How to Launch a Profitable Online Store

This e-commerce blueprint can help you get started.
Azura Bay model
Ashley McIntosh, owner of Azura Bay, launched an e-store for her site last year. (Photo: Ashley McIntosh)

There’s a lot of money to be made selling products online, but getting started is the tricky part for most small business owners. We’ve pulled together these tips to help you begin the process of launching your e-commerce site.

Find out if your products will sell online

Testing the viability of how a product will perform online is one of the most crucial aspects of launching an e-commerce site. Just because a product flew off the shelves in your store doesn’t necessarily mean there will be demand for it online.

That’s because customers’ shopping behavior is different online versus a brick-and-mortar store.

Meghan Sebold, who started ShopAfia.com in 2011, said her e-commerce site generates 50 percent of her monthly revenue. When Sebold first launched her e-commerce business, she learned the hard way how vital it is to understand whether there will be demand for a product online.

Meghan-Sebold-Shop-Afia

“You need a platform that you can edit yourself.” -Meghan Sebold, ShopAfia (Photo: Meghan Sebold)

I found that very tailored dresses do not sell well online because women want to try them on first,” Sebold said. “To sell this dress I needed in-person opportunities that might lead to online sales afterwards, but I couldn’t sell it online in itself. One-size-fits-all shorts sold very well online off the bat, so I needed to have more of that inventory on hand.”

So, do the research. Find out whether there will be demand for your product by consulting customers, experienced online shoppers and former colleagues. Also, consider conducting product surveys through your email newsletter.

Build a solid foundation

Selecting the e-commerce software that is customer-friendly and easy to update is essential. The best e-commerce software offers everything from website hosting and design to an online storefront, payment processing and merchant tools.

“You need to find a platform that you can edit yourself,” Sebold said. “Creativity hits at different times, so if it suddenly dawns on you that you want to sell white sage bundles from your backyard, or you finally found the right wording to describe something, you want to be able to update that yourself instantly. Those nuances and tweaks are what will make your e-commerce site unique and engaging.”

Don’t try to be everything at once

It’s important to remember that trying to sell everything to everyone is impossible, and this is a common killer of e-commerce sites. Narrow your focus. Promote your hero products first, and then expand your offers as your business grows.

Small business owners also shouldn’t feel that they need all of the bells and whistles on their site at launch.

“It’’s far better to have a clean, simple and beautiful site that focuses on easy-to-use functions than to overthink the thousands of apps that you can add to cover every customer need,” says Ashley McIntosh, owner of Azura Bay. McIntosh launched an e-store for the site last year.

“For example, everyone touted the benefit of a blog, and it made me very anxious to launch without one, and while it’s on my to-do list, we’ve made sales without one for now.”

Keep SEO in mind as you build your site

SEO is important to online businesses, irrespective of the industry. In most cases, the majority of visitors to an e-commerce site will come from a search engine like Google or Yahoo. As you’re developing your e-commerce business plan, it would be smart to consult an expert to assure that your e-commerce store is SEO-optimized.

Start promoting your business before launch

By using a robust POS system for your business, you can turn in-store customers to online shoppers by engaging them via email marketing and building excitement in advance of your e-commerce launch. You can also use clever tactics to create buzz about your launch even if you’re not quite ready for it to go live.

“Even if you don’t have as many photos or content as you’d like, you can start releasing behind-the-scenes info and building up interest in your brand before you launch,” McIntosh said. “Having a single landing page to gather emails before launch also helps drive traffic for your launch day. This strategy allowed us to gather momentum on Instagram and Facebook and build an email list to announce our launch.”

Set aside a budget for test marketing

To build your e-commerce site into a sustainable and thriving business, you’re going to need to allocate money for testing out marketing strategies. While free marketing, like social media, is always helpful, it’s usually not enough to support an e-commerce launch. Marketing tools such as pay-per-click, Google AdWords and Yahoo Search Marketing can help a new e-commerce site find customers.

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