What is online retail?
Online retail is a type of eCommerce whereby a business sells goods or services directly to consumers from a website. The website may be their own, or it may be owned by a larger retailer or marketplace like Amazon.
Online retail is a similar concept to brick-and-mortar retail. Shoppers enter the store, search through an organized inventory of products and then pay for their goods at checkout. It’s just that online retail takes place over the Internet while brick-and-mortar is done in person.
Online retail vs. eCommerce
eCommerce refers to the act of buying and selling goods, services or information on the Internet. There are many eCommerce models. These are the most common models:
Business-to-consumer (B2C)—Online retailers that sell goods or services to consumers through their own websites or marketplaces.
Bank of America
Business-to-business (B2B)—Online retailers that sell goods or services to business customers through their own websites or through marketplaces.
Consumer-to-consumer (C2C)—Consumers sell their own goods or services to other consumers. Consumers typically facilitate the transaction using an intermediary website.
Consumer-to-business (C2B)—Consumers sell their own goods or services to business buyers. They may do this via their personal website or an online marketplace.
Online retail is a type of eCommerce. It typically falls under the categories of B2C or B2B.
Benefits of online retail
There are a number of benefits to starting an online retail business, regardless of whether the brand has a physical shop or not:
Since online retail stores operate 24/7, owners can generate money when physical retailers close up shop for the day.
Online retailers can sell their goods and services to consumers located around the world, creating more profits for their brands.
Online retail offers shoppers a convenient way of perusing a store’s inventory and buying goods.
Customers have access to much more information about a retailer’s goods, including customer reviews and ratings, which can boost their confidence in making a purchase.
Online stores can offer more value to customers through online account management, order tracking and management, rewards programs, and so on.
With typically low overhead costs, online retailers don’t have to pay for a physical storefront, staff it with employees, etc.
Simply opening an online shop isn’t a fool-proof path to success and profitability, though. Opening an online store requires about as much work as opening a brick-and-mortar shop.
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9 steps to starting an online retail business
If you’re curious about how to start an online store, look no further. Here are 9 steps to help you get your business online:
Step 1: Figure out what you’re going to sell
The most successful online retailers have carved out a unique niche for themselves. For instance, Apple doesn’t sell technology. It specializes in selling high-end consumer electronics like smartphones, computers, and tablets.
By narrowing your focus on a certain industry and a subsection of products or services, you’ll reduce your competitor pool. You’ll also increase the value of what you offer, as it’ll be different from what consumers can find elsewhere.
Step 2: Get to know your target audience
Once you know what you’re going to sell, spend some time getting to know your target audience. This is important for a number of reasons.
For one, you want to ensure that there’s a big enough demand for your product. If your target users have no need for it or they can’t afford it, then you may need to find a group of consumers who do, or you may need to change up your product strategy.
It’s also good to spend time inside your prospective customers’ heads. When you start to put together your branding, website, and marketing, you don’t want it to sound like a cheesy sales pitch.
Learn who your customers are, how they feel, what they need, what their objectives are, and so on. This will enable you to design an online shopping experience and marketing strategy that authentically connects with them.
Step 3: Come up with a business plan
Every successful business has a plan. Even if you plan to start small, a plan will help you get clear on what you’re doing now and what steps you’ll take to grow your business down the line.
Your business plan should include:
Description of your company
List of goods or services being sold
A SWOT analysis
Names of your management team
Financial objectives and projections
Sales and marketing plan
This plan isn’t set in stone. Update it as your business grows, pivots, and adapts to the changing retail landscape.
Step 4: Take care of legal requirements and logistics
What you do to legally secure your business all depends on where you operate from. Here are some of the things you may need to procure before you’re able to conduct business:
Business registration (as an LLC, corporation, or sole proprietorship, for example)
Business license from your country, state, and/or city
Local zoning permit for the building or home you do business out of
Trademark for your logo
Copyright for your website and its content
Patents for your products
Liability insurance (and maybe other types as well)
Step 5: Figure out supply and fulfillment
If your online retail business sells goods, you may need to figure out your supply and fulfillment logistics.
For example, if you’ve built a complex piece of furniture, it’s not going to be feasible to build that furniture piece over and over again with every order that comes through. You’ll need to pay a manufacturer who can do this at scale—and cost-effectively, too.
Not every business will need help with supply, though. For instance, if you sell custom paintings, you’ll do all the work. However, you might need help with fulfillment.
Regardless of how many partners you need, be sure to check online reviews for them before signing any contracts. Any mistakes made by a business partner (like poorly built products, late deliveries, poor customer service, etc.) can reflect poorly on your brand, so pick them wisely.
Step 6: Create your logo
Choosing a name for your brand is just the first step. You need to design a visual representation of your brand name, too.
Your logo should be attractive in design and relevant to what you sell. It should also be memorable. A lot of what makes a logo memorable is the design choices—the colors, typography, iconography, and shape.
Create a high-impact logo for your online retail business with the Wix Logo Maker.
Step 7: Register a domain name and build your website
The domain name of an online store is almost always the same as the company’s name—like bestbuy.com, publix.com, and barkbox.com. However, if your brand name is longer than 20 characters, you may want to consider using an abbreviated version of it.
The next step is to register your domain name, set up web hosting, and then build your website.
Create a website for your online retail business with Wix to accomplish all three of these tasks at once.
Once you have your hosted account set up, start building your online store. It should contain:
A Home page advertising the latest offers, popular categories, new products, and so on.
A Shop page where customers can browse through your categories and inventory.
A Customer Service page or chat widget where customers can get real-time help.
A Register/Log In widget where customers can create an account, manage their orders, become rewards members, and so on.
A Contact page where customers, interested partners, and others can reach out to you.
A Returns & Refunds page explaining the terms of service.
There may be other pages you want to include, but those are the essential ones.
Step 8: Set up the checkout process
Once your website is set up and your products have been added to the online store, you can set up the checkout process. This will require a number of elements, like:
A cart icon for your website header
A shopping cart page where customers review the details of their order
A Sign Up/Log In/Continue As Guest widget
A page for checkout and payment
An area where shoppers confirm the details
A purchase confirmation page
Automated emails sent to the customer and your store’s administrator when an order goes through and has shipped
If you’re using a solid eCommerce platform, it will take care of setting up a good portion of this for you. It will also ensure that the process goes smoothly and the financial transaction is handled securely. All you’ll need to do is configure the custom settings—like the payment types to accept, the amount of taxes to charge on each purchase, shipping fees, etc.
Step 9: Launch the online store and start marketing it
Once your store is live, you’ll need to run advertising and marketing campaigns in order to grow your eCommerce business. Google Ads, social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, and email marketing are a good place to start.
Many eCommerce platforms—Wix included—will simplify this process for retailers. In addition to streamlining the online shopping experience for customers and the order fulfillment process for retailers, these platforms provide tools that help brands maximize their marketing results.