One of the big advantages of the Internet for a small business is that it provides a direct sales channel. One that isn’t limited by geographic constraints. No matter where in the world you are, your sales are no longer limited by your physical location. Your market is no longer restricted to those who can physically walk into your shop. If you have the type of products that lend themselves to digital distribution, you can sell them to customers anywhere in the world and receive immediate payment.
While the short answer to this is “any kind of products”, there are obviously some physical limitations. Any physical product you sell will have to be delivered to your buyers, which adds a logistical element. And, of course, the size and bulkiness of your products will further complicate this. However, theoretically, as long as it can be delivered, it can be sold online.
Another consideration is the degree of physical interaction your customers will want to have with your products before they will buy them. Will they want to try them on for size, for example? However, while fit is most definitely a consideration, many people are happily buying clothes and shoes from websites these days, so the old barriers no longer apply.
Of course the most cost-effective and easiest products to sell online are digital ones, like software, audio books or digital music.
If your small business sells products that lend themselves to online purchasing, it’s pretty easy to set up a payment mechanism on your website that will allow your customers to buy directly.
Here’s what you’ll need…
The first thing you’ll need is a virtual shopping basket or cart. This is simply a piece of software that you can install on your website that will allow your online shoppers to choose the products they wish to buy, and add them to a personalised area of your website that stores these items for them. When they’re ready to make their actual purchases, they select the items from their stored baskets and click through to a check-out procedure. Speak to your web hosting company to find out what shopping basket functionality they can offer you.
A payment gateway is another piece of software that you install on your website, which allows your customer’s shopping basket to be connected to a way of processing payments.
There are standard payment gateways that the various online providers offer, and they will give you the software you need for this. This will involve signing up as a merchant with one or more of the payment method providers, of which there are many. Some of the more popular ones are Visa, Mastercard, PayPal, Maestro, Solo, Switch, Neteller and WebMoney. You can offer as many of these as you like, although most websites prefer to restrict payment methods to the major credit cards and PayPal.
The last piece of the puzzle that you require is a delivery method. There are plenty of courier companies in South Africa that can handle your deliveries, so shop around to discover where you can get the best deal. Similarly, there are plenty of international couriers like UPS or FedEx.
And remember that online customers often expect to pay a shipping charge, so you don’t have to bear the delivery costs yourself. Of course you could also offer free delivery and pay for it yourself if you believe that this will lead to more sales and better customer retention.