A SME s guide to launching online: Everything small businesses need to know about ecommerce but aren t sure who to ask

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1 A SME s guide to launching online: Everything small businesses need to know about ecommerce but aren t sure who to ask

2 Welcome to a world where size doesn t matter Launching online can be a daunting prospect for small businesses, but it also offers a wealth of potential for growth. Ecommerce levels the playing field between major retailers and SMEs, giving smaller companies equal opportunity to profit from the UK s rising number of online shoppers. To set you up for success in your ecommerce venture, Retail Merchant Services has created this guide, focusing on the specific needs and challenges of small businesses wanting to launch online. Your step-by-step journey begins here UK consumers spent 23 billion online in the first 3 months of 2014 alone 1

3 Step 1: Before you start Trading online is not simply a case of setting up a website, adding a few products and going live; the parameters for businesses change between bricks & mortar and online. A solid business plan is essential for ecommerce success, as it enables you to refine your strategy for launching to a new, digital audience. Based on our experience working with SMEs, we ve put together an essential pre-ecommerce checklist to guide your online strategy. Your pre-ecommerce check list: Competitor analysis Target audience Products Pricing Security Fulfilment Operational resources and workload impact Objectives Who are your main online competitors? What is their website like appearance, user experience, functionalities? What marketing techniques are they using to promote particular products or services? Are the people likely to buy from you online different to your in-store customers? Ask yourself key questions about your online audience: Who will be using your product/service? Where will they be using it? Why do they need it? When will they purchase it? How many items do you plan to sell online? Will you launch these all at once, or roll them out in stages? Are your store prices going to be competitive with the market online? (refer to your competitor analysis here) What promotions are being offered by competitors and how can you compete with these? How are you going to protect sensitive customer information when accepting payments and storing account details? How will you deliver items and structure charges to ensure your online service is profitable? Do you have the power to process and fulfil online orders within your current workforce? How will you factor in managing online orders and updating the website whilst running your store? Short-term goal what do you want to achieve from your online business in the next 6-12 months? Long-term goal where do you see your online business in 5 years time? 2

4 Step 2: Building your website Once you ve established a clear ecommerce strategy, the next step is to create a platform to get you there. The fantastic thing about trading online is that there are an almost unlimited number of features and functions that you can add to a website, but be warned: try to do too much, too soon and you could find yourself struggling to maintain customer service levels. Our advice is to start simple and get it right. Decide what you want your website to do right now, but if there s anything you might like to introduce in future, it s worth noting that down, as your website might need to be built in a way that permits added functionality at a later date. When it comes to building your website, there are two options to choose from: Option 1 Build the website yourself using content management software such as Joomla or Wordpress Pros: low cost, total brand control, many software programmes have existing templates/plug-ins to instantaneously create designs and functions Cons: time consuming, strain on resources, risk of looking amateurish, other practical considerations such as web hosting Option 2 Get your website built by a professional agency Pros: professional finish, draw on external expertise, quick to launch, ongoing support Cons: expensive, some elements may only be editable by the agency, creative vision lost in translation 3

5 Step 3: Taking payments Accepting payments is the core of an ecommerce website, so it s vital that the service is both secure and delivers a seamless customer experience. There are several solutions available to SMEs, which we ve outlined below. All these payment options are available within our erms online payments service contact us to find out more. Hosted payment pages One of the simplest ways to start taking secure online payments is a hosted payment page. This means a payment service provider takes care of the set-up and security, and links the page to your internet merchant account. Some hosted payment page packages offer SMEs the option to customise the page with your own branding so the customer journey is consistent throughout your site. Direct payments integration For a more sophisticated set-up you can select a solution that integrates payments pages Option into 1 your main website, using a connecting technology known as an application programming interface (API). This option is ideal for small businesses who want to ensure that the customer never leaves their site during their journey, and who wants to maintain full control over the design and management of the payments process. Online payments gateway Whichever solution you choose, it s essential that your business selects a payment service provider that offers a secure online payments gateway. This authorises and processes card transactions quickly and easily, while protecting sensitive customer information. E-invoicing For retailers that carry out a significant volume of invoicing, the process can be sped up by switching over to billing, and including a secure click to pay link within those s. Virtual terminal It s important to remember that not all customers visiting your website will want to make an online transaction some will prefer to place orders over the phone. To facilitate this, you can introduce virtual terminal technology, which enables your business to securely accept telephone payments using a secure web page. And one other thing. When you ve chosen the best solution for your individual business needs, make sure you look at the support package being offered by your preferred payment service provider. Downtime is incredibly costly, so it s important to select someone you trust to keep you up and running with full support capabilities. 4

6 Step 4: promoting your online platform The internet isn t called the World Wide Web for nothing; it s easy to get lost in the vast world of ecommerce. After all, you re no longer competing solely with your neighbours - you re taking on the world! To help you spread the word about your new transactional website, we ve put together 4 SME marketing tactics for promoting your online presence: 1. Promote it in-store: use your existing customers, as they are your biggest advocates. For example, put up posters advertising your website address, or run a competition asking people to submit their addresses, which you can use to start a customer database. 2. marketing: you can use your customer database to highlight promotions and core products available through your website. There are plenty of free marketing platforms such as MailChimp, and you can encourage further people to join your mailing list by adding a sign up button to your website. 3. Social media: Twitter and Facebook in particular are cheap and quick ways to build brand awareness online. Use your social networks to let people know you re now trading online, and update them with product news and special offers. Also consider adding a blog to your website but ensure it s regularly updated with your key business words to increase your search engine ranking. 4. Online advertising: another cost-effective marketing technique is to trial Google pay per click advertising, as you can set your own budget and vary it from day-to-day. You can also form tie-ups with other online businesses and include links to each other s websites this is a good technique for improving your search engine ranking. 5

7 Start your online retail journey with RMS Need help launching online payments? Retail Merchant Services is the largest independent payments provider in the UK. We specialise in delivering secure and trusted services to small and medium sized businesses. Our flexible, cost effective, electronic payment options include; chip and pin terminals, contactless terminals, telephone payments, online payments and mobile terminals enabling you can accept payments anywhere, anytime. With a UK based call centre, we provide unparalleled customer service. All of our customers receive a range of membership benefits, which includes legal assistance and VAT investigation insurance. Retail Merchant Services manages over 36,000 customers and growing, including; Toni & Guy, Sinclair, Swansea Football Club, Optimax and thousands of small businesses all over the country. For more information visit: retailmerchantservices.co.uk or call

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