Quick-start guide to selling online

The internet is often thought to be the enemy of the High Street.

Record numbers of commercial properties are vacant, and footfall is down – and many are blaming online shopping, along with the recession, for the parlous state of the retail sector.

But, as a recent survey by Simply Business suggests, retailers are adapting to suit this new environment. The face of the High Street is changing – and many retailers are bolstering their sales by going online.

Selling online is a big but increasingly important step. Considering setting up an online store? We have compiled some top tips to help you get started.

1. Get the basics

There are a few basics that you will definitely require before you start selling online. The first of these is a website. You can secure your own domain for less than £10. Remember that you will also need to pay for a hosting service. There is a vast number of hosting companies from which to choose. Key considerations when making a decision include storage space (the amount of data you can save), bandwidth (the amount of data that can be transferred during a billing period, which is normally a month), and location (many people prefer UK-based hosting for reasons of speed and convenience).

2. Investigate software

The next step is to work out how you will build your shopping cart. Of course, you might choose to contract with a professional web developer to have a bespoke solution built for you. But if you are on a budget, you might consider using one of the many ‘off the shelf’ options available – often for free. Some of the most popular include Zen Cart, OpenCart, and Magento. Some hosting companies offer packages designed specifically for e-commerce. These often include shopping cart solutions ready installed.

3. Set postage

It is important that you think carefully about the rates you will charge for shipping. Especially in cases where you are selling items with a relatively low retail price, postage and packing can add a proportionally significant sum to the final cost. You need to decide whether, for example, you will pass all of this cost on, or whether you will absorb it in an effort to attract custom.

4. Remember the extra work

You should also remember that there is a potentially significant amount of extra work involved in selling online. Setting up the infrastructure is time-intensive, even if you pay someone else to do it. But you should also ensure that you set aside enough time for the physical picking, packing, and posting of products. You will also need sufficient resources to field customer service emails, and to maintain your online store. Make sure that you factor this into your planning.

5. Understand the law

Selling online requires you to abide by a new and potentially unfamiliar set of laws and regulations. Online sales are becoming progressively better regulated, and it is important that you understand your obligations. Amongst the most important of these are the Distance Selling Regulations, the Sale of Goods Act, and the new cookie regulations.

6. Make yourself seen

Finally, you need to make sure that potential customers are aware of your online presence. There is a number of ways in which you might do this. Search engine optimisation is a key element of your online marketing, and you should bear this in mind whenever you are creating content. But you might also choose to investigate other methods, including pay-per-click, or PPC, advertising. We have built an interactive infographic to help you understand and use PPC.

Is your online store insured?

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