Starting an online shop is a lot of work and it requires an ongoing effort, but I consider it the ultimate way to monetize your website and the potential can be significant. Since it's so much work you need to think about what exactly you would have to set up and what your ongoing efforts will be, and decide if it'll be worth your time. I don't want to put you off, but I do want you to be realistic. Let's get to it.
Things to consider before you start selling online
Before you start investing both money and time in setting up a webshop you need to think about what you want to sell and how to do that.
Deciding what to sell
Most likely you have a good idea of what you want to sell, but realize that your product's features will designate how complex your shop will be to set up. Selling digital files for example is much more convenient than selling large bulky items. Selling high value products with a healthy profit margin is often much more attractive than selling large quantities of low-margin products. The product you decide to sell designates the effort you have to put into it and how much profit you will make. Think this through!
Deciding how to sell
Let's have a look at the options available for selling your products, sorted by the amount of investment needed to get started (low to high):
- Digital products
Selling a digital product is the option with the least amount of effort required to get started, as you only need to set up a payment system and send out automated download links to customers. You can use a service like Selz, or install an extension to your Joomla! or WordPress site to handle the payments and downloads.
- Drop-Ship agreement
Several companies offer Drop-Ship agreements. Basically you are reselling whitelabel products of another company, under your own name and from your webshop. Every order that is paid in your shop will be packaged and shipped by your partner. Your partner will also be responsible for product descriptions and images, saving you a lot of time. I don't know a platform where Drop-Ship partners present themselves, so you will have to Google for it, or approach companies in your network to propose a partnership.
- Sell it yourself with fulfillment outsourced
If you don't have a Drop-Ship option available, or when you need more flexibility and ownership, you can run your online shop yourself and outsource the fulfillment process. You pay a company to keep your inventory and ship the products to your customers. They can even handle returns and customer complaints/questions for you. There are several large fulfillment companies, a familiar one is Amazon and another option is Shipwire. Shop around to get a feeling for the fees involved in outsourcing. Depending on how much you sell and depending on your product dimensions, it will cost at least $5 dollar per order, excluding shipment fees.
- Sell and ship yourself
The most resource intensive option is to do it all yourself. You create your webshop and handle the inventory, shipments, returns and customer service.
Testing before investing
It makes a lot of sense to start small, testing the waters before you start investing. By now you have selected the product or products you like to sell, and if you have easy access to them in small quantities, try selling these first. Even if that means you don't make a profit on these sales. You can use Google Adwords to generate traffic to your sales page to test if people are interested in your product and how much money you need to invest in marketing in order to generate sales. And you will have important insights in questions like: How do people respond to your product? How many returns did you get? What price worked best?
Ultimately, you need to decide if your efforts will lead to earning a healthy profit. With the "testing before investing" approach you know what to expect.
On my website I offer paid downloads of my eBook. Sales are good and the process is automated. At one of my other websites I run a webshop with a large assortment of products, but I outsource the fulfillment. I try to make sure that I don't link myself to the processing of orders, to stay focused on setting up new projects.Oscar, bonsaiempire.com
Starting your webshop
When you are setting up your online store several steps need to be taken, think about making product photos, arranging your logistics, finding a shop platform and accepting payments. It will depend on what option you chose above in the "Deciding how to sell" section which of the following steps apply to you.
Most likely you know where to get your products already, but in order to make enough profits, your cost price as well as product quality needs to be solid. Shop around before deciding to place a large order, and as I said before, try testing the waters first with a small batch.
Your options for getting your products include importing, purchasing at a wholesaler, partnering with someone who creates the products or creating them yourself.
Product photos and descriptions
No matter what product you sell, you need quality photos and descriptions. Especially products that people don't know very well need several photos to take away concerns of your customers. Show your product from different angles and include a few closeups, you might even want to add a 360-degree photo or a short movie. Product photography is difficult though and most people I know outsourced this step.
Writing descriptions and titles for your products is another key factor in boosting sales. Not only is this important for your customers, the textual descriptions are key ranking factors for Google. Most often it makes sense to write a short description of 2-3 lines, and add a detailed version of at least 10 lines. Make sure to add other information separately, including your product's dimensions and features.
Logistics and shipment
We looked at logistics and shipments when we discussed the options to sell your products. You will have to decide whether or not you will sell your own products or resell someone else's, and in case you sell you own products you need to decide whether or not to outsource the fulfillment (warehousing and shipment).
Offering payments is relatively straightforward, although this depends on what markets you sell your products in. Offering PayPal payments will suffice in a few countries, but in most cases you will need to be able to accept credit cards as well. For this, you will need to register with a Payment Service Provider (PSP) like Authorize.net. They will charge you a fee per payment, usually in line with the actual costs for the transfer with Visa or MasterCard.
Enabling these payments in your online shop is easy, usually the required plugins are pre-installed, so that you only need to add your account data.
Finally, think about how much work this is
By now you should have a pretty good understanding of the amount of work it takes to set up and run an online shop. Think about it once again; does the profit potential of your shop justify the amount of effort required to set it up? If your answer it yes, go for it!
I always set up online stores with automation in mind; I like setting up new projects but don't want to be that guy who packs and ships the products. Outsourcing can be expensive, but it enables me to focus on project development.Oscar, starttomonetize.com
Choosing your shop system
You have several options available to set up your online shop. If you have a Joomla! or WordPress site you can choose from several extensions, most of which are free and easy to set up. There are also companies that offer all-in eCommerce solutions, so that you don't need any skills at creating websites.
All-Inclusive eCommerce Services
The most used eCommerce service is Shopify, and their offer is great. You can choose between different designs and easily enable payment options and shipment fees. You pay a monthly fee and transaction costs per order. All in all, a great option if you have no skills at all to set up a store using Joomla! or WordPress.
Extensions to Joomla! and WordPress
If you chose to use Joomla! or WordPress in one of the previous steps (Creating your website) it will make sense to use one of their extensions to create your online shop. You already know how these Content Management Systems work so it won't take you much time to set up their shoppingcart extensions. Mostly, these extensions are free so that it will save you the monthly fees that eCommerce services charge.
Shop software systems
If you prefer not to create your shop as an extension to either Joomla! or WordPress (most likely because you need a more powerful platform) Magento is the system you need. Magento is an incredibly versatile and powerful shop software, the choice of most large online stores, including Nike and Gant. The downside is that its many options make the system complex to set up and you need a powerful server to be able to run it. An alternative to Magento, though less complete, is OpenCart.
If your shop will be large and you need endless features and options, you can't get around Magento. If your needs are somewhat more 'normal' you are just as well off with Joomla! or WordPress extensions.
Online shop; check!
You set up your shop and started selling, well done!
Congratulations! That was the last step. Back to step 1?