E-Commerce Options

A young cousin of mine asked how she could best set up an e-commerce site for her fledgling graphic design business. She’s planning to offer custom business cards for $100 a thousand, among other things. Like many new businesspeople, her goal is to keep her costs down while she sets up her business, and she can do all the design work herself, so she’s looking for the simplest option.

There are some questions you need to ask yourself when you want to get your feet wet with ecommerce:

  • Do you have a brick and mortar store? A click and mortar operation certainly has an advantage. You can take credit cards and handle inventory through your current system, and you have staff to answer phone calls. Adding an online store can be very simple. However, the days when you could just list your products and tell visitors to call you and order are long gone. You’ll need a shopping cart and a secure way to take credit card information. If you use a stock catalog, the company that puts that together for you will probably have a stock website offer as well. Compare that option with the other options listed here to determine which is the best for your particular shop.
  • Can you offer your stuff as a service instead of with a shopping cart? Some copywriters have ecommerce websites, so you can put that $1000 marketing kit into your basket and pick up a press release at the same time, but I just invoice my clients each month. My cousin can do the same; custom design work is a service as much as it is a product. As long as she makes it easy for clients to reach her, she can avoid the ecommerce dilemma entirely.
  • Can you sell your stuff as an affiliate? Many of the items you might wish to sell can be done through affiliate marketing arrangements. Your profit on the items will be lower, but once you count the costs of the whole supply chain — getting the items, packing them and shipping them, handling the transactions — you may find it more practical to approach your selling in this way. While many people who do affiliate marketing earn very little, that may reflect the small investment required; many people do this on the level of a hobby and feel happy when they pick up $20.00. Approaching this kind of e-commerce just as you would if you manufactured the goods can get good results.
  • Do you want a storefront? There are many choices for setting up an online store, from mass market solutions like Volusion or BigCommerce to custom ones. While you’ll choose the right one for you on the basis of cost, number of items you have to sell, and personal preference, none of these choices will do magic for you. You’ll still need optimization and marketing to succeed.
  • Can you just add a cart to your website? If you plan to sell your items from your blog or your company website, you can simply add a PayPal button or a WordPress e-commerce plugin. Be aware that all of these options require some technical skill. If you have a custom site, or are planning to have one, just ask your designer or developer to add one of these options for you. Cost and features vary considerably, and the overall effectiveness from the standpoint of design will depend on the skill of the person who implements it for you. PayPal gives customers the option of debiting payments directly from their bank accounts, and lets you do international transactions. Which of these — or comparable — solutions works best for you depends on the details of your business.

When you consider your options, consider scalability, too — that is, what will your next step be if you outgrow your first choice? Paying for more than you need at the beginning may or may not be a wise decision, depending how big your plans are, but you certainly don’t want to have a plan that will only work if you’re not successful.


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