Any time you talk about making money online it’s going to involve three things: a website, something to sell, and a plan. As an affiliate marketer, it’s easy enough to toss up a blog or website, map out a quick strategy for traffic and move on to the next project. You don’t have that much invested in it and if it works, great, if not, you have a few dozen other sites that are working. But if you want to make money online with a retail website, you really need to focus. Because the stakes are a lot higher.
If it’s going to take more work to be successful with a retail website then why even bother? Because your potential for success is much higher and the profits are all yours. You don’t need to worry about whether some advertiser’s sales page is going to be able to capture the sale. And when you do make a sale, you’re not working for a puny little 20% commission.
Before you set up your website you need to ask all the same questions that an offline retailer asks.
What will you sell? – Are you planning to sell just one item or a whole website full of products? Before you can even get started you need to know what you’re going to sell. Maybe you think you can sell those cute sock monkeys you made for your friends last Christmas and that’s great, you probably can. But a retail website for sock monkeys and a retail website for medical equipment require completely different websites and completely different marketing techniques. You wouldn’t build a retail store first and then stand in the middle of it and ask what you’re going to sell. You’d choose your product first and then build a store that showcases that product to it’s full potential. You need to use the same thought process with a retail website.
Who will you sell it to? – It sounds silly to say that you need to know who your target market is for your sock monkeys. But no successful business person sets up a business to sell something without knowing who will be most interested in buying it. Knowing who will be buying your product will help set the tone for your website and all of your content. You might want to set up a cute site with lots of monkeys in the graphics to sell your sock monkeys to expectant mothers, but if you’re trying to sell your handmade aromatherapy candles you’ll want a more sedate website. Knowing your target audience will also help you when it comes time to decide how you’re going to promote your site.
How will you sell it? – As you’re planning your site you need to consider the mechanics of selling your product. Remember, you’re marketing on the Internet now. You need a payment processing system that can handle online transactions securely and preferably from all over the world. You need a safe, secure method of collecting shipping information. You need to consider things like shipping times, lead times, and ordering quantities. Remember, your customers can’t ask you questions. All they have to go by is what they see on your website. Anticipate every question or obstacle that might hinder the buying process.
Who supplies your product? – Lots of people have retail websites to sell their own products – artwork, handmade jewelry, clothing, candles, even love potions! If you’re planning to sell something of your own creation, will you be able to keep up with the demand once your site takes off? If someone else is supplying the product, will they be able to keep up? How reliable is your source? How long have they been in business? All these things need to be considered. You might have a basement full of handmade sock monkeys today, but once they’re gone how will you replenish your inventory?
How will you handle shipping? – This is a key issue. How are you going to get the product to the buyer? Are you going to ship it from your basement? If so, have you considered how much it will cost to ship from your own home to a home on the opposite side of the world? What about packaging materials? And have you included all of these costs in the markup? More then one well-intentioned seller has ‘shipped’ himself out of business because he forgot to include the costs when he calculated his retail prices.
You do have some alternatives. If you’re planning to sell you own products, consider using a fulfillment company to take care of shipping and handling. These companies keep your inventory in their warehouse and take care of shipping to your customers. When inventories get low they contact you and tell you to send more. And there are lots of manufacturers who do drop shipping – they handle procuring the product, shipping and handling and all you do is send them the orders.
What about customer service? – You’re inevitably going to have a dissatisfied customer at some point. How do you plan to handle it? Email? Telephone? Skype? OK, but what about time zones? In the beginning it might not be much of a problem. But be prepared and start checking into 24-hour online call centers to help with customer service. After all, even though your market is much bigger than an offline retailer, you still need to keep your customers happy.
Who is your competition? – OK, you have this basement full of handmade sock monkeys and you think you can sell them online. Like I said, that’s great, you probably can. But you need to know what your competition is doing. And you will have competition. You are not the only person in the world who knows how to make sock monkeys and you can bet your boots someone else is already selling them online. How are they doing it? And what can you do better that would entice people to buy your sock monkeys instead of theirs?
How will you market your product? – As you’re making all these plans you’re probably already thinking about how you can market your product. But I put this at the end of the list because there are so many ways to market online that, unless you have at least a basic idea about everything else, you’re just wasting your time on marketing. How can you market a product if you don’t know what it is or who you’re going to market to? How can you market your product as being better than your competitor’s if you never checked him out? How can you advertise free shipping or fast customer service if you don’t have those systems in place?
Once you’ve mapped out your strategy, then it’s time to start promoting. And the best thing you can do is start writing and socialize! Write articles for your website, post articles in relevant directories, start a companion blog, write guest blog posts. Every article you write and post anywhere on the Web is another link back to your site. And every person you meet at Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or any of the other social networks, is a potential customer.
There’s a lot to think about if you want to make money online with a retail website. You’re setting up a complete online business. But if you do it right, the income potential is tremendous!