How to Start an Online Business, Online Store, Ecommerce Shopping Cart

Everything you need to know about starting an Online Business, Online Store, Ecommerce Shopping Cart Website

by Bernard Kohan

In today's business environment, you need to stay current in order to compete.

If your eCommerce site does not have an edge over your competition in every aspect of your online business such as: essential eCommerce features, compelling design, good usability, upsell and marketing features, optimum SEO, and adequate site security and performance, your business will be left behind.

U.S. eCommerce sales reached over $260 billion in sales in 2013, and will reach $370 billion by 2017 according to Forester Research, Inc. Another interesting fact is that Mobile eCommerce sales accounted for about $40 billion (of the $260 billion) for 2013.

Starting an online business can be a profitable venture if it is planned and executed correctly.

In this article I'll go over the essential items that you would need to know in order to start and run a successful eCommerce Business. I also discuss everything from selecting a product, to design, development, marketing, security and performance requirements of an eCommerce business.

I. Selecting the Right Products for your Online Store

Selecting the right products for your online store can have an important impact on success or failure of your business.

1. Product Selection - Important Considerations

2. Research the demand for your product

This process will require:

3. Research the competition

This process will require:

4. Compare the Supply and Demand

Compare the combined number of keyword searches for both Google and Bing and the cost and competition for those keywords. (This research will not provide you an accurate result, but should give you some ideas about the supply and demand for the industry.)

5. Research Vendors, Manufacturers, Distributors

Research to find the best source for producing or purchasing the products, and research the cost per each item including the cost of shipping and handling for receiving or warehousing the products and delivering the products to the customers.

If you are not going to store inventory or do not want to handle customer service or sales calls, you would need to research and find vendors who provide Order Fulfillment Services or Call Center Services. (Just type Order Fulfillment Services or Call Center Services in Google and you will find many companies who provide that type of service at competitive rates.)

II. Write a Business Plan

Once you have selected your products, start putting together a report that itemizes:

III. Select a Domain Name and Company Name

It will be important to select a domain name that is catchy and that your prospective customers can remember, spell and pronounce. Unfortunately, finding a good domain name is not an easy task. Most good domain names have already been taken.

Even though most domain names are taken, you can still find a good domain name. Here are some ideas for coming up with a domain name:

Consider selecting a .COM domain since that is the standard for all domain names and users are accustomed to typing .COM extensions.

Regarding other extensions, try to purchase .NET and .ORG after owning the .COM in order to protect the company brand and preventing people from trying to profit from your brand name.

There are three types of domain name availabilities:

1. Standard - available for purchase immediately at the cost of $10 - $15 per year.

2. Premium - these domains are purchased by domain dealers or brokers who want to resell and make a profit on the domain.

3. Auction - these domains have become expired and have been put up for auction by the domain registrar or domain dealers.

If you cannot find a standard domain and the name that you are looking for is available as a premium or auction name and the price is reasonable, it may be worth purchasing the premium / auction domain rather than ending up with an unfavorable domain.

Also, an important consideration when selecting a domain is that a domain name which may sound good to you, may not sound good or proper to the majority of your audience, so you may want to consult a branding expert about your domain name selection.

IV. Find an Experienced Branding, Web Design, SEO, Marketing, and eCommerce Software Company

I include Branding, Web Design, Marketing and eCommerce Software and Hosting in the same category because they are all related.

It is a good idea to select one professional U.S.-based company that is experienced in every aspect of an eCommerce business. When hiring multiple companies (for example, a design firm to provide the design, an eCommerce software company to provide the software, and a marketing company to provide the SEO), the separate companies tend to have their own methodologies and may not work well together, and in some cases they would blame each other for any inconsistencies or unsuccessful execution of the project.

Also, it is recommended to find a company that is experienced, dependable, and is willing to provide continuous maintenance and support of your project. (For example,

If an eCommerce company's focus is to mass produce eCommerce sites and they do not provide good options for maintaining and supporting your eCommerce site, they most likely will not be focused on building you a successful site.)

Your goal is to build an eCommerce site that:

The items above are just the essential list for consideration. Let's move on to discuss the most important elements of a successful eCommerce site: Design, Development and Deployment.

Branding, Design and Usability

Developing a brand identity that is unique to your business is very important. This way your customers can differentiate your brand from others.

There are two types of design methods that can affect your branding: Template and Custom Designs. Below are the differences between both design methods:

Custom Designs:

Template Designs:

Unfortunately, there are a lot of website design and hosting services that are selling Template websites which means that you may be sharing similar brand identity with other sites that are using the same template.

It is a matter of your budgetary requirements and long-term business goals for selecting a templete design or custom design.

If you have the ambition to make your business a success, try to build an attractive and memorable brand from the start.

eCommerce Software

There are two types of eCommerce software: Professional or Enterprise eCommerce Software and Hosted eCommerce Software. Below are the pros and cons between the two:

Professional or Enterprise eCommerce Software:

Hosted eCommerce Software:

Select an eCommerce software that has the essential tools to make your site a success:

The above items are essential for building a successful eCommerce site, so ask your eCommerce software provider if they provide at least the above features. AminiSoft eCommerce software has all of the features listed above.

If you're just trying to test the water or work with a lower budget, you may want to start out using a Hosted Platform or a low cost eCommerce Software. But if you are going to put a lot of your time and effort into building a successful online store, and foresee a substantial growth, you may want to start out right with a Professional or Enterprise eCommerce platform.

Be aware that although some hosted platforms have a very low up-front cost, the monthly hosting can be quite substantial especially if the site's bandwidth usage increases.

A good percentage of most sites' bandwidth usage comes from Search Engine Robots (and other Robots). I have worked on clients' projects and have seen their sites visited by Google Robots and other Search Engine Robots every second – this creates a lot of bandwidth usage for their sites.

