Mail Boxes Etc. UK & Ireland's blog

Setting up your e-commerce store from scratch

How to start selling online

Starting to sell online from scratch but without investing a lot of capital is the dream of many entrepreneurs, but it’s also a goal for many professionals and small businesses who want a quick way to increase their turnover by exploiting the power of the internet.

The secret to successful e-commerce, which can help you increase your customer base by satisfying the demand for a particular product or service, is to start with strategic planning. The most common mistake when selling online is not setting realistic goals or working out how you will create and satisfy that demand successfully.

You’ll need an in-depth knowledge of current and breaking trends, and you’ll need to know who your customers and competitors are.

Selling online: 5 key steps to success

Selling online, especially if you’re starting from scratch, demands a business plan that is essentially the same as a traditional business plan. The only difference is that you will be dealing with customers who are accustomed to buying on the internet, who will demand fast, efficient service and slick, no-quibble refunds and returns.

People who buy online tend to be those who hate queuing at the supermarket, bank or checkout, who want to save time, spend less, or find unique products which are difficult to source in physical stores. Dealing with this type of customer demands a smart business which must have a solid strategy.

Here are some key tips for success:

1. Am I selling products or services?

As a first step, you will have to define which products or services to offer customers and, more importantly, understand if they conform to current trends and are able to meet the needs of users. Some products and services translate better for e-commerce than others. As with physical retailing, you need to work out whether what you’re offering meets a real need – or you must be prepared to create that demand with clever marketing.

2. Analyse the market

The second step is market research. You don’t necessarily need detailed statistics to know which products are in peak demand or which services best meet people’s needs, but it’s essential to carry out in-depth studies on your competitors so you know how to emulate or differentiate. In particular, look at how your successful competitors work: their strategies, strengths and weaknesses. How mature is the marketplace? Can it take another supplier? How does your offering differ from what’s already out there?

3. Who are you targeting?

Customer profiling is one of the most important tasks you’ll do in setting up your online business from scratch. Identify your buyer personas. How old are they? Where do they live? What and where are they currently buying? What are their interests? How can your product or service best meet their needs (or will you have to invent something new or adapt your offering to suit them)? Use qualitative and quantitative research – from face-to-face focus groups to quick polls on social media – and ask your sales team to help if you have a physical store.

4. Define your objectives

Once you know your market and your target customer demographic, you can define your business objectives. An understanding of what your prospects are likely to pay for your product or service will help you set the price and allow you to build in a decent profit margin and create realistic sales targets. Think of future-pacing too – where do you want your sales to be in five years’ time?

5. Define your business model

How will you create, deliver and capture value for your organisation and your customers? Are you planning to sell to businesses or consumers? If you are selling products, how will you source them, where will you store them and how will you get them from there to the customer? How will you handle refunds and returns? How will you ensure your business is sustainable, both in terms of its longevity and its impact on the environment? What kind of expenses will you face in sourcing, storing and delivering your e-commerce offering?

We’re here to help

At Mail Boxes Etc. we can help with many aspects of setting up and running a successful e-commerce business, from designing your digital marketing materials to providing an end-to-end fulfilment service (as well as handling returns).

You can register your business at one of our prestigious high street store locations (we have over 150 in the UK) and get a real street address for your correspondence, as well as somewhere for mail and parcels to be delivered. We can help with your marketing materials, designing your logo or corporate identity, creating digital signatures and social media cards, and printing your packaging materials for a slick unboxing experience.

When it comes to logistics, you can buy your packaging supplies from us or we’ll wrap your parcels securely and ship them anywhere in the world with trackable services from all the leading carriers. And if you need a complete fulfilment service, just ask us about pick, pack and ship – something you might want to consider as your e-commerce business grows.

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