It seems everyone wants to jump on this bandwagon and start building their own company. This certainly sounds like a big topic and involves many aspects. In this article we try to share a quick overview of how to start the process. In general, you will need the following key components to run your eCommerce business:
- Ordering system
- Payment system
- Customer Service
First, you need an online presence to display your product or service.
Facebook Business Page
The simplest way is just to create a Facebook Business Page, which is free. This is good if you are only starting with a small number of items, or if you want to test the market.
The issue is it is hard to scale up. It would be hard to manage many conversations over Facebook Messenger or Whatsapp for ordering, payment and delivery.
The next choice is to join the Marketplace platforms, such as Amazon, HKTVMall, or Taobao. As these platforms are well-developed and have mature supporting services, like customer service, payment, delivery, you can have your shop up and running within a short lead time. In addition, you don’t have to worry about traffic.
However, you may have to pay a significant percentage of your revenue as service charge. You will have to follow the policy of the marketplace, making it less flexible in running your shop. Furthermore, the customers information stays in the marketplace system, and it would be costly for you to switch to other platforms.
Online Store Platforms
These platforms provide a wide range of packages and templates for you to build your own online store. Since they have integrated all the necessary functions and features, you could save a lot of development work.
Nevertheless, unlike the marketplace platforms, you will have to take care of all the required operations yourself. Some of these tasks could be time-consuming, e.g. handling customer enquiries and delivery arrangements.
Build Your Own Webstore
This should be the most flexible option, where you build your webstore using WordPress or WIX, with the popular eCommerce plugins like WooCommerce or BigCommerce. You can customize virtually every single bit of the webstore.
Though, this flexibility comes at a cost. It demands a higher level of technical know-how and would take longer lead time to build the store. Moreover, you may have to handle un-expected technical issues that could impact the business.
For a lean operation you could just use any personal communication software to take orders. You could also consider using Google Forms, which makes the order information more organized.
The common eCommerce platforms typically adopt the shopping cart system. This is pretty much a standard operation. One issue to highlight is make sure the user interface is smooth and intuitive. There are many occasions where customers find it hard to complete the order process, and they are just gone. It would be even better if you could customize for volume discount, special offers and cross-selling.
There are many service providers in the market, with many options to suit your needs. From the basic Credit Card, PayPal, Stripe, to the new formats like PayMe, FPS, Apple Pay, WeChat Pay, AliPay etc.
Some points to consider:
- commission rate & service charge
- transaction limit
- payment period (which affects your cash flow directly)
If you are selling digital or non-physical products this is simple. The only concern is how to avoid illegal duplication or digital licensing.
For physical products, this could be quite complicated. If the SKU is small, you may just use those popular courier services, like Shun Fung or DHL. And your office could also serve as the warehouse.
Amazon provides a very handy service named FBA Fulfillment By Amazon. You just ship your products to their warehouse and then they will take care all pick, pack and ship operations for you. Other marketplace platforms also offer similar service, but maybe less comprehensive.
If you have a large number of SKU, then chances are you have been running your business offline and the workflow should be already in place. Otherwise you may consider working with the logistic service providers.
This could be a tedious work, especially if you are starting small. The good news is you may take advantage of the new technologies. Chatbot is stable and productive nowadays. You should consider automating most of the trivial and basic customer service tasks via chatbot.
To simplify the operation, you may also split the nature of customer service tasks and outsource to third parties. For example, you may let your logistic partner to handle all fulfillment related enquiries. You can then focus your own team on more sale-related tasks, like explaining the product features.
For a successful online business there are certainly many areas to work on. The above are only the core components for a decent operation. There are certainly more factors that take the business to the next level, including:
- Digital marketing - to drive customer traffic and brand building
- Loyalty membership program - to establish long-term relationship with customers
- Data analytics - to understand the customers and generate more revenue
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