How to build an online store

There are two primary tasks involved in building and opening a Web store: planning and implementation.

Having a successful Web store involves much more than just an “If you build it, they will come” mentality. You aren’t ready to get started until you’ve done a significant amount of planning.

Decide What to Sell
The products that you offer for sale are – of course – a critical factor in ensuring the success of your store. Here are some questions that you should consider when evaluating your product offerings:

1. Uniqueness – Are you offering unique items for sale, meaning that they are either one-of-a-kind or are not offered for sale anywhere else? Or are the products in your store easy to find in other Web stores?

2. Competition – If your products are also available from other Web stores, have you spent time browsing in those stores? Have you compared their prices with what you plan to charge? What is it about your store that will draw customers away from competitors’ stores?

3. Profit Margin – For products that you buy at wholesale, is your markup enough to provide you with some profit? For products that you make, will you earn a fair return on the time that you invested? Most merchants aren’t trying to run their Web stores as non-profit organizations!

4. Organize Your Products
The ease with which customers can find the products that they’re looking for is a critical factor in sales. If you are planning on selling more than one type of product, you need to have planned out the organization of your store prior to building it. You should categorize your products in ways that your customers are likely to look for them, and then plan to place them on pages that reflect those categories. Obviously, a store with thousands of products will require a more advanced organization.

Even great advertising can’t replace good organization in helping your store to succeed.

A Picture is Worth…
Your store will be more useful and appealing to customers if you include pictures of each product. You should also consider having an appealing logo on the first page of your store, and perhaps a smaller version of the logo on all other pages. Pictures must be in jpg or gif format. If you have the ability to scan and edit images yourself, you can simply create the images and store them for later. Otherwise, hire a graphic designer to take photographs, or use photographs that you supply, and use them to produce images in jpg format. When you receive the images from the graphic artist, store them on your computer. You’ll be able to upload them to your Web store when you’re building your store.

Gather Product Information
Knowing what you’re going to sell and having pictures of those items is a large part of the preparation for building your store, but you should also gather other information about your products. Having product information on hand will make building your store much faster and less frustrating. Specifically, you should have:

– Product names
– Product descriptions
– Product pictures
– Product prices
– Product SKUs or other tracking numbers if you use that information for inventory and shipping
– Product shipping weight, if you intend to charge for shipping by weight
– Planning Payment, Tax, and Shipping Policies

Once you’ve planned your products, you need to plan for transaction processing and fulfillment. Specifically:

1. What types of payment methods will you accept in your store? If you’re planning on accepting credit cards, how will you process those payments? You can perform offline credit card processing, such as with a POS machine, or you can perform online credit card processing with some e-commerce plans. Any method of credit card processing requires that you have a merchant account and an account with a transaction processing company. Your Verio sales representative can help you sign up for those accounts.

2. How much tax do you need to collect, and from whom? If you are not already an experienced merchant, you need to consult a tax expert who is familiar with tax laws in your jurisdiction. Sales tax on Internet sales is still debated and misunderstood, but generally you need to collect tax from customers in states where your store has nexus – which is defined as a physical presence – even if it is just your office or warehouse. You may also need to collect at a higher rate from customers in your home city or county. You generally do not need to collect sales tax from customers in states where your store does not have nexus. These are just general guidelines and may not apply to your situation-consult a tax professional to make sure that your store complies with the laws of your location.

3. What shipping methods will you offer and how much will you charge? 3000 and 4000 level plans offer real-time UPS shipping charges, and all plans offer many other methods of calculating shipping charges, such as shipping by weight, shipping by currency (price), and charging a base rate plus an additional amount for each product. You should register or contract with a shipping service and find out what you need to know in order to charge the correct amount for each product and shipment.

Once you’ve completed your planning, you’re ready to get started with the implementation. Study our hosting plans and find the plan that best meets the needs of your store. Remember that you can start smaller and then upgrade your plan when your business grows, but the additional features in the higher level pans can help your store to grow more quickly. After you’ve picked a plan, call a CMG sales representative and sign up for that plan. Your account can be active in just a few hours, and your sales representative can help you apply for merchant accounts and credit card processing, too. You can start building your store while you wait for your application to be approved.

Once your account is set up, you’ll receive an e-mail message that has a link to the back office of your store. Click on that link and log in with your username and password, and then the store building wizard will walk you through the steps of setting up your store.

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