What's the cheapest realistic way to start selling online?

In the early days of e-commerce, the only way to sell your products or services directly through your website was to spend tens of thousands of pounds employing a programmer to develop it from scratch. Thankfully, those days are over and there is a plethora of off-the-shelf e-commerce software packages. You can now get a website for free and start selling online for next to nothing.

But do these free/almost free offers really work?

OK, so you're prepared to spend a bit of money to get a half decent site set up. What's the cheapest realistic way to start selling online?

Route to market

The first thing to be aware of is that, despite what everybody seems to be saying, you don't just need to "get online". Just creating an e-commerce website isn't going to generate any sales. You should be spending the vast majority of your budget promoting your site.

You could just start selling your products on eBay or Amazon Marketplace. These are great because they are popular sites with a steady customer base to take advantage of. It's very simple to start doing this with no technical knowledge too.

However, the customer base is fixed. There isn't really anything you can do to promote your products to increase your sales. You're stuck with whatever customers are sent your way.

Online shop websites

So you want your own independent e-commerce website. What's the cheapest realistic way to do that?

Again, you could just use an online system like Shopify, BigCommerce or BT ePages. They're very simple to set up and use, but you won't receive any help with promoting your website, other than emails and telephone calls to random call centre operatives. So, probably a good place to get started and get some ideas, but not really a good way to start seriously selling online as a business.

Choosing a web developer

So, if your going to employ a web developer, how do you choose one?

Firstly, and most importantly, choose an e-commerce specialist. This doesn't mean choose one that has created e-commerce websites before and has them shown in their portfolio. Most web designers can create an e-commerce website, but very few have the specialist knowledge and experience to promote them.

As a good indicator, if their website doesn't mention affiliate marketing, shopping comparison sites or even voucher codes, then it's probably best to avoid them. If you ask a web developer about promoting your website and they run out of ideas after SEO and Google AdWords, then steer clear.

Design

When creating a new website, one of the most expensive parts is the actual design.

Forget the design.

If budget is restricted, just ask for an off-the-shelf template and drop your logo into it.

Many web designers will tell you that the design is critical and you should make sure it's perfect and spend as much money as you can on it.

This is complete rubbish.

They say this because they are just designers. They don't know how to promote a website, especially not an e-commerce website, so they can only earn their money through design work.

The design is important for branding, creating impressions, company reputations and lots of other things that companies with big budgets can afford to be interested in.

If your budget is tight, the first thing that should go is the design.

Don't get me wrong, make sure that you choose an attractive, modern template which is easy to use. But, it doesn't need to be unique to you.

(At this point I should point out that when some people say "website template" they mean wording and content too. I do not mean that here. The wording and content should always be unique to you. The template should just be the design template.)

Which software?

There are many different e-commerce software packages available with different pros and cons. I won't go into these here (there are other articles about them) except to say to avoid a web designer who uses his own software rather than a publicly available system. You are effectively being locked into their system which will work out much more expensive when it comes to promoting your website. Some forms of promotion require specialist software to be integrated with your website. Off-the-shelf packages frequently have these as plugins, but your web developer may need to charge you a lot of money to develop these especially for their system.

If the e-commerce software package is "open source", this will usually make it cheaper too.

So, once you have your template based site up and running, whatever money you have left MUST now go on advertising and promoting your site.

So, in summary; use a custom web developer, make sure they are e-commerce specialists, use a publicly available "open source" e-commerce software package, and use an off-the-shelf design template. Then whatever money you have left must go on promotion.

In case you hadn't realised, OpenGlobal E-commerce ticks all of these boxes. We make sure that your website is created for your priorities. If you'd like the cheapest possible e-commerce website, we can't help you. If you want the cheapest possible successful e-commerce website, our experience will be invaluable to you. Call us today on 0845 269 9624.

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