5 Tips for Launching an Online Store

By Terry Johnson on July 22nd, 2014 / Comments

For many entrepreneurs working on their first startup an “on-the-fly” approach is taken to obstacles as they arise. No matter how much planning is done ahead of time, there are still going to be unforeseen questions and challenges that startups will encounter as their company starts to take off.

Fortunately, with countless resources and articles available online, most issues are resolved and questions are answered after a few searches. While many of these resources can be valuable for many startups across a number of industries, most information is targeted to those creating apps, websites, software, or other digital-based products. For those looking to start a consumer goods/ manufacturing company, it is just the beginning.

So you finally decided to pursue your startup idea: The first steps include legally forming your company, securing investment funding, compiling market research, assembling your team, purchasing your website domain, establishing social media pages, and so on. Standard stuff for just about every startup, whether customers will be purchasing your digital product in the app store or driving to a brick and mortar store to buy your physical product. But if you’re going to sell products online there are a few special steps you should be aware of. Here are 5 tips for starting your own online store.

  1. E-Commerce – For any retailer, an online storefront is a must.   If this is your first venture in to the world of online shopping, I would suggest one of the many all-in-one E-commerce platforms. One of the leaders in online store builders is Shopify – within minutes you can build a professional looking online store, complete with checkout options, inventory management, payment gateways, shipping integration, and of course, your logo. While Shopify packs in everything you need to sell online, and even offline with their mobile card reader, the price of their plans can certainly persuade you into developing your own solution, such as a wordpress site with separate plugins for your payment gateway, shopping cart, inventory management, and shipping solutions.
  2. Payment Gateway – Most E-commerce engines integrate with one of more payment gateways. A payment gateway is the software that processes credit cards and deposits your money into your bank. If you go with Shopify or one of the many other all in one e-commerce engines, they usually offer an integrated payment gateway by default. However, if you are developing your own website or using wordpress, you’ll have to find a trusted payment gateway that is compatible with your website.
  3. Packaging – Depending on your initial production quantity, you may or may not want to go for a custom packaging solution. Most domestic packaging suppliers are prepared to manufacture higher volumes and require thousands of dollars in up-front tooling costs. . But what if you’re starting with, say, 500 units? Your next option is to find a generic packaging solution that can easily be customized with the use of locally printed labels, paper inserts, or other product information to make a custom-branded product package. Some of the other things you will want to consider are where and how your product will be displayed in retail stores. For example, product that will be hanging on store shelves may require entirely different packaging than a product that will be kept inside a glass display case.
  4. Barcodes/UPC Codes – The Universal Product Code is a12-digit identifier used by stores in North America, Australia, and the UK. Contained in your product’s unique barcode is information about the product, its MSRP, or even the manufacturer.  This is required by most big-box and chain retailers, as well as a requirement to sell your products on Amazon. Nationwidebarcode.com is an inexpensive solution when you’re just starting off – usually around $10 for a barcode that can be instantly downloaded as a pdf. You can then print these barcodes on avery labels and stick them on your product packaging or tags, which will satisify most independent retailers as well as amazon. However, if you’re looking to get your product in best buy or walmart, they’ll usually require that you register with gs1.org, which is the official barcode registration organization. This is a bit more expensive – about $250 to register plus $50 per bar code. Your best bet is to communicate with your potential retailers to see what their requirements are ahead of time.
  5. Shipping –Dedicated shipping software can save time and headaches that can come with shipping your product to online customers. Desktop solutions like Endicia and stamps.com allow you to import your daily orders, print out shipping labels, and email your customers the tracking numbers all in one step. This saves time at the post office as well as typing 10-20 digit tracking numbers to each customer every time an order is placed. The software also creates certificate of origin papers, which is required for international shipments. While both Endicia and stamps.com memberships start at around $15.00 per month, you do receive discounted postage that will more than likely cover your membership fees. As for the physical boxes, tape, labels, and other materials, your best bet is to order in larger quantities online. While local office supplies stores are fine for shipping the occasional package here and there, the prices can add up. For example: a 3-pack of shipping tape is $14.99 at Staples, while a 6-pack of the same stuff is $10 with free shipping at Amazon.

These are just a couple of suggestions based on my own research and findings starting my own company. Do your research and find the solution that works best for your production volumes, customers, and ultimately your bottom line.

About the Author

Terry Johnson

Terry graduated in 2012 from the Michigan State with a bachelor’s in marketing. His company, Original Stixmakes phone cases out of game-used hockey sticks in Detroit. Email: terancejohnson@me.com