Why you should read the fine print before building your online store
It’s easy to get a basic ecommerce site up and running, but make sure you understand exactly what you’re signing up for.
Launching an online store is a big step for any business, but you don’t actually need to know anything about building websites – not if you’re happy to sign up for a turnkey ecommerce package. They’ll take care of everything, from the website to the payment gateway, and then hand you the keys. All you really need to do is upload photos of your wares and slap on a price tag.
You can sign up for a basic ecommerce service for a few bucks per month, but in return you’ll get a no-frills, one-size-fits-all website with cookie cutter page templates. This might not bother you if you’re starting small on a tight budget, but you still need to pay close attention to what’s happening behind the scenes.
Turnkey solutions generally trade flexibility for convenience. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you understand what you’re trading away and what you’re locking yourself into. Some budget ecommerce services lure you in with dirt-cheap deals knowing full well that you’ll have no choice but to upgrade. Don’t shop on price alone, especially if you’ll be forced to pay more down the track or scrap your site and start again elsewhere.
Some ecommerce services expect a slice of each sale, which is a price you might be prepared to pay, but they can also place restrictions on your store depending on the plan you sign up for. Some will limit the number of items you can list on your store, while others will limit how many items you can sell each month.
Keep this in mind – as soon as your site takes off you’ll have no choice but to upgrade to a more expensive monthly plan or else watch lost sales go begging.
Also pay particular attention to merchant facilities and logistics such as order fulfilment. You might get stung with more fees for each sale, with no freedom to switch to other providers in search of a better deal on transaction fees or delivery costs.
It’s important to think ahead. Can the site and backend services scale as your business grows? Is it mobile-friendly? Do you have access to analytics to help better understand your customers? Is there support for advanced features like discount codes or a customer loyalty program?
What you really need to know is whether you will be forced to start again from scratch in a few years when the service no longer meets your needs.
If you’re unhappy with your ecommerce provider, or you’ve simply outgrown it, what happens when you want to walk away? Can you export your sales data and customer lists? Do they retain control over your domain name and email address? In other words, can they hold your business to ransom?
These are the kinds of questions you need to ask before you sign on the dotted line. Don’t just consider whether an ecommerce provider is the right choice for your business right now, ask if it will be the right choice in 12 months or five years. Building an ecommerce website is a long-term investment, so don’t get talked into a quick sale.