes more than 2 seconds for a page to load, you may lose that client to a faster loading site. When you choose a platform or website host that is not near your customers, your website will take longer to load, losing you valuable page speed. Before you sign up for any ecommerce platform, you should find out if the provider has data centres local to your customers, as they will serve your website faster than non-local platforms.
How do you find out where the platform is hosted? Look on their FAQ pages.
What products or services are you supplying?
What are you selling?
If you are selling digital downloads or digital subscriptions, you must select a platform that supports such options and allows you to easily manage your clients’ downloads.
- How do you stop download sharing?
- How do you help a customer redownload a file?
- Can you keep track of their progress through a course?
If you’re selling a physical product, you need a website that can implement all your shipping options.
- Local pickup
- Click and collect
- Local delivery
- Express shipping
- National delivery
- International delivery
When you first start out online, you may not need as many alternatives delivery methods, but as your business flourishes, your demands will change. Your website must be ready to provide the appropriate distribution methods.
How are you going to charge for delivery? Do you require a shipping gateway to handle your deliveries and customer notifications?
Hosted and Self Hosted websites, what’s the difference?
Hosted websites are a popular option because they provide an all-in-one solution. They’re what’s known as SAAS or Software as a Service platforms and often include hosting, security, program updates, shopping carts, image, and video hosting.
Hosted platforms are likened to setting up your shop in big shopping centre where the landlord sets up the conditions to your shop. You are limited to their templates, shopping cart systems and add on plugins and tools. You may have limited or no access to specific payment gateways, shipping options, advanced Search Engine Optimisation tools or the ability to customise the code for greater flexibility. If something breaks on your website due to updates or hacks you will need to wait for the platform to fix things for you.
While a platform is popular it will receive regular updates, once the next new hosted platform comes along updates may be slower or the platform may cease operations all together and you will need to rebuild your website somewhere else.
If you build your shop on a hosted platform you can’t move it to another platform without rebuilding it from the ground up.
Popular Hosted website platforms include:
Many Hosted website platforms offer free software trials so you can see if it’s suitable for your business needs.
Self-hosted websites provide greater freedom, but they may have a steeper learning curve. If you want your website to last a long time, self-hosted websites provide better security because they may be transferred to various providers. This is an option whereby you own the home and the property and may create whatever you want using the software that best suits your company needs.
Self-hosted platforms provide a wide range of templates, both free and premium, as well as the ability to add plugins that provide extra features such as various shopping cart systems and add-on tools. You may have access to sophisticated Search Engine Optimization tools as well as the option to customise the code, giving you more freedom. If something breaks on your website because of upgrades or hacking, you may be able to repair it yourself or need to engage a website developer to fix it for you.
If you build your shop on a self-hosted platform you can move it to another host without rebuilding it from the ground up, it’s like moving your caravan to another caravan park!
Popular Self-Hosted website platforms include:
- Big Commerce
What is the most secure method of accepting payments through your website? When it is handled through a payment gateway. A payment gateway is a piece of technology that securely verifies your clients’ credit or debit card information, ensures funds are available for payment, and transfers payments to your designated bank account. To open a merchant account with a payment gateway, you must pass a 100-point ID check, which includes submitting your ID and perhaps authorising a credit check.
Many payment gateway and payment processing companies charge some, part or all of the following in addition to a per-transaction percentage:
- Monthly account fees
- Membership fees
- PCI-compliance fees
- Initial setup fees
- Batch fees
- Refund/chargeback fees
PCI compliance – security against fraud.
To handle card payments securely, all businesses in Australia, no matter their size, must adhere to the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS). The PCI Security Standards Council is an international organisation. Industries collaborate to create, improve, exchange, and aid in the understanding of payment account security standards. Meeting these standards will help you protect your data and customers’ information from breaches and theft.
These standards include how you:
- take online payments
- take a payment through an electronic payment terminal (POS)
- process a card number read to you over the phone
- process a card number received in a letter or email.
Following the PCI DSS in your online business will:
- Assure your consumers that their credit card information is safe when they pay you.
- preserve consumer trust in your company, which is beneficial to your reputation
- demonstrate your attention to optimizing your consumers’ purchasing experiences and protecting their data.
- Prevent unauthorised access to your payment system networks and the theft of cardholder data.
Payment Gateway providers include:
- Your bank
If you have a preferred Payment Gateway, make sure it will connect with your website platform.
An online marketplace is a location where various merchants and customers may sell or buy items or services without leaving the website. Online marketplaces are owned by a third party whose business is the marketplace, they don’t usually sell products or services themselves.
- retail and wholesale marketplaces.
- Physical products
- Digital products
Think of sites including:
Benefits of selling through an online marketplace
- Increase your product’s exposure to a larger, broader audience.
- Being found in more places builds trust in your business.
- Increase your reach to new customers.
- Create a market presence for your brand.
- Building sales opportunities by diversifying into more places online.
Customers utilise some online marketplaces as product search engines when they purchase online. Some people prefer to purchase in marketplaces because they feel more comfortable with a well-known brand than with a micro business.
When you first start selling, internet marketplaces provide an excellent opportunity to test the market and receive fast feedback. If your product is well-known, you will have a decent chance of selling it through your own website. Investing in your own website may not be a sensible financial decision if your product is a slow burn.
Small business owners often struggling with digital marketing, while many online marketplaces have improved marketing strategies to assist you in getting your goods discovered and helping customers find what they’re looking for. Marketing options might include special promotions, paid marketing features, social media, and email marketing to their customer base.
In-depth client analytics is another aspect of major online marketplaces. Each consumer search is monitored and analysed, providing you with extensive information about client behaviour and trends.
- Effective online selling and better customer experience.
Online Marketplace Charges
The Online Marketplace makes their money by charging the seller.
Charges can include:
- Membership fees
- Listing fees
- Ads and features
- Marketing promotions
When determining your product priding, keep in mind that you must account for the costs imposed by the online marketplace operator.
Before signing up to an online marketplace
- Review the platforms reputation for both sellers and customers.
- Read the terms and conditions.
- Check if you are allowed to contact the customer outside of the direct transaction, if not you can’t add them to your client database.
- Understand your fees and charges.
- Learn how disputes are handled.
Many entrepreneurs are accustomed to building close ties with the customers who frequent their stores, this relationship building can be missing when selling through a marketplace. The lack of connection with customers makes establishing a direct-to-consumer presence more challenging for small businesses seeking to create brand recognition online.
However, while a customer’s experience on marketplaces is generally favourable, small businesses must often give up control over their customers’ experiences. This can cause complications for sellers if a customer has a problem with their buying experience as you don’t get to sort it out directly.
Online marketplaces will remain an important element of most retailers’ omnichannel strategies as we strive to reach customers wherever they buy across the world. Whether your small business wants to grow into online sales or reach out to new consumers, there is probably a marketplace that will meet your needs. Keeping these considerations in mind will help owners make the best decision when it comes to the role online marketplaces play in their sales strategy.
Online Legal Documents for Australian Businesses