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Selling online

Access a global market

An online service allows your customers to buy your goods and services directly over the Internet.

What are the advantages of selling online?

An online shopping facility allows customers to order and pay for your goods and services over the Internet. Advantages of online shopping include:

  • Access to global markets 24 hours a day.
  • Reduced overheads - the expenses of a shop are eliminated.
  • Access to new customers.
  • The ability to compete with larger businesses on an equal footing.
  • Gives customers access to products and services not available in their area.
  • Offers convenience and privacy for your customers.
  • Appealing to a wide and varied base of customers. For example, online shopping allows disabled or housebound people easy shopping.

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What are the disadvantages of selling online?

The main disadvantage of online shopping is the safety and security issues. Recent media coverage has highlighted the threat of commercial websites being infiltrated by computer hackers, or credit card numbers being stolen online. Although consumers have become more relaxed about giving out their credit card details over the Internet, worries about online security issues are still seen as a major obstacle to the wider take-up of online shopping.

Other disadvantages include:

  • Slow Internet speeds can make websites slow for users.
  • Difficulties in delivering goods to worldwide customers.
  • The customer does not receive their goods immediately.

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How do I set up an online shopping facility?

The different ways of setting up an online shopping site include:

Off-the-Shelf Package

Software programs are available to plug into your business' existing website, with sophisticated wizards providing the basic set-up. This can be customised by adding graphics, installing software that runs credit card checks and buying a secure certificate, which installs security measures on the server.

Working with an Internet Service Provider (ISP) or web designer

An ISP/web hosting service can take responsibility for all or part of the operation. They may offer a web design service and run the credit card facilities on your behalf.

You will probably want to start off your online shopping facility as cheaply as possible. A low-risk starting point is a simple and cheap online catalogue with prices. At a later stage, you can develop the site by adding a shopping cart to allow customers to purchase goods online. Customers must be able to find your website easily. Registering a unique domain name that users can associate with your business is the best way to achieve this.

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What costs should I consider when I am preparing to sell online?

In general, the costs associated with online shopping are low, although this does depend upon the complexity of your business. Basic considerations may include:

  • An online shop will need 'shopping basket' software to allow your customers to buy online. Using an 'out-of-the-box' solution can be a cheaper and less problematic option. Alternatively, you will need to consider employing a consultant to design software to meet your particular needs.
  • An online shop will require facilities for processing payments. You will have to set up a merchant account with a bank to accept credit card payments. A charge will be made for using the bank's credit card merchant facility, which may either be a percentage of transaction values or a fixed fee.
  • You must take into account the costs of registering the website with a domain name and a search engine.
  • You may need to seek the help of a legal professional when setting up an online shop. Online trading is different to 'normal' trading, so existing contracts and terms and conditions may need to be adapted accordingly.

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What is the relevant legislation?

E-commerce legislation is still evolving but there is already a wide range of legislation in place that covers online trading so you should consider this when setting up your online operations.

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Hints and tips

  • Keep your existing customers informed. E-mail them to tell them about your new service and provide an introductory offer to encourage them to use it.
  • Check out your competition. Look at competitors' websites to see how aspects of online shopping may be done differently or adapted for your needs.
  • Don't forget the legal aspects. You may need to adapt existing contracts and trade terms in preparation for trading online.
  • Your website should be maintained on a regular basis by updating your product range, pricing and content.
  • Track how your service is used. Most web hosting services/ISPs can provide the business with a 'log' that indicates the number of hits received. This can be compared to the number of orders, giving the business an idea of how many hits are being converted into actual sales.
  • Provide feedback areas on the website to hear your customers views about the service.

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