Having Google Robots visit your site every second is a good thing. It shows that Google sees continuous changes on your site and wants to keep your site's indexing up-to-date.

Also, if you are going to have a lot of pages or if you're going to build a Search Engine Friendly site with a guided search tool that allows clients to filter and better find your products, the site's bandwidth usage will be substantial from Google and other Search Engine Robots. (Guided search creates an environment of finding your products in many different ways and Search Engine robots use every way to index your pages which uses a lot of bandwidth.)

Search Engine Optimizations and Marketing

There are two types of Search Engine Marketing: Search Engine Optimizations and Search Engine Marketing:

Search Engine Optimizations
This service refers to going through all pages manually or using tools such as Google Webmaster Tools to evaluate all pages for unique and correctly formatted Titles, Meta Keywords and Meta Descriptions.

Search Engine Marketing
This service is more in-depth and will require implementing many marketing tactics to bring traffic through the search engines. It will be beyond the scope of this article to go over this process in detail, but I will list some of the essential items for this type of Marketing below:

Write Articles, Blogs and Valuable Informative Content
Writing informative articles and blogs are part of Search Engine Marketing, but it also can be considered a different marketing strategy for attracting and drawing new customers into your website.

You can write informative articles related to your products based on what users are searching in Google. This will bring more traffic and increase sales for your site.

Social Media Marketing

Social Media Marketing can have a large impact in providing traffic and customers to the site. It will be beyond the scope of this article to go over this process in detail, but I will list some of the essential items for this type of Marketing below:

Email Marketing

Ask your customers to opt-in for receiving monthly newsletters and email promotions. Send them monthly newsletters or promotional pieces to bring return business. (Make sure that your email marketing campaign complies with the CAN-SPAM Act.)

V. eCommerce Security and Performance Considerations

eCommerce Security

One of the most important parts of building an eCommerce site is the security and privacy considerations. If your site is not secured and your customer's sensitive information or credit card information are stolen, you could face major liability and lawsuits.

In most cases, the eCommerce site owner is liable for any security breach and not the eCommerce software development company or hosting company, so you want to make sure that you take all necessary precautions to make sure your site is secured.

You want to make sure that your eCommerce site passes the security standards that are set forth by the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council called PCI DSS Compliance. This will show that you are following the strict security standards and (in my opinion) this will reduce your liability substantially.

PCI DSS Compliance are the security standards that need to be followed by your eCommerce website, by the Hosting Company that is hosting your site, and any network that is connected to your eCommerce site.

One important item to note is that PCI DSS Compliance is not a one-time implementation. It requires periodic and continuous security scanning and periodic implementation of new security patches. For example, your website may have passed the PCI DSS Compliance last month, but if there is a new vulnerability found in the web server software that you are using, your site will fail a PCI DSS Compliance security scan until you fix the new vulnerability.

Usually, your Merchant Service company will provide you a complimentary PCI DSS Compliance questionnaire and periodic scans that will look for vulnerabilities with your site and hosting server.

If the company that you hire to build your eCommerce site or host your site has experience in PCI DSS security, they should be able to provide you continuous security maintenance and support at a reasonable cost. This is one of the areas of the business that you do not want to cut corners and look for the cheapest and least reliable solution because the liability that you can have if you do not keep your eCommerce site PCI DSS Complaint is substantial.

To go over all of the recommended eCommerce site security is beyond the scope of this article, but I will list some of the essential items below:

eCommerce Performance

One of the biggest issues with many eCommerce sites today is speed and performance. Consider these facts:

I've noticed that many eCommerce site owners use bloated eCommerce software such as Magento out-of-the-box and on top of that, add third party plug-ins that dramatically slow down their eCommerce site. This is not a good idea because it will impact your customers and Google ranking.

Also, you want to select a robust hosting company or a cloud or dedicated hosting company, rather than a cheap shared hosting company where you share CPU and bandwidth resources with thousands of users on the same server.

Simply said, you get what you pay for. If you want the most robust, secure and reliable hosting, you will be paying for reliability, security and better performance. If you are paying less than $25 per month for a hosting service, you are more likely sharing a lot of bandwidth and CPU resources with other sites and your site will run slowly.

VI. Final Thoughts

Starting any business including an Online Store is not an easy, get rich quick process. It will require careful business research and planning, and having good knowledge in web technology, operating and managing a business, marketing, finance and government regulations.

Most people start an online business without any planning or understanding of web technology or marketing. They expect to put up an online store thinking that the orders will pour in by themselves.

In order to become successful in an online business, you will need to work hard and have the will to continuously gain knowledge in web technologies and everything else you need to know about running and operating an eCommerce business.

Also, you will need to be prepared to take financial risk, but you need to know where and when to spend in order to get the best returns for your money.

Some people are misguided by deceptive TV advertisements promising that you can have a successful eCommerce site for as low as $10 per month. If it sounds too good to be true, be cautious. If anyone could start a successful online store for $10 per month, we would all be rich by now.

Starting and running a successful Online Store will require some upfront cost. The table below shows the approximate list of investment requirements (depending on your needs):

Service Cost
eCommerce Design and Development $8K - $30K up-front
Monthly Hosting and PCI Compliance Security Services $50 - $500+ p/month
Monthly Site Revisions, Customizations, Other Maintenance, and Support $0 - $1,000 p/month
Monthly Search Engine and Social Media Marketing $0 - $10,000 p/month*
* depending on your needs
Listed below are the primary factors that drive the cost for design, development, marketing, hosting and maintenance of an eCommerce site. The cost varies based on your needs and the amount of service that you would like to include for your project.

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