Many small businesses have great potential for online sales, but a surprisingly small percentage of them succeed in doing so with more than two-thirds still not having e-commerce enabled on their sites. But simply having it enabled is not enough to run a successful online store. There are a number of attendant processes which your small business client needs to master. We put together a list of things that can help you help your clients successfully launch and run their online stores.

1. Plan Their Inventory

  • Guide your client to choose an online inventory which is both restricted enough to be manageable and broad enough to be enticing, without including everything that’s on offer at their brick-and-mortar store. Your small business client can keep some items to be sold in-store only, so as to give their regular traffic a reason to visit the store.
  • Most e-commerce builders include inventory management tools which keep the online inventory updated and prevent your clients from running out of stock, but if their online store is self-hosted, help them set up a practical inventory tracking system which maintains stock levels for both their brick-and-mortar and online store.

2. Purchase Online Barcodes

Barcodes are a necessity for product-based small businesses to help them track inventory and combat counterfeiting. In some cases, online barcodes are required for internet commerce, such as when selling to retail distributors or shipping abroad.

  • Purchase a unique five-digit company UPC code for your small business client through the GS1 institute. It charges rates that vary according to your SMB client’s expected volume of sales, with low fees for small businesses. Your SMB client can then add their own numbers to make up a 12-digit UPC number that is universally accepted in the United States and Canada.
  • There are also websites which provide legitimate online barcodes without your SMB client having to purchase their own UPC code, but tread carefully since there are far more dishonest sites.
  • If your SMB client ships goods abroad, they might need a 13-digit GS1 barcode or a European EAN number.

3. Arrange to Pay Sales Tax

For example, in the US, forty-five states plus Washington D.C. require enterprises to pay sales tax if they are considered to have a ‘sales tax nexus’ in that state, i.e. they are considered to have a presence in that state, either because their business operates out of that state, they have an employee who works in the state, or they use a fulfilment warehouse there. (This could impact your SMB client’s choice of fulfilment method and where to locate their warehouse.)

  • Establish in which states your SMB client has a ‘sales tax nexus’.
  • Register your SMB client for a sales tax permit for every relevant state. Some states consider it unlawful to collect sales tax without a permit.
  • Set your SMB client’s e-commerce software to calculate the rate of sales tax for every transaction. Most e-commerce software includes the capability to calculate these taxes automatically. If your small business client’s online store does not include this option, add it to their self-hosted site.
  • Filing state sales taxes can also be difficult, as different states require taxes to be filed at different intervals and sometimes, on a specific day of the month. Again, your small business client should have installed e-commerce software which simplifies and automates the process of filing state tax returns.

4. Set Up a Merchant Account and Payment Processor

In order to make credit card transactions online, your small business client needs a merchant account and payment gateway. This is essentially a third-party account which processes credit card payments for a fee, holding the money on behalf of your SMB client until the customer has received their goods. In this post you can find some detailed advice on how to choose the right one for your clients, below are some things we think matter.

  • If your SMB client is still at the micro-enterprise level, you could link with Paypal or Google Checkout in order to avoid setting up a merchant account. However, it takes the payment process off-site, reducing control and disrupting your SMB client’s analytics tracking.
  • Many e-commerce software suites include integrated merchant accounts, so you can sign up your SMB client via the dashboard or to complete a guided process on a linked platform.
  • If your SMB client already has a merchant account and payment processor for their brick-and-mortar store, they might be able to continue to use the same one with their online store. Contact the payment provider to confirm.
  • If your SMB client is using a self hosted e-commerce site, they need to set up a merchant account separately with their bank. Remind your SMB client that it takes 1-3 weeks for most banks to approve a merchant account.
  • There are unscrupulous credit card processing companies willing to charge your SMB client hidden fees by offering impossible ‘discounts’. Advocate for your SMB client by reading the small print and only agree to signing up to a merchant account that is open, honest, and fits your small business client’s needs. For example, some merchant accounts offer a very low rate on the condition that your small business client makes a certain number of transactions per month. If your SMB client is unlikely to make that number, they are setting themselves up for a hefty fee.
  • Regardless of whether your small business clients have or do not have a merchant account opened, you can use Camilyo. We provide you with an e-commerce platform as well as an integration with leading payment gateways, so that once the merchant account is set up, Camilyo takes care of everything else, so your clients are up and running in no time and start collecting revenues from online and offline sales quickly.

