What is an Online Store?
Can i start one?
How do i start an online store?
I know of eBay and Amazon, is there similarity?
Am going to answer all those questions in a detailed easy way. Let’s start somewhere. The internet was developed primarily for sharing information. Over the years, it has evolved so much. Online stores belong to a group of internet services known as Electronic Commerce simply ecommerce. Ecommerce refers to buying and selling products and services over the internet. eBay and Amazon fall under this.
An Online store is therefore a website that lets visitors to browse and search for products and pay for them, just like in a regular physical store.
In this article, i have summed up the key points that that am going to explain in depth:
- PROS and CONS of starting an online store
- Business Plan: Mastering your Products, Services, Market, Shipping Costs, Taxes, Competitions, Domain & Hosting costs etc.
- Building your own Online Store. (From Scratch, Trying Bigcommerce Store Builder)
PROS & CONS of Starting an Online Store
There are many benefits you get when you become your own boss, which exactly translates to running any business like an online store. Let’s have a look at these pros.
- Costs. Generally, e-commerce businesses are much cheaper to run than physical retail stores. You are not entitled to paying rent, electricity bills, water bills, hiring additional employees as much of the work can be managed by small number of people. All these costs will however apply to your website and other expenses. This will be a business like any other thus you wouldn’t consider free hosting. Buying a domain, looking for a sufficient hosting package and some tech support and consultation will take a small fee.
- Vast Customer Base. When you start an online store, your market place is not limited to location. If you can deliver or ship your products over distant areas, then your customer reach is unlimited over the internet. Think of eBay or Amazon, they can ship their products in many countries
- Establishing Unique Identity. If you want to make the customer think differently about your online products, build your own online store website. Customers will perceive new or beginner sellers at Amazon or eBay as “hmmm just another seller…same product here”. Customers will tend to try out new exciting product base, that way; they don’t get used to or accustomed to the old ways of doing things. This will be your niche, showing yourself out from the crowd.
Every business has its bottlenecks. The internet is a tricky place when it comes to convincing people to buy your product. The list below describes these bottlenecks.
- Advertising Costs. Basically by now you know what am talking about. Wherever you are, you’ve seen small start up online stores advertising a lot on different platforms. Websites selling smart phones, electronics or clothes will spend a lot to advertise. As you would likely not have customers by day one, you will be forced to do this, so as to promote your business
- There may be substantial additional costs. Setting up your own online store website will require you buying services from experienced web design experts to design you website from scratch. If not, you would try out reputable online store builders like Bigcommerce. They offer you a package at a fee, then you choose a theme – that may cost you even $200.
The Business Plan
Any business whether small or medium sized will require a business plan. You will need to know what products (physical or digital – digital products won’t require shipment) or services you will be offering. You will need to decide how you will be shipping your products. Will you be delivering your product straight from home or, will you plan for a warehouse which will be your storage and delivery point?
A great business plan must include:
- Products & Services – Decide source of your product
- Market Research – Do thorough market research, identify your customers and competitors,
- Layout all costs (Finances) in this case domain & web hosting costs, tech support, shipping costs, Taxes, employee wages, advertisement costs, business setup costs etc.
Building your own Online Store.
You need to register a domain name. It should be short, interesting and easy to remember. After purchasing a domain, you need to look for hosting. Look for reputable hosting companies like Hostgator, Blue Host among others. Many companies offer this both, inclusive of domain cost.
After registering a domain and Hosting, you can proceed on either of options below:
- Hiring Experts to design your online store website, from scratch or
- Buying packages from online store builders e.g. Bigcommerce.
The first option is straight to the point. There are many web design experts out there. All you need to do is contact them, discuss your requirements and they build you the website.
Am going to show you why Bigcommerce is a reputable e-commerce store builder you should put on top of your list!
Bigcommerce Online Store Builder
Bigcommerce is something to try out. It’s suitable for those with businesses already and they wish to expand their customer base to the internet, or total beginners.
