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While launching your own e-commerce website can be an exciting thought, equally, there are challenges involved that need to be overcome for a successful start. For this, a detailed plan with a comprehensive inventory list of products, and pricing along with marketing steps to communicate the new launch with existing and prospective customers is a must. With growing internet usage and mobile penetration levels, it is prudent for every business enterprise to seriously consider having a robust digital presence by way of an online eCommerce store.
Given the consumption-driven demand, the e-commerce space in India is well-poised to perform well. As per IBEF estimates, the sector would achieve revenues of $99Bn by 2024, clocking an impressive 27% CAGR during 2019-24, with grocery and fashion expected to be the key drivers.
Build an eCommerce website from scratch
In this series, we shall explore the key steps – from setting up a website, last-mile delivery, and logistics to the selection of the right payment partner towards a smooth transaction completion.
Leveraging the digital selling opportunity
The pandemic was a turning point of sorts, which boosted online purchases and e-commerce sales. According to a Kearney study, the retail space contributes 11% to the gross value add of India’s GDP. Going forward, it is expected that private consumption would continue to grow in line with robust GDP growth, maintaining a consistent 60% share of GDP, as per the below chart.
Sellers realised the importance of maintaining an online presence along with the physical brick and mortar store or in certain cases, only a digital store. A study by Grant Thornton reinforces this digital buying trend as per the following insights in Dec 2020 comprising a sample of internet users in the age bracket of 16-64 yrs:
- 79.3% searched for goods online that they wanted to purchase across devices
- 95.3% opted to visit an e-store across devices
- 76.7% bought a product via the digital route across devices
- 57.3% bought a product via mobile phones
India is expected to comprise 1100 Mn active Internet users and 350 Mn online shoppers by 2026. Sellers cannot afford to miss the digital selling opportunity, considering the sizeable market, cost savings, wider customer access, and prompt payment options. Hence, we shall look at the steps towards successfully launching one’s e-commerce website from start to end.
How to start an eCommerce business in India?
› Selection of the industry or product
This is the mainstay of the business. Whether the products to be sold are foods and grocery, fashion and apparel, or electronics, this decision needs to be taken at the start, based on the experience or interest area of the founders and the sector performance.
Based on the business model and the list of product categories to be hosted on the portal, further steps would fall in place i.e. selection of the payment partner and delivery process to the end-customer. The following factors would help gauge the inventory to be stocked and sold and the merchandise sourcing process:
› Research the space
It would be prudent to identify well-performing or popular sectors with latent demand and superior growth potential. This may be assessed based on the existing number of players, the revenue model, profit margins and the target audience. For example, it might be prudent to stock all kinds of apparel, rather than seasonal products like woollen clothing that would be useful only during cold winters.
› Source the products
Besides in-house manufacturing, one may also sell goods procured from third-party manufacturers. The e-commerce platform may then stock the inventory in a godown or drop ship the goods i.e. direct delivery of goods from the actual manufacturer to the customers.
› Contact the suppliers
After the product decision, the supplier selection follows. In the case of hosting readymade merchandise or self-manufactured products, the final goods supplier or the raw material source respectively is to be decided upon. Here industry bodies, trade shows, business directories, word of mouth, social media routes like LinkedIn or Facebook can help communicate with prospective vendors.
› Shortlist eligible suppliers
The next step is to discuss and negotiate with potential suppliers regarding the product quality, quantity, bulk purchase, price points, discounts, and other terms and conditions.
› Prepare a feasible business plan
The subsequent step after discovering the product category, zeroing in on the suppliers, studying the demand, etc, would be to conduct a realistic study of the profitability, costs involved, the capital investment required, and peer competition. This would help adopt an effective differentiation strategy and win customers. This may include multiple scenarios i.e. base, best, worst case, and strategies to drive traffic to the website.
› Make Technology a key enabler
The next stage is the critical technology dimension of the e-commerce online portal. Broadly, the steps involved are:
- buying a domain name
- selection of a web hosting provider
- developing the platform to structure an online store with detailed product listing and pricing
- selection and integration of a payments gateway
› Registration of domain name
This involves the selection of a suitable domain name for one’s business. The following factors need to be considered during the selection of a domain name:
• Name reflects the business
It would be prudent to select a name that is closely correlated with the business idea, values, or consumer focus so as to give an idea of the product offerings. In the case of an unconnected name, the business would need to significantly enhance its marketing efforts to win customers and build a connection.
A short name that is easy to pronounce or remember for customers. Also, a shorter name would ensure fewer work entries and reach the website in an instant.
How to Setup Your eCommerce Store?
After the domain name is selected, it needs to be registered through a domain registrar and paying the fees.
Kind of solution
This is an important step and parameters such as platform type, business size, budget, and features, etc. come to the fore. Under this, there are 2 types of platforms that are popular:
a) Self-hosted solution
These are open-source platforms where the software is free of cost. In other words, one needs to set up, host, operate, and maintain an e-store through technical expertise i.e. coding, design, etc. There is scope for choice and flexibility in the customizations and features offered. The costs involved are server costs, development charges, and remuneration paid to skilled talent.
b) Fully Hosted
These platforms offer the facility of setting up, hosting, and maintenance of the platform. A person who is a novice in technical know-how can easily build the website by using drag and drop features with readily available sample templates and functions like inventory management, billing software etc. The platforms charge a subscription fee which depends on the usage. There are limited options for customization.
Evaluation of alternatives
Prior to deciding which option to choose, it is best to consider the pros and cons of both.
It might be prudent to try the demo version or the limited free trial period. This way one can assess the quality, speed, reliability of the platform. Alternatively, one could list a few products and evaluate the customer response.
Customer feedback from merchant clients of the existing platform and social media feedback would help check actual performance.
Smooth Integration with add-ons:
One needs to check for seamless integration of payments gateway, accounting software, logistics facility, etc. Ideally, a good platform should support these external add-ons and function without disruption.
Next, we shall discuss the critical stage – to choose a payment method that ensures prompt customer payments and successful transaction completion.