To get your online business started, you need to decide what you're going to sell. Some sellers use drop shipping, which allows them to handle sales and leave order fulfillment to a third party. Drop shippers stock catalog items in bulk and ship them to customers on demand, collecting a commission along the way. Others prefer to source their own products, either by collecting unique items from flea markets, making their own handcrafts or buying from wholesalers.
Whatever you decide to sell, it's better to choose a narrow niche, especially when starting out. Online shoppers can find DVDs or TVs any number of places, and a small seller probably won't be able to compete in terms of pricing. But if you sell something not many people offer, you'll have less price competition and more of a chance to stand out.
Good marketing can prevent you from fading into the background among thousands of other Google hits. Search engine optimization (SEO), the process of inserting key words into Web pages and item descriptions, is crucial for making sure your store pops up on Web searches. You can do it yourself by reading books on the topic, or hire an expert to help with your copy on a contract basis. You can also market yourself through pay-per-click advertising, which allows you to buy ads more affordably by using one of many ad sellers who only charge you when potential customers click on your links.
Reputation and appearances are key with Internet selling. To convince first-time customers that you're an actual merchant and not a site looking to scam their credit card information, make sure you have good Web design. It should look polished and legitimate, and paying a professional Web designer is probably worth it. You should also have SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) protection, a form of encryption that allows buyers to send personal and credit card information securely through the forms on your Web site.
Make sure your product pages are detailed and accurate, and that pictures look professional. Display shipping and return policies prominently on product pages, and include a separate page that tells customers about you and your business. These details can take a lot of work, and may end up costing money, but they will help shoppers feel like they're shopping at a legitimate Web site, encourage repeat business and increase sales in the long run.
Read on for more information on making money on the Web.