Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

10 Tips for Selling Products Online


A user-friendly and secure website is key to drawing in and keeping loyal customers.
A user-friendly and secure website is key to drawing in and keeping loyal customers.
OlegSirenko/iStock/Thinkstock

Congratulations! You've finally realized your dream and launched that online store. Whether you're selling trinkets, tchotchkes, tea towels or tools, it's been a long road getting to this point. Obtaining funding, buying inventory, designing the site, buying ads, spreading the word — all that's behind you now. The hard work is done, and today you're just going to sit back, relax and watch the orders roll in.

Well, not so fast. You might have done a bang-up job on that site, but are you sure you're providing an absolutely seamless experience? Are the "right people" finding you? Even if you've succeeded in your efforts to drive traffic, your viewers might not be making purchases. It could be that they're not interested, or maybe oversights or glitches are making the site hard to navigate. It could be because your URL is hard to remember, or you're not responding to customer complaints soon enough, or you're not connecting with your audience on social media. Being an online store owner is a tough job, so take a few minutes while you're in that lounge chair to read our tips on how to boost your sales.

10: Find Your People

Setting up a brand-spanking-new online store and stocking it with the most amazing products doesn't mean automatic customers. People aren't going to flock to your store just because it exists — you have to seek them out and reel them in. We assume you know who "your people" are and where they like to hang out online. You wouldn't have set up shop before doing your research and identifying your target market, right? All the marketing and advertising in the world won't help a bit if you're not targeting the right crowd.

So before you launch your store, you need to figure out a way to reach your people and make them interested. The social-media route is a no-brainer — it's free and extremely effective — but you can also try more traditional methods like paid ads (if the ads are in places that your target audience will actually see). Search-engine optimization is a must, too. Once you've found your people and they've found you, the hard work is just starting. Now the trick is making them loyal customers.

9: Get Your Site Right

Many of us don't have much patience for anything online that's even the tiniest bit sluggish or difficult. If we encounter a clunky user interface, broken links, slow downloads or a dysfunctional shopping cart, we'll cut and run, no questions asked. If you have an online store, you can't afford to lose customers this way. Your site should have a clean design, be glitch-free and have an intuitive flow. You also can't afford to lose smartphone customers, so optimizing for mobile screens is essential.

But no matter how slick and user-friendly your store is, if people have a hard time remembering its name, you'll have a hard time generating traffic. One of your first considerations when starting an online store — after you've come up with a name — is to nail down your URL. If the actual name of the company is available, congratulations! No thinking involved. But if it's already taken, you might have a tough decision to make. Find the most succinct and memorable URL possible. Sometimes this is easier said than done, but it could make or break your business.

8: Find an E-commerce System

This is probably the most important part of making your site appealing to customers. All of your pretty design work will go to waste if you don't have a good e-commerce system in place. Faced with a checkout process that's difficult to navigate or seems insecure, customers will abandon their carts and head to greener pastures.

So how do you go about figuring out which e-commerce system is right for your store? It has to fit your needs (and budget) and also be comfortable for your customers. If you'd rather not deal with setting up the infrastructure to accept credit cards (and you're sure your customers will be OK with this), you can use a third party like PayPal to process your payments. You can do this in conjunction with a shopping-cart system of your choice or through a site in an online marketplace. The next level up would be to do everything on your own. It is an investment to spring for shopping-cart software and a merchant account that allows you to process credit cards, but it gives you much more control over the whole system. Just make sure it's something you can handle and that it's a good fit for you and your customers.

If a full e-commerce system is too complicated or expensive for your needs right now, your best bet could be on the next page.

7: Join an Online Marketplace

If you're just starting out and don't have much technical know-how or budget, consider setting up shop in an online marketplace. Attaching yourself to a known brand like Etsy, eBay or Amazon can relieve some stress — you'll have an instant audience and it won't feel so much like starting from scratch. Site design, e-commerce software, shopping cart, inventory management — all (or most) of the hard stuff is done for you, and there's built-in customer support. This option isn't free, of course, but it'll probably add up to less than what you'll shell out to set things up on your own.

One downside to having a space in an online marketplace is that you won't have as much control over design and thus your brand. Customer communication might be restricted, and you'll have to learn the ins and outs of the marketplace's software. Most marketplaces take a percentage of each sale, so that's another consideration. And you might not enjoy trying to stand out in a crowd of your direct competition.

6: Secure Your Site

Let's assume that you've done everything right with your online store. You have a beautiful, easy-to-navigate site and well-priced products, and the customers are streaming in. But they're not buying your products — they're putting items into their carts, then bailing when they reach the payment information page. You can't figure out what the problem could be. Turns out you've neglected one absolutely essential step: getting an SSL certificate.

An SSL (secure socket layer) certificate is the key to protecting your customers' payment information —and preventing your site from cyberattackers. It encrypts the sections of your site that collect sensitive information, rendering it useless to unauthorized parties. This gives your site instant credibility and allows your customers to feel safe giving you their information. Educated consumers know how to tell when a page is secure: There will be a padlock symbol to the left of the URL, and the URL will start with "https" instead of "http." In the absence of those hallmarks, most people will assume the worst and won't waste any time clicking away.

The Future of Big Data

More to Explore