From bedroom to boardroom: Five steps to becoming a successful online retailer

Fancy being an online entrepreneur? Simply Business share these five steps to take you from eBay hobbyist to serious online seller.

Cropped shot of a young woman using a digital tablet

Note – all brands we mention are for illustration only. The world of online retail is rich in alternatives!

1) Think through your business idea

Like any business, an online retail start-up needs careful thought and planning if it’s going to take off.

Start by looking at who else is selling the products you want to sell, and exploring rival websites.

Also do some research on branding and naming: check that your preferred domain is available, as ideally you’ll have a web address that reflects your business name.

Plus, it might seem like there are few overheads for an online business, but there are costs that you need to take into account: think about web hosting, paying graphic designers, storing your stock, and buying insurance (more on that later). Will you still be able to make a good profit once you’ve taken these costs into account?

Finally, it’s always a good idea to start off small and test your idea. Hopefully you’ll get a good response and then you can think bigger, but if you have any  problems then you’ve got the chance to make some tweaks.

2) Get your website right

Your website is your “shop window” so it needs to look eye-catching. But remember that it also needs to work well, and the browsing and buying process should be as easy as possible. People online are impatient, and visitors should only ever be a few clicks away from buying.

This is where it may be a good idea to call in the professionals. Consider hiring a freelance designer who has a good portfolio and knowledge of User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) design principles. This means they’ll be clued up on how people interact with websites, and they’ll be able to guide you on creating a website that your customers can navigate easily.

If you’re designing and building your site on your own, consider a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress, which has shopping cart plugins for eCommerce.

Make sure that your selling process is secure, and that your customers are reassured that their card details are safe. If you want to use PayPal, for example, to take payments, you’ll need to set up a business account.

And when you’re thinking about the pages and content to include on your website, keep things as simple as possible.

Take good photographs of your products, and make key details like price, product information and postage details as clear as possible. Include an ‘about us’ page that tells people a bit about you and your company. If you’re making your products by hand, or if there’s a really quirky story behind your business, be sure to tell people about it. Also list your contact details, including a business email address and a phone number.

3) Get a good grasp of online marketing

Having a site that looks good and that works well is a big step, but getting people to actually visit it is the trickiest bit.

If you have a shop on the high street of a busy town, then there’s a good chance people will stop by if your products look appealing. Unfortunately, things aren’t so simple on the Internet. You’ll need a good working knowledge of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and online marketing tactics to have any chance of getting visitors. Luckily, there are lots of free SEO and marketing guides online to help you get started.

You can also consider using something like Google AdWords, which is a way of paying to appear in prime spots on the search results pages. You only pay if someone clicks on your ad, but you need to make sure that you have well-targeted ads and a well-designed website so that those clicks convert to sales.

It’s also really important to set up social media accounts for your business, so that you can get the word out about your products and encourage visitors to your site. But don’t flood social media with sales pitches: share interesting content and engage with likeminded people and businesses, and you’ll slowly start to build a community around your online shop.

4) Make the most of existing platforms

Because it can be difficult to get people to visit your site, it may be worth using an established online retail platform like eBay, Etsy or Notonthehighstreet. You will usually have to pay a fee or commission, but these websites have lots of visitors and big marketing budgets, so your products are much more likely to be seen.

Provide a link to your own website from the product description or online store if possible, and eventually you should be able to build up enough brand awareness and attract enough visitors to your site to go it alone.

5) Get the right insurance policy

You might think that business insurance isn’t necessary if you only sell online, but there are actually some key covers you should consider.

Product liability cover, for example, could help protect you if your products cause injury or damage.

For example if you run an online cake business and someone blames you for food poisoning, or if you sell children’s toys and a faulty toy hurts a child, you may be asked to pay compensation. You could claim for this on your product liability policy.

Even if you don’t actually make the things you sell, you could be liable for compensation claims if the products bear the name of your business, if you’ve repaired or refurbished the product, or if the actual manufacturer can’t be traced.

Stock cover is another important consideration. This can cover your replacement costs if your stock is damaged or stolen, which wouldn’t be covered by a normal home insurance policy.

Because online sellers have quite specific needs but they don’t need some insurance covers that are essential for bricks-and-mortar businesses, Simply Business has designed a special insurance for online retailers.

This is the only cover on the market that’s been designed just for businesses that trade online. And because we’ve only included the bits you need, it costs just £120 to £140 per year.

About Simply Business

We’re the UK’s biggest business insurance provider, covering 300,000 businesses and landlords. We work with a panel of the country’s leading insurers, so that you can compare quotes and buy a tailored policy online in minutes.

Visit us at The Business Show

Simply Business will be at stand 752 at The Business Show. Come and say hello, and find out more about what we do and how we can help you.