Ecommerce is a revenue-generating trend that's here to stay, but many small businesses aren't taking advantage of this online sales channel to grow their business and reach a new customer base. Ecommerce is a good fit for many types of businesses, and you don't have to have a product-based business to make the move to ecommerce.
Adding ecommerce to your website is not a big expense. For less than $40 per month you can significantly expand your reach. Your return on investment (ROI) depends on the nature of your business and what you offer, but you'll need to increase your number of customers only by a couple each month to cover the costs of doing business online -- everything beyond that is profit.
Today, any small business can – and should – leverage ecommerce. Craig Zarmer, Group Product Manager for Intuit Websites, said that among Intuit customers using SimpleStor, the company's small business ecommerce solution, he sees small businesses make the move to ecommerce in a number of ways.
Retail is a Natural Fit for Ecommerce Sites and Facebook
Some small business owners are exclusively online from the get-go, while those with a small retail store tend to move online to grow the business. The number of products you have isn't important – you can customize an ecommerce website to sell one product or a thousand.
"If you’re a product-based business and it makes sense for you to ship products nationally or world-wide, it's easy to expand your market online with ecommerce," said Zarmer. "It takes surprisingly very little effort to create a professional ecommerce site today."
SimpleStor, Intuit's ecommerce software, makes adding ecommerce capability to your business easy and affordable.
Another channel that's popular with small businesses is social media -- specifically the Facebook service. With Intuit SimpleStore for Facebook, any SimpleStore user can establish a store as part of their Facebook Business Page, and it will automatically sync with your website.
Erica Hunter, owner of Arin Madison, started her business using a combination of Facebook and PayPal to handle orders for custom children's accessories. Hunter says that local people posted orders on her Facebook and they would come to her home to pick up the order.
When her line of children's accessories started catching on she moved to SimpleStor to better manage invoicing, shipping, payments and inventory -- and used the Facebook extension to improve the Facebook business. "Once I opened up with the SimpleStor, it immediately widened my customer base," she said.
From her experience, Hunter said that Facebook is great for marketing, but it's only really effective if you have a way for people to purchase the merchandise they're looking at. With a SimpleStor, customers can make the purchase while they're on Facebook and Liking the products.
What if I Don't Sell Products?
Online storefronts are the most common component of ecommerce, but if your business isn't selling products, don't rule out an investment in ecommerce.
A service-based business can leverage ecommerce by providing online options for customers to make donations, book appointments, request a quote or buy gift cards on your website. A non-product-based business just needs to be a little more creative and add the right components to make ecommerce work.
Consider a hair salon: you probably have clients who work all day and might not have time (or remember) to call and book an appointment during daytime business hours. It's nice to give your customers the option to go online at 10 PM and book with their stylist.
"Maybe you can't cut hair long distance, but online you can get the client an appoint, schedule it on a recurring basis and have the whole thing pre-billed," said Zarmer, describing an ecommerce component service-based businesses could leverage.
There are many examples of how you can add an ecommerce component to your business website. For example, mom-and-pop shops could offer gift certificates, a construction company could provide a form for people to request a quote. The ecommerce component of your business website will be whatever works best for you and your customers.
Getting Started with Intuit Small Business Websites
Intuit Websites offers everything that you need to get your business online and add ecommerce -- or start a new ecommerce business from scratch. It includes the Web-based SimpleStore ecommerce software, the SimpleStore for Facebook extension, domain names, domain email, Web hosting, a site builder tool, and online payments via Intuit merchant accounts. Other services for marketing and design are also available.
Intuit offers a number of different ways to easily add ecommerce to your website. For example, you can use a donation form or a pay-my-invoice form that you customize and drop in to your SimpleStor site. There's a light-weight shopping cart for up to 100 products -- what most small businesses need -- but a higher-end offering for larger product catalogs is also available.
Something you'll find extremely useful is that Intuit gives small businesses the capability to accept payments via Intuit to streamline the payment process for their customers. Instead of defaulting to PayPal when setting up shop online, with Intuit Websites you'll get a professional merchant account service.
"We provide a real merchant account service and have a fabulous payment solution group that understands small businesses," said Zarmer. "Disputes will arise, but the team works the problem. They don't just hold your money and say forget it."
Is Ecommerce The Right Move for Your Small Business?
The industry has evolved to the point where it's easy enough – and inexpensive enough – that it's hard to imagine a small business for which ecommerce isn't worth trying.
The total price for Intuit's small business website solution, including the domain, email, ecommerce capabilities (with the Facebook component), the monthly fee for the merchant account and U.S.-based phone support from a team of business consultants is $35.00 per month. The only thing you pay beyond that are the transaction fees you pay as part of each merchant account transaction.
If you're on the ledge trying to decide if you should or shouldn't make the move to ecommerce, Zarmer says that a small business has nothing to lose and everything to gain. The harsher way of putting it: your competitors aren't on the ledge, they're doing it.
"You need to be online and decide for your business which particular channel you want to put the most effort in to, but if you want to grow your business, this is the way to do it," he said.
Based in Nova Scotia, Canada, Vangie Beal has spent the last decade contributing featured articles and reviews to more than 20 technology-focused publications, including Webopedia and Ecommerce-Guide. You can tweet with her online @AuroraGG.
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