Joining the world of electronic commerce may seem daunting if you’re running a small business, but it is easier than ever to get up-and-running with a digital storefront. And with consumers looking for online convenience, allowing them to browse, order and pay online can give your business an edge in a competitive market, says Charles Pittaway, MD at Sage Pay.
Here are a few ideas about how to get started:
Begin with a business plan
If you’re thinking about taking your business online, you should start by drawing up a business plan for your e-commerce site. Think about your value proposition and how it could translate into the online world.
Ask yourself what your customers need – how could you make their lives easier with an e-commerce enabled site? Could you reach new customers and grow your business? Are you losing customers to online competitors? And would you need to carry a lot of extra inventory to service online customers? Are there any other cost implications?
Not every small business will have a business case for e-commerce. Asking yourself the questions above will help you determine if e-commerce is a good fit for your company.
Also, take some time to investigate the costs of running an e-commerce website, and ensure that you don’t over-invest in design and technology. That brings me to my next point.
Look for standard solutions
When you’re starting out with e-commerce, look for a hosted solution that will enable you to get your storefront up-and-running quickly and with minimal cost. There are some great solutions that plug directly into accounting packages from the likes of Sage Pastel – the benefit here is that pricing and inventory data on your website will be automatically updated from live financial data.
Solutions such as Sage Online Tools allow you to build a website of your own quickly and easily, without needing access to a designer or programmer. They also offer tools that help you market your business using social media and email. There are many choices today, and some of them are surprisingly customisable and affordable.
Most of your customers will use mobile devices some of the times or all of the times they access your e-commerce site. Thus, make sure that it is usable and attractive on a small screen. Mobile apps are relatively expensive to develop – but the investment might be worthwhile further down the line.
You must market your website
Don’t think that Google will do the rest of your work for you once you’ve built an e-commerce site. You will need to invest some effort and perhaps some money into marketing it. Promote the website to your email database, if you have one. And once you’re trading online, you should also use social media to interact with your customers.
Social media, blogs, and content on your website can all help you rise in the organic search ratings on search engines. You might even want to take some pay per click ads on Google – these text ads on Google search pages can be affordable and effective. Also be sure to put your website address on business cards, till slips, shop signage, your vehicles, invoices, newspaper advertisements, and so on.
Logistics will make or break you
If you’re selling physical goods, make sure that you have a reliable and affordable plan for getting them into your customers’ hands. You could allow them to order and pay online, and then collect from your store at their convenience. Or you could use one of the many courier companies operating in South Africa for delivery. Do your homework – there’s a lot of competition among courier companies, and not all of them are consistent and dependable.
Ensure that you have a secure payment gateway
You’ll also need an easy and trustworthy way for customers to pay online when they shop on your site. Today, payments providers such as Sage Pay offer secure payment gateways that allow customers to pay easily using different payment types such as EFT, Visa and MasterCard. These solutions mean you do not need to approach multiple service providers.
They often integrate with accounting software and e-commerce shopping carts, and comply with global security standards such as Verified by Visa and Master Card Secure Code. A robust gateway means peace of mind for your customers and for you as the merchant.
With about 16-million Internet users, e-commerce in South Africa is starting to gather critical mass. Users’ trust in online commerce is growing by the day, and research from the likes of World Wide Worx shows e-commerce retail sales growing in excess of 25% a year. SMEs have an opportunity to position themselves at the forefront of this trend.