Back in the 90’s when the Internet was a jumbled repository of information that only computer geeks had the knowledge and the patience to use, the idea of shopping online was simply a novelty. However, online entrepreneurial pioneers Jeff Bezos and Pierre Omidyar saw the Internet’s potential for business when they founded Amazon and AuctionWeb, the precursor to eBay, in 1994 and 1995, respectively.

Today, Amazon is one of the biggest businesses in the world, making $61.09 billion in total revenue in 2012. eBay isn’t doing too bad itself with a total revenue of $14.07 billion in 2012. E-commerce sales in the US in 2010 generated as much as $228 billion. There’s simply no denying that the Internet has changed the way people shop, and that online stores are here to stay.

If you are thinking of starting up your very own online store, you need to consider both the benefits you’ll receive and the challenges you’ll have to face.

The Benefits of Online Selling

Online-Selling

 You Reach More People

An online store is open to just about everyone 24/7, and is available to anyone around the world as long as they have an Internet connection. A brick and mortar store’s customer base will be limited to the people in the area, whereas an online store will get you customers that would have never been able to know about your business, much less get there and buy your products.

Even language barriers can be overcome with the help of translation software that’s readily available on the Internet, getting you customers overseas looking to import goods that just aren’t available in their countries.

It Won’t Cost You a Fortune

The capital you’ll need to get an online store up and running is pocket change compared to the cash you’ll have to dole out to put up a brick and mortar store. Aside from production and your delivery method, the only cost you’ll have to consider is the website’s hosting fees to keep it online.

That online “rent” will probably be much cheaper than any lot you can find. Overhead costs, such as electric and water bills, also won’t be present at all. You don’t even have to hire a staff to operate the website since the process is automated.

Improving Your Business is Convenient

Growth is vital to any business looking to be successful, and it can be achieved through offering more and/or better products. Finding out what the customers want can be a hassle with a physical store, as employees usually have to manually collect data from the inventory.

With many online store setups providing tracking services for the owners, the entire process is made so much easier. You can even set up a rating and/or reviews system to get fast customer feedback. With the data you’ve gathered concerning which products are selling greatly and what your customers think about them, you’ll know what exactly you’ll need to do to better your business.

Improving Your Business Becomes Mandatory

Aside from the big two online stores Amazon and eBay, there have been other success stories, such as CafePress, Etsy, and Newegg, with hundreds of other e-commerce websites making big money. It’s a proven platform for successful business, and that should quell any doubts you might have about getting into this industry.

The level of competition you’ll face should also inspire you to reach their levels of accomplishments. You won’t be slumming it around with your local mom and pop shop and thrift store anymore; you’ll be pushing your business on the global stage.

You Are Your Own Boss

Starting your very own online store frees you from the shackles of being just another employee. You no longer have to slave away in order to fulfill another person’s passions. You can let your creative energies flow with no such restrictions. You are in total control of your life’s career path.

Having it online makes this entrepreneurship platform even more liberating, as you won’t be confined to the drudgery of the 9 to 5 work schedule. If you set up a good system in place, you can even let the online store run itself for the majority of the time while you pursue other fulfilling interests.

The Challenges of Online Selling

An online business, however, is the same as that of other ventures in the sense that it still poses a significant number of challenges for any entrepreneur:

Trust Can Be Hard to Gain

Because of the immediate physical disconnect from business to customer, people are reasonably cautious about spending their hard-earned money. They are worried about the safety of their credit card details, the shipping methods, the expected time they’ll get the product they want, and even the quality of the product itself.

To allay any fears your target audience might have, you need to present your website as secure. Create a contact page where you’ll put your business’ email address and/or phone numbers. Have your website verified to get security seals, such as Verisign and the Better Business Bureau.

Products Can’t Be Inspected

The nature of online stores keeps customers from being able to see how the product looks like for themselves. This is doubly a concern for clothing, personal care, and other such items that people naturally want to try out first. There is also no 100% guarantee that the item they’ll have to wait for won’t have any flaws.

The only things you can do as the owner of the site is to provide as much high quality pictures of the products as you can with the necessary information. Take pictures from different angles to show every important part of the product. If you have the means, record a video of the product being used.

Payment Can Be a Problem

Payment-online

As mentioned earlier, there are people that might be wary of just handing over the numbers to their credit cards. Customers who are willing to do so must be treated with the utmost care, and that means going through the process of integrating security systems.

There’s also the issue of not having enough payment options for customers. Credit cards aren’t the only method. There are payment services, such as PayPal and Authorize.net, which you can make available for customers who don’t want to part with their credit card details.

Shipping Can ALSO Be a Problem

The perk of reaching a wider audience can also be a disadvantage. People expect an online store to be able to deliver their orders in time and in good shape. With each day that their orders get delayed is a strike against your credibility. Even worse is if your product gets to them with parts damaged because of the trip.

To avoid such disasters from happening and ruining your brand’s reputation, you have to partner up with a trustworthy delivery service that will handle your products with care and deliver them with speed.

Building a Brand

Online stores are everywhere nowadays, and the competition has never been this tough. People who already do a lot of shopping online are more than likely to just stick with the big online stores that have proven to be trustworthy. These circumstances make for an uphill battle for any start-up online store.

To make your online store stand out, you’ll have to put in the work by leveraging all the available tools. Everything from social media to email to newsletters to SEO, you need to learn how to use them to build your brand.

For those of you who’ve already started their own online stores, share to us your personal experiences and insights you’ve picked up on the job through the comments section below.

6 thoughts on “The Benefits and Challenges of Online Selling”

  1. I was wondering how to improve my business. Then I finally visit this blog, i found something interesting and helps me to understand my way to improve my business. Great blog!

    1. Thank you so much for the interest Valeska! Make sure to visit here at intense blog for more tips to improve business. More power!

  2. These are good points Rod! I appreciate the tips and I will definitely take this into consideration. I hope you will keep posting more to improve business! Thanks!

    1. Thank you so much for appreciating my tips Jordan. Now you can start your own and follow these steps. :) Learn and improve is the key!

  3. Some interesting points there, but do you think customers have any supplier loyalty on sites like eBay and Amazon or do you think that the main factor affecting a purchase is simply price? A worry is that there many new suppliers prepared to sell goods for very little margins, which in the long term is unsustainable, but it causes some harsh competition in the short term for many online traders.

  4. Rod thanks for an interesting post. I agree with the handling payments online being an issue for a lot of people looking to start selling online. Especially with trying to get a merchant account as this can be time consuming and a challenge for anyone starting out.
    An increasing number of people are looking at selling digital downloads e.g. music, software, templates or ebooks as it overcomes the issues with delivery, stocking, and buyers wanting to inspect products. With taking credit card payments there are a few popular tools like Gumroad or www.selz.com that make it as easy as a cut and paste a snippet of code to sell securely online from a blog or website for non technical entrepreneurs.

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