By Juan Calvillo
Finding the best in products and accessible channels of engagement are cornerstones to any new online business. Chris Snyder, senior community manager at Shopify Spaces, said merchandising and fulfillment are also important facets to a business starting up online.
Snyder said there are multiple ways of finding products for a business. He said it was about what the small business was looking to use as products.
One type of product is self-made products. He said a product like this is for someone who wants to maintain control of the product sold. A drawback to this is that oftentimes,the creator is so busy making the product, there is no time left for business growth.
Snyder said manufacturing products is more complex. This is usually done when there is confidence that the product will sell. Manufacturing a product is the greatest upfront cost for businesses. He said it comes with the biggest risk and investment.
Snyder said picking a wholesaler or using dropshipping is also a way to get products. Frank Aguirre, professor in the Business Administration department said dropshipping is a low-cost manner of creating a business start-up. This involves a manufacturer storing merchandise for a small business. When a piece of merchandise is sold, the entrepreneur electronically lets the manufacturer know of purchase. He said from there, the manufacturer prepares the merchandise and ships it to the customer.
“It’s really a great way for someone with little money, or no money, to start selling, because you don’t actually have to hold any of the product,” Aguirre said.
Snyder said finding the right sales channels helps small businesses greatly.
“You (have) got to be where your customers are,” Snyder said.
A business’s online store is like a hub. The idea is the main hub or center, is the business’s main site. From there things get connected as spokes and the end product can be seen as a wagon wheel.
“When talking about an omnichannel business model, the hub and spoke image is helpful. The spokes represent ways that you can engage with your customers and be wherever they are. Whether they are on IG (Instagram), Tik Tok or at a craft fair. It also represents ways that you can sell,” Snyder said.
Social media sites like Facebook and Instagram are great ways for getting connections to customers. While most posting is done on other sites, Facebook is still an amazing outlet for businesses. Having a thriving business is very hard if social media is not a part of the business’s plan.
Snyder said choosing which social media outlets to use was important to getting a business online. One of the more important things when creating content is to make sure to use hashtags. Looking up hashtags that connect with a business’s target market was key.
Snyder said online growth should be incremental. Once a small business has a good process of posting to Instagram and Facebook down, it’s time to move on and choose to incorporate another social media avenue. When it comes to selling, social media is a great place for point of sale of products.
Snyder said a small business should have a good site that is attractive to customers. Product pages should inform customers and if possible, include reviews. Customers rely heavily on posted reviews.
Aguirre said websites are important as long as there is potential for online sales. The only caveat is if the business is not prepared to do a large number of sales.
Investing time and money into a website when only selling a handful of merchandise is not a good idea. He said if only a couple of products are being sold, then looking into eBay or a smaller online sales site might make more sense. Starting an online store with Amazon, Shopify or creating a business’s own website might be overreaching for some entrepreneurs. Failing in those venues can lead some businesses to wonder why the sites failed them.
“It’s not necessarily the site’s fault. You got to find the right niche, the right method to sell it. You’re not quite there yet,” Aguirre said.
Snyder said when an online business starts up sales, shipping may be done simply by the entrepreneur. He said as the business grows that shipping modes would change and the strategies for shipping costs would as well. Strategies could range from free shipping to carrier calculated shipping.
Packaging is another detail that small businesses need to take into account. Snyder said an entrepreneur can never be sure if the product sold will be a part of an unboxing video. Having a product in a video start off in a ugly or unprotected box was not great. A business can never be sure how a delivered box can affect the business.
Snyder said the pandemic has changed business across the board. Businesses need to adapt to changes in customer habits to stay viable. Shopify.com created this and other workshops for National Small Business week.
“Shopify always tries to work with business and community organizations as well as schools and universities to provide the educational, inspirational and valuable resources that anyone who has a small business or is interested in starting their own entrepreneurship journey may need to succeed,” Snyder said.