I did my research online, trust me; Bigcommerce offers you everything you buy in your package. I want to emphasize that, many store builders would tell you, they offer this and that, but in fact it’s never there! For example, the dashboard in your package at Bigcommerce has setup tools that you can actually use.
They will offer you a 15 Day free trial, to move around each customization. The appearance of your online store will determine whether a customer will stick on your store or search another one.
Top 10 Features about Bigcommerce that intrigued me:
1) Bigcommerce Genuine 24/7 Support to get you started. The unlimited customer support is categorised under: Support Portal, Knowledge Base, Community Forum, Bigcommerce ideas, Bigcommerce University, Tutorials etc. Well, that is quite enough to get you started as a total beginner. You can decide to learn the basics before you start up. There are video tutorials to help you get going as well.
Support Portal. You can quickly get help by searching. You will have access to tons of step by step tutorials
Community Forum. Here users post information on “how-to-questions”, comments and user experiences. You can browse through and see whether there is anything similar to what you are searching for. If not, simply post your question and you’ll get help from the site admin or the users.
Video Tutorials. Instead of searching for answers through typing, or even chatting, there are many video tutorials to get you started. The topics covered are building your store, attracting shoppers, creating buyers and Building loyalty.
2) Their 15 Day Free Trial Package. You don’t even require a credit card to sign up this free service. The process is very easy- fill out data on just 6 input boxes, and you are done! Check your email for signup details and log in. Continue to customizing your store. Where you are stuck, search for help.
3) Genuine Setup Tools. There is a rich list of setup tools freely available to you. The list is long, trust me, take your time and learn them all. They include Setting up your store, Customizing your store, Advanced Tools and Integrations
4) Simplicity. Bigcommerce offers a simple control panel that any user can master in no time.
Bigcommerce gives you full access on the following dashboard tools:
- Orders. This section will display all orders, abandoned orders and orders awaiting payment and shipment, pre-orders, archived, refunded and shipped orders.
- Products. You are your own boss, therefore this amazing complete set of product tools will let you:
>> View Products. You can click on most featured, last imported, products out of stock, Visible and non visible etc.
>> Add new unlimited number of products place each under your own defined categories
>> Edit product categories
>> Search products. Use advanced search to search for specific product
>> Import & Export products
>> Product options i.e. colour, size, and style
>> Brands and Reviews etc.
- Customers. You can view all your customers, add or delete them, export and import your customers
- Web Content. This is an amazing feature. It includes a blog for your store (where you can write your blog posts), web pages like “about us” or “contact us”. The added image manager lets you upload images to your store.
- Marketing Tools. This menu unleashes a whole set of great marketing tools including the new Google Trusted Stores and Traffic Engine tools.
Apart from the above, you can sell on facebook, eBay, view banners & coupon codes, Google shopping feeds, abandoned cart notifications, gift certificates and email marketing.
- Analytics. These include general options of an overview snapshot – total revenues, unique visitors, completed and conversion rates. On addition to that, you can view top 20 customers, best selling products and order locations. These will give you some decisions to make regarding your store. Example, you can stock more on your best selling product.
- Quick launch Wizard. This is an awesome tool that lets you get started quickly.
The wizard gives you step by step guide on setting up your store.
>> Storefront. These include your store name, design and logo.
>> Products. Adding and organizing items
>> Checkout. Payment, Shipping & Tax.
>> Launch. Domain and final checks. Bigcommerce lets you point to your own domain if you had one before, or purchase new one from them
5) A rich set of templates to choose from, both free and premium. Your online store theme will determine whether customers will actually stick around or search for other stores. Bigcommerce has the best collection of themes to choose from.
- To find templates, go to Design, and then click on themes tab. You can edit html/css of your template, download your theme or upload another using webDav
- You will see your current theme. You can change to another theme on “available themes”. Browse through available themes, select your choice and check where available. Then apply settings. Notice that your previous template/theme customizations will be deleted.
You can buy a premium theme but soon find that something needs some tweaking. You hire an expert to correct that. Its quite simple as there is the code interface as well as design interface.
