Online retail sales for U.S. retailers are forecasted to pass the $1 trillion mark in 2025, according to a recent study by FTI Consulting. If you’re considering launching an online store, your timing might be right to get in on these growing revenues. However, it’s important to make sure you’re covering all your bases to set up an online store that can be successful.

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Choose an Online Platform

Hosted e-commerce website platforms offer customizable templates and tools such as shopping carts and make it easy to get your store online. There are a number of platforms to choose from and most e-commerce software programs require you to design your own customized site to reflect your brand. For instance, a cosmetics company might focus on celebrating the beauty of each user, and that unique brand could be evident on its site by featuring beautiful photos of everyday women.

In addition to determining how to showcase your unique brand online, you should also think about security and website maintenance. When you use a managed store solution, you will not be held liable for security configurations; instead, you’ll pay the service provider a monthly fee to handle that. Make sure you choose a provider that maintains PCI compliance, adhering to a set of standards established in 2006 by the Payment Card Industry. These standards are designed to protect merchants, card users and banks. 

Before choosing a platform, it’s important to think about your goals for your store: If you plan to sell handmade items, an online platform may be able to simplify the process. But while third-party platforms may allow you to sell through their sites, offering you access to more buyers, it can be more difficult to establish your own brand.

Plan for Costs

Opening an online store typically isn’t as costly as opening a brick-and-mortar store, but there are costs involved and you should be prepared. For instance, you’ll need to maintain a product inventory to be able to fulfill orders quickly, so research the costs of building an inventory of the items you want to sell.

You’ll also need to spend some money marketing your business. While you can start with social media or other free tools to market your business, Entrepreneur.com says you’ll probably have more success by purchasing ads on Facebook, Google or other sites where your target customers will see them. You may also want to hire an outside writer to create ads and content to drive people to your website, or an ad agency to develop a more sophisticated marketing plan.

Your online business will also incur domain or hosting fees. Look into the prices of different domain providers. In many cases, you may be able to get discounts by purchasing several years of domain hosting at once.

Figure Out Shipping and Returns Details

Many online retailers offer free shipping and you’ll need to decide whether that’s an important option for your store. Consider polling potential customers to find out how important free shipping is for them in making buying decisions.

Some online retailers offer free shipping with purchases over a certain dollar amount. Remember, it is a benefit you’re providing your customers, so you get to make the rules. For instance, Ban.do offers free standard U.S. shipping with purchases of $50 or more, but the $50 total must be met before taxes are added and gift cards do not count toward the total.

In addition to making decisions about shipping, you’ll need to clarify your rules about returns. When a customer purchases an item online, they may want to know that they can return it in case it doesn’t work. However, you shouldn’t have to provide refunds whenever the customer decides to send it back; just decide on your policy and state it clearly on your site. Ban.do offers free returns on items purchased in the past 30 days that aren’t marked as final sale, for instance.

Develop a Marketing Plan

Finally, develop a plan for how you’ll market your business in the beginning and throughout the first year or several years. Most online stores maximize the use of social media, building up their followers, creating regular posts and making it easy for followers to purchase in response to those posts. For instance, a bracelet shop might feature a page on its site called “Shop our Insta,” where customers can easily find the products they admired on Instagram posts and can quickly purchase them.

In addition to regular, engaging social media posts, consider adding a blog to your site or finding other ways to publish content that would appeal to your target market. Publishing regular, relevant, shareable content is an excellent way to build a strong online presence and continually draw in new customers, according to Entrepreneur. For example, some companies sell items to help you get a good night’s sleep, such as luxury sheets, bath linens and pillows. And their blogs might offers helpful articles about how to improve sleep quality, your bedroom’s design and other related topics.

After going through each of these steps, you’ll be ready to launch your online store and start drawing in customers from across the web.

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