Ecommerce, Easy Right?

We’ve come a long way on the web.  As with many things in the technology field, raw power has gone up, while prices have dropped making many things possible, and accessible that once were not.

Ecommerce,  or the act of selling online is one of those things.   New services such as Shopify and Square and older services such as PayPal and even Ebay make selling online easy, and accessible to the average user.

However, as I’ll explain in this article, ecommerce is not as easy as some make it out to be, and if you want to dip your toe, or jump into ecommerce completely, there are some things you should know.

  1. Selling online is easy, if you fall into the 80% market.  If you want to sell an item, charge online, and ship that item without any deviation or custom needs, most any ecommerce platform will work.  However depending on your needs, one large, or even small variation from the norm, can result in a major ballooning of costs.
  2. Shipping:  If you sell and ship an item, the shipping costs need to be calculated.  Many ecommerce platforms offer live shipping integration, but that requires weights, and/or dimensions and often time manual tweaking to produce proper calculations.  Furthermore, if you want live rates from USPS, UPS and FedEx each of those services need to be configured and adjusted to make certain your shipping costs are covered.
  3. Payments:  You need to accept credit cards and process those cards online before fulfilling an order.  Thankfully, payment gateway providers like Stripe, Square, and PayPal make this part easy, however those accounts need to be setup, connected to your bank account and tested.  If you want to work with your existing credit card processor, you need to determine what products & services are available, and if they’re compatible with your ecommerce platform.
  4. Order Processing:  When an order comes in, who is going to process that order?  Do you have packing materials?  Are you going to inform the customer when the item ships? Are you going to provide a tracking number?  All of these things (and more) should be planned for, and adjusted to make the process as streamlined as possible.
  5. Materials:  Beyond simply listing your products for sale, work needs to be done to develop the product page information and supporting media.  While getting a simple listing online is easy, making your product page actually “sell” the product is quite another challenge.  Compelling photos, and copy can be the difference between a sale and a lost customer.
  6. Testing:  If you’re going to rely on your website store to make you money, regular testing must take place to make certain the process works, and it as smooth as possible.  Testing is especially important if you implement your own ecommerce solution such as WooCommerce, or with similar shopping systems installed on your website itself.  Don’t let your customer be the first one to alert you of a problem.
  7. Maintenance:  Critical when running your own ecommerce software, maintenance costs can easily outpace build costs catching many business owners by surprise.  Depending on the order volume, and custom needs, maintenance will be required to update software, address bugs and adapt to the changing technology landscape.  The more “custom” your have, the higher the maintenance needs and costs.
  8. Customer Service:  How can a customer get in touch with you?  Who is going to receive that communication and reply?  What sort of guarantees or promises are you going to make to the customer about returns, or warranty claims?  While some of this is simply paperwork, this framework needs to be set before orders are being placed to avoid processing issues, and unhappy customers.

Easy right?  We didn’t even talk about inventory control, taxes, marketing, or international orders!

My point is to show that even with powerful and easily accessible technology, there’s still a whole bunch of actual “work” to be done when selling something online.  Even with low or no upfront costs, the overall budget when inclusive of maintenance and ongoing sales improvements can often exceed what the business owner had in mind.

Proper planning is key, and being flexible with your needs and processes is also important to avoid creating a custom, and expensive solution that is a nightmare to maintain.