You can build your own export template from scratch or customize a copy of one to suit your needs. You export templates mainly to a newly created site, or transferring specific products from your site.
To access export template feature:
- Go to Set Up & Tools > Advanced Tools > Export Templates. You will view ready pre-installed templates to choose from.
- To create a new template, under Template Details > Template name, type a name for your template. Use a unique name i.e. products if you are exporting products.
- You can edit and delete export templates as well as create a new one.
6) Huge list of options supporting different online ventures. If you currently run jewellery, fashion, electronics, health, Gifts, Home ware etc, you can easily start by selecting these.
7) Bigcommerce offers you with everything you need. Depending on your package, you are entitled to a website, Domain name, secure shopping cart, Product catalog, Payment Gateway, Email accounts, marketing tools, Reporting and a mobile optimized store. Instead of you spending time looking for hosting and domains, Bigcommerce takes that from your shoulders so that you concentrate on customizing your online store. Sounds great right?
>>There are more than 60 – payment gateways to choose from like PayPal, Authorize etc.
>> Bigcommerce gives you unlimited options on customizing your products i.e. flexible rules on products and inventory
>> Bigcommerce lets your products available wherever your customers are whether at facebook, eBay or shopzilla.
8) Bigcommerce Appstore Support: These apps help you add more capabilities to your store ranging from accounts to email marketing applications. Some are free and others are premium. If you want to sell on Facebook, twitter among other social networks and eCommerce cross platform networks like eBay, you will have a list to get you started.
These apps will integrate your store anywhere be it your website, affiliate websites, eBay, Facebook, blogs etc. They will triple your store functions. You will get benefits from email marketing apps, social media apps, accounting apps, merchandising apps, order management apps, point of sale etc.
Some of the popular apps include: LeadDyno (Affiliate Tracking Software), Apptive, BrightPearl, PicknTell etc. See picture below.
9) Social Media Integration. Bigcommerce lets you connect your store to the outside social community, doubling if not tripling number of your site visits.
10) Money Value Pricing Plans. Choose the plan that befits your needs.
>> Silver Plan: $29.95/month
>> Gold: $79.95/month
>> Platinum: $199.95/month.
11) Mobile eCommerce. Since the invention of smart phones and tablets, there has been a huge number of internet users globally, all tracked from these small mobile devices. Bigcommerce provides you with a mobile-friendly storefronts and a mobile app to tap more on what tablets and smart phones can give you while still managing your store from the go. On addition to that, Bigcommerce lets you enable mobile templates (mobile version of your store) for your store. Visitors using their mobile devices will see your store website load in a sleek responsive layout on your screen, if these templates are enabled.
Steps: How to enable Mobile Themes
- Log in to your control panel
- Click on design, then locate mobile tab
- Select on enable mobile theme. You can download a template, choose a mobile logo, and you are set!
PROS & CONS of Bigcommerce
- Excellent setup tools that you can actually use.
- Simplicity. The dashboard is easy to master.
- There is plenty of help and support through articles and video tutorials, and a page where you can actually suggest something or service to be done differently!
- Absence of Multilanguage language on stores. Bigcommerce supports only the western English at this time. This is a big blow to owners of stores at Bigcommerce since penetrating the internet market on regions where English is not spoken is a problem. By far this seems to be the major drawback. To solve this, an online store owner must seek services from a programmer to write third party code on the base code of Bigcommerce, so that their stores are translated into the languages of their choice.
- Bigcommerce charges extra for an Amazon or eBay store. The above mentioned problem plus this one and additional charges on themes/templates and buying your preferred monthly plan may incur a beginner store owner more cash than they thought.
There are many online store builders out there. So far, Bigcommerce stands out of the crowd as an excellent eCommerce solution. Bigcommerce is best at its cutting edge email marketing and shopping cart tools. Shoppers have the advantage of secure online shopping and 60+ payment options to choose from! The services you buy, you get just that
You’ve got to try their 15 day trial.