Mark Lovell, chairman of A4e, on why he believes e-commerce is vital for firms.
Why is it important to consider e-commerce in today’s market? You can trade online at any time of the day or night, meaning flexible working hours and freedom to diversify your business. All you need is a computer and internet connection – or a smart phone if you are out and about.
The internet has become an integral part of everyday life for most businesses. You can access information about almost anything at the touch of a button.
More and more people are choosing to shop online than ever before. For example, the BBC recently reported that online sales for clothing have increased by one third over the past four years, with the UK spending over 322 million hours shopping online just last month. This is an increase of online sales by three per cent in the last 12 months alone.
So with that in mind, it is important to look into e-commerce when setting up any business – from clothing to catering, beauty to construction.
The internet allows you to sell goods or services, through websites, online market places such as Ebay and social networking sites like Facebook, to consumers all over the world.
Selling online means no face to face contact with your customers but it is equally as important that customers receive an efficient and friendly service to keep them coming back. It is also great if they recommend your goods or services to others. Ebay is a good example of this as traders rely heavily on the rating they receive from customers. Bad reviews mean less sales; less sales means smaller income.
With this in mind, it is important to research the appropriate form of selling online for your business, product and service. You can set up a website through a number of companies offering free subscription for several months. These will generally offer you a free domain name. A good one to look at is the new government initiative with Google, ‘Get Britain Online’.
Ebay also offer a step by step guide to setting up a business trade account which is easy to follow, and PayPal are now offering a PayPal business account which allows you accept card payments safely and securely online. Trading through social networking sites, e.g. business accounts on Facebook and LinkedIn, is another thing to consider. This will help you to network and build contacts whilst trading.
A few additional things to think about.
Post and packaging costs; can you afford to offer ‘free delivery’ or can you cover the cost of postage in your prices? You must also comply with Consumer Protection Regulations – all the goods and services you provide must meet the description as they are advertised, and consumers reserve the right to return faulty or unsatisfactory products.
You can access a full run down of these regulatory acts from The Office of Fair Trading: www.oft.gov.uk or check out the Business Link website.
Finally, look out for any free or low-cost training courses, focused on e-commerce and selling online, that are running in your local area.