Do you feel that you're an entrepreneur and want to launch an online sales site, but don’t know where to start? Follow our 10 steps to start off under the best possible conditions…
1. FIND THE RIGHT PRODUCT/SERVICE TO SELL
The first question you have to ask yourself about your e-commerce site is: what products/services should I sell in my online store? This first step is probably the most crucial one. Here are some approaches and tips to find the ideal product:
A NEW PRODUCT/SERVICE WHICH MEETS A NEED
Before starting to sell a new product or service, you must ensure that it meets a customer need. To do so, you can conduct a market study. The study will enable you to refine your knowledge of the customer need you want to meet and the market in which to position yourself.
A PROVEN PRODUCT IN THE MARKETPLACE
The goal obviously isn’t to sell what everyone else is already selling, but to find a product that is beginning to be known and is selling fairly well. Once the product identified, try to improve it by adding some added value which will enable you to differentiate yourself from the competition and increase your sales.
Many online stores start with trendy and fashionable products. There are many tools to help you identify current trendy topics and interests. However, be wary of fads that will only have a very short lifespan.
You can use the following techniques to identify trendy products with high potential:
- Google Trends: a free tool which enables you to monitor the popularity of a keyword over time.
- The magazines and blogs published by product critics.
- Pinterest and Instagram: image sharing social networks are very interesting because they make it very easy to identify products which are generating significant consumer interest.
- Marketplaces: these are websites which put buyers and sellers in contact with each other.
POSITION YOURSELF IN A NICHE MARKET
A niche market is a small market segment where competition isn’t highly developed yet. You can use the trend method discussed above to identify niche markets. However, be careful not to select products that will only be popular for a short period of time.
YOU CAN ALSO DEVELOP YOUR PERSONAL PASSION
You may make magnificent products yourself or are passionate about a field in particular. If you like what you’re selling you’ll be able to communicate your passion and convince customers. But, be sure to listen to them and don’t fall into the trap of selling products that only meet your tastes.
To conclude this first point, we would add that it’s important to find a product that meets the following characteristics in order to facilitate your logistics and provide greater profitability,
- Price: the products selected shouldn't be priced too high. Between €20 and €75. Anything under €20 could entail profitability problems and anything too expensive will require many start-up expenses.
- Delivery: look for products which are simple, durable and not too large and, if possible, avoid fragile products. This will simplify deliveries to your customers.
- Suppliers: select products that are easy to get from suppliers and that are produced on a regular basis.
- Recurring purchases: be sure to select non-seasonal products so that you can sell all year long
2. FINDING YOUR SUPPLIERS
Don’t worry, finding suppliers isn’t the most difficult task. It will primarily require time and patience. Today, with the Internet, you can access all the contacts you need in a few clicks and easily obtain a list of suppliers to contact.
3. YOUR BRAND AND YOUR DOMAIN NAME
Once you’ve chosen the product(s) you want to sell, you’ll have to find the right name for your company. Once you have validated your name, and before registering and protecting it, be sure to check that the name and the domain name are available.
4. CREATE YOUR INTERNET SITE
There are two options for the technical development of your online store: create the website yourself or have it done by professionals. Budgets are often very tight when you start off and hiring professionals can be very expensive. Fortunately, there are a number of platforms that will enable you to build an online store easily and at a low cost.
The following platforms provide ready-made online store templates which include inventory management and payment systems:
What will happen in practice from a logistics standpoint once your website is online and your first orders arrive? It’s essential to understand that a major aspect of managing an e-commerce site is ensuring that its logistics are well organised (inventory management, deliveries and returns). To ensure that the organisation is optimal, you must visualise the route the product will travel from its arrival in your inventory through to the end customer. Where will it be warehoused? How will it be delivered? How will returns be managed? ...List all of these aspects and clearly define the procedures to be implemented.
6. A FEW LEGAL AND TAX OBLIGATIONS
In addition to legalising your business by setting yourself up as self-employed, online stores must comply with some specific legal obligations. All e-commerces must include required pages such as the legal notices (company identification data) and the general terms and conditions of sale. In addition, you must ensure that all of your clients accept the general terms and conditions before finalising their order from your store. And don’t forget about the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which requires that you inform your customers how their data will be collected and used.
And, like all businesses, you will have to obtain a VAT number. Note that for online businesses that ship internationally, when revenue thresholds are exceeded in a country other than the country of origin of the company, the seller will have to apply the VAT rate of the customer’s country. In this case, you will have to request a VAT number, in particular, in EU countries.
7. NEGOTIATING YOUR CONTRACT WITH BPOST
A significant part of your logistics will be package delivery. You will have to negotiate a contract with a delivery service provider to ensure this service. In Belgian, the best-known services are Bpost, TNT, TLS, Mondial Relay and GLS.
8. GAINING VISIBILITY FOR YOUR ONLINE STORE
9. PROVIDE GREAT CUSTOMER SERVICE
Customer service is one of the main challenges of e-commerce. When customers are in front of their screen, there isn’t enough personal contact and they become more demanding. Create a close and trusting relationship by supporting them throughout their purchase experience and afterwards.
10. A TIP TO HELP YOU GET STARTED
The Brussels region provides financial aid for the self-employed and SMEs. Here is a list of subsidies that may be relevant to opening your online store:
- Allowance for equipment purchases (company creation or development)
- Allowance for the purchase of a first or additional utility vehicle
- Allowance for the purchase of a replacement utility vehicle to replace an old one
- Allowance to develop an Internet website or an e-commerce platform
- Consultancy allowance
- Training allowance
- Allowance to create information media (excluding an Internet site)
- Allowance for a prospecting trip to another country
- Allowance to attend a trade show in another country
- Allowance for advice on filing a trademark, registration and certification in other countries