3 Questions to Ask BEFORE Building your Online Store

Let’s be frank – there are a LOT more questions to ask than just these three, but if you can’t answer these questions specifically, your store is doomed before you start.

Question 1: How will you price your product?

This is not about your profit margin. This is about whether your product is a single price per item without any extras, or it’s a product with add-ons like customised engraving that can be paid or free. You might be selling something that comes in different colours (with no price difference between colours) or different sizes and each size has a different price.

You may have a simple base product and a long list of choices the customer can make, and each choice has a different cost that adds to the total. Example: You are selling a chest of drawers (the simple base product), and people can choose from 2, 4 or 6 drawers. Then they must choose the finish – will it be varnished or painted or distressed (each of these is a different cost that gets added.) Finally, they can choose the drawer handles – do they want fancy, expensive handles, or the no frills, cheap versions?

Whatever your pricing structure is, you must know it upfront and be able to communicate it clearly. If you can’t explain it easily, you don’t understand it well enough.

If you are building a WordPress store, the different pricing structures will mean you’ll need different plugins and some of the really great plugins cost money. You don’t want a surprise bill at the end of the build, so know your structure upfront.

Question 2: Will you sell locally or internationally or both?

People are quick to decide that the whole world needs their product, so they’ll just ship it everywhere! Unfortunately shipping and currencies can throw all sorts of spanners in the works. Selling locally is pretty straightforward and doesn’t present much of an issue but selling internationally can be a headache.

We’re in South Africa and sadly, as of publication of this article, PayPal still doesn’t support South African Rands. So, let’s start there – what currency will you sell in? Rands or Dollars or Euros or all of them? Do you want the store currency to reflect the country that your web visitor is sitting in (i.e. it’ll show Rands when I’m browsing from SA, or US Dollars when I’m browsing from America, or Pounds if I’m in the UK), or do you want them to be able to switch between currencies using a selection box of sorts? (i.e. I’m in South Africa but I want to see the dollar price because I want to tell my friend in the States how much the product is.)

Once you’ve decided on the currency, do you have the payment gateways to support them? If you want to sell in Rands and Dollars, you’ll need a local gateway (i.e. PayU), and you’ll probably want PayPal as your international gateway because it’s so widely recognised. If you only want one gateway (to keep things simple), which do you choose? PayPal is a pain for South African payments because you’ll have to pay foreign exchange fees on payments that were made by South Africans (such a waste of your money). PayU can accept overseas credit cards but only if they’re verified, so your customer’s card may not be accepted.

The point is you need to understand upfront that this single decision has a lot of repercussions whichever way you go, and each path has its own set of challenges and rewards.

Question 3: How will you handle shipping?

This is a deal breaker. It follows on from whether you’ll sell your products locally or internationally. If you sell locally (shipping only within South African borders) the scenario is more manageable and more predictable. It’s much easier to find a courier (there are more options), it’s far cheaper, and you have a better idea of when products will arrive at their destination. They will also arrive relatively quickly and, in this age of instant gratification, that’s a huge bonus.

But what if you want to ship internationally? It’s a big, wide world and the shipping charges change dramatically from country to country, and from big city to tiny town that no one’s ever heard of.

Whatever you decide, you’ll have to figure out how you’ll charge for it, and therein lies the dilemma. If you sell small, light products locally, flat rate shipping is usually the easiest way to go. Even better if you hide the shipping cost in your product price and offer “free shipping”.

It’s when your products are larger and heavier that you encounter issues. You can’t afford to make mistakes with the shipping. It’ll cost you a fortune if you undercharge, and if you overcharge your customers will abandon the purchase. If you’re building a WordPress site, ideally you’ll need a courier that has a WordPress plugin that will calculate the shipping costs at checkout. Unfortunately, there are very few that do this, and those that do can charge high rates for the privilege.

Again, whatever you decide, know there are repercussions to your decision that could profoundly impact your profit margins.

These questions can be intimidating BUT they all have answers. Answering them in full before you start will save you a lot of time and heartache in the long run.

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