A website provides a window for potential customers to see your firm. It can also be a very effective sales channel — but selling online involves more than just a list of products or services
- Establish your strategy. Will the online side of your business be used for selling goods and services, generating sales leads and displaying your product range, or for providing post-sales support? You'll need to work out every stage of a transaction before pushing ahead - buying from other e-commerce sites will tell you what works well, and what doesn't.
- Build your online shop. Your site may be your first point of contact with customers, so it must project the right image of your business. In particular, customers should be able to view your offer and buy without difficulty. But you should also think also about security, delivery, customers' contact details, keeping it updated and compliance with distance selling regulations.
- Choose an online payment system. You can take money for goods bought online in a variety of ways. You could take card payments via the phone, but most firms now set up a payment facility with their bank and/or use an established online payment service such as PayPal. Both have a small cost per transaction, but make buying straightforward and hassle-free.
- Get it right behind the scenes. The way you handle orders has a major impact on customer perception and a trouble-free journey from purchase to receipt of goods can turn a one-off sale into repeat business. An automated system can deliver speed and efficiency to the order process and link up the different people in your firm who might be handling the order.
- Deliver the goods. Choose which distribution channels to use to get the goods to customers. In the case of software, for instance, delivery could be via downloads; send physical items via the postal service or private couriers. Consider offering an express delivery service and enable customers to track their order. Fast, safe delivery creates a good impression - as does a transparent returns policy.
- Market your online outlet. It's no use having a great online sales channel if no one knows about it. Internet marketing, such as search engine optimisation, pay-per-click advertising and an e-newsletter, will get potential customers to your site. Free software from search engines will help you get more information about what visitors respond to, so you can refine your marketing further.
- Know the regulations. If you sell online, you have to follow a number of laws and regulations to ensure you trade fairly, including the Data Protection Act 1998, the Electronic Commerce Regulations 2002, and the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000. These ensure that personal data provided by customers is kept secure, goods and services meet quality and suitability standards, and online contracts are legally binding.
- Be secure. It's important to protect against people hacking into your data. Virus software, password protection and firewalls offer front-line protection. Other contingency measures can ensure you can continue to trade online; these might include having a back-up site available, for example.
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