5. Install a Point of Sale System

Once your small business client opens up an online store, the job of tracking inventory, sales and returns becomes exponentially more complex. A single point of sale system that integrates your SMB client’s bricks-and-mortar sales with their online transactions will help them update online inventory across their retail points, process refunds and follow up on customers by email without transferring data.

  • Some e-commerce options include this in their integrated online store. If your SMB client does not have this software, help them create a system that coordinates transactions at their various selling points.
  • “One of the things a POS system can help your client do is figure out which products sell better and when. This gives you a brilliant opportunity to talk to your clients about the reports they are getting from the POSs and then think together about more targeted campaigns and promotions,” says Inbal Latner, Camilyo’s Product Director for Commerce and Payments.

6. Arrange Storage

Your SMB client’s choice of where to keep their stock will depend on a number of factors, including how they choose to package goods (more creative packaging requires a dedicated employee rather than a fulfilment warehouse) and what their sales tax situation could be (see above). Guide your clients to choose between the following options:

  • In-house storage gives your small business client more control over their stock fluctuations and enables them to be creative when packaging goods for shipment. Their storage costs will be lower when using space they already own, but they could run out of space very quickly and face stock restrictions as a result.
  • With drop shipping, the product supplier ships directly to the customer on behalf of your SMB client. This leaves them with less control over packaging and stock, and not all suppliers agree to this arrangement. Your SMB client will still be the one to process all customer service issues such as refunds or exchanges.
  • Outsource fulfilment places your SMB client’s stock in a fulfilment warehouse which processes everything to do with shipment. Fulfilment warehouses will store, package and ship the goods as well as handling all customer service issues. Your SMB client will have to pay for the service, but they should also enjoy lower shipping costs since such warehouses can negotiate in bulk with delivery services. If the bulk of your SMB client’s customer base is located in a particular area, then using a nearby fulfilment warehouse further lowers delivery charges.

7. Take Care of Packaging

Photo credit:

Choice of packaging impacts on many areas of the online store, including storage options, shipping methods, and marketing decisions.

  • Your SMB client could use unique branded packaging or make the customer’s unboxing experience an aspect of your marketing campaign. Lumi has amazing packaging offerings and inspiring case studies.
  • Thin and light containers or envelopes lower shipping costs and streamline the packaging process, making it easier to outsource to a fulfilment warehouse.
  • Many delivery and postal services offer flat rates for fixed sizes of boxes and envelopes. Fitting your SMB client’s products within these parameters simplifies the task of calculating shipping costs.

8. Shipping and Delivery

Shipping is an issue which affects your client’s online stores far more than a brick-and-mortar store. Adding shipping costs at the end of the transaction poses the risk that your SMB client’s customer could abandon their cart because of the delivery cost; 61% of abandoned carts were left because of unexpected shipping costs.

  • One option is for your client to incorporate the cost of delivery into their prices so as to offer free shipping. However, some products are sold on such narrow profit margins that raising the price in this way seriously hinders sales.
  • Include a real time shipping calculator in your client’s online store, so their customers can choose which shipping method they prefer and add the cost into their final payment.
  • Set up a business account for your SMB client with a reliable postal or delivery service. Knowing fixed rates for shipping various sizes of packages will enable your client to add a flat rate fee to their checkout process to simplify and streamline payment.
  • Consider purchasing shipping insurance for your client, or verify if their chosen shipping company includes insurance in their price.
  • Most integrated e-commerce sites include shipping calculations and label printing as part of their capabilities. Some present integrated solutions which streamline shipping tasks, calculate inventory, and enable your SMB client to compare carrier rates.
  • If your client ships products abroad, research which forms are required for each destination country and establish a system for filling out the correct customs’ declarations. Ensure that your small business client’s online store includes some form of waiver of responsibility for any extra customs duties or difficulties that might ensue.

With these eight areas set up successfully, your small business client should be able to run their online store smoothly, only needing your input for digital marketing. Camilyo_Logo_gray C only small.png

Talia Klein Perez is a small business owner who specializes in small business marketing services, ranging from content writing to social media marketing. Talia also operates two websites of her own (including an e-commerce website), so her expertise comes from both the side of the owner and the side of the marketer.