How to start an online business— A guideline for retailers

Online Business - Guildline for Retaileres
The current scenario has made it difficult for retailers to sustain their business in the brick-and-mortar model. There are multiple challenges, including customers’ safety concerns in visiting the store, the tendency to expect services to be available online and governmental regulations on crowd restrictions. Taking an online approach is one such solution. But before deciding that, retailers need to meet a few pre-requisites. Let’s discuss the prerequisites and some of the essential factors to consider to go the eCommerce route.

Setting the context

  • One of the critical issues many retailers face while adopting eCommerce is proper stock upkeep. An adequately updated inventory helps in the effective adoption of the technology solution.

  • Another factor is to gain experience of handling orders through online tools like WhatsApp. It would help gain a sense of how to fulfil orders received remotely. It will also help understand any delivery related challenges.

The success of an online business depends on how the business owner envisions it – an online business warrants dedicated time and effort more than the money. There are a lot of corporate giants that are competing online today. They have the strength of finances and logistics. Yet, there is room for smaller retailers also to thrive online.

Retailers have the most important factor of customer trust, going in their favor. The customer and the business know each other well over a period, leading to this trust. Another advantage the retailers have is their knowledge of customer preferences of products and brands.

After setting up the fundamental preparations for taking the business online, the following are some of the key factors that retailers need to consider.

1. Choose the right eCommerce Platform

Successful implementation of an eCommerce solution depends on the choice of the right technology partner. Compare various eCommerce platforms and choose the one that suits your needs. There are multiple solutions for businesses to go online.

There are broadly three platform options available:


These are “free” platforms that have the features and are open for modification by customers. The catch here is that it is most suited for businesses that have a dedicated IT team in-house.

Existing issues often beset the cost benefits in the platform relating to functionality, security, compliance, and maintainability. It is up to the business to define the product’s evolution and implement it.

Software as a Service (SaaS) Solutions

In this model, the customer subscribes to a platform, and the platform provider takes care of the functional, performance and security aspects of the solution. The service provider would release new features and fix issues actively.

Such services entail a one-time onboarding fee and a recurring periodic subscription fee. The service provider would own the upkeep of the hardware, software, and hosting.

Headless Commerce

This is another version of a SaaS solution wherein the service provider offers only the core system, and the customer can choose the front end (UI, end user-facing features). These platforms address the growing number of end-user touchpoints like Mobile, web or even voice. Depending on what each business needs, they can build end-user interfaces to cater to their target demography.

Another vital aspect to consider is to decide the hosting approach. There are 2 types of hosting options available:

  • 1. Self-hosted
  • 2. Cloud