The Internet business, retail or otherwise, is much like any other brick and mortar business. It requires a saleable product and service, relevant communication to attract customers, and the backend logistics to deliver the goods. Some people still consider the World Wide Web as an easy maze that will lead them to a `pot of gold’. Let’s discuss some key considerations for building a successful retail Internet business.
It is important to know if you have any customers, where they are and how best to convince them to buy from you. Without asking and answering these basic few questions in the beginning, you are taking what is best described as a `shot in the dark’ approach. You may get a hit, but what are the chances? Just because you are selling online, you are not immune to the problems of any other regular retail business enterprise.
A good business idea should be followed through with a detailed business plan that touches upon both long and short term objectives, competitive landscape, market Trends, product USP, risks, opportunities and projected financials. This will also come in handy if you decide to approach a third party or bank for a loan.
The business of selling is not just about strategy and ideation. It also involves a lot of paperwork and administration, not to mention knowledge of relevant laws. Some resources to get you started include:
1. The Federal Trade Commission: The FTC website offers assistance with Internet marketing laws. One notable law regards taking complete ownership for all messaging that you put on your retail Internet website.
2. Small Business Administration: Check out the SBA (Small Business Administration) website for the location of a local office that can get you started with much needed resources that include beginner courses and mentor support.
3. Internal Revenue Service: Making profit means having to pay taxes. The IRS conducts seminars to help you understand your tax obligations and how to reduce them within the legal framework. A great place to start is the `IRS virtual tax workshop.’
This is one area where Internet business varies from regular stores. The first thing to understand is that the market place is very vast and the consumer is often more than fickle. Some of the key areas to explore include Search Engine Marketing, Affiliate Programs, Newsletters/Mail and loyalty programs
Lastly, understand your domain advantages and those that are not. An online business means that you can run your shop from your couch, your bed or your bathtub, but it does not mean that you should take a laid-back approach in responding to customers, delay their shipments or take a holiday mid-season. It is best to treat an online retail business as any other store, except for the fact that you don’t have to commute to work and can multitask while you service complaints. You still need a solid business model, a unique competitive advantage and the capacity to put in a lot of hard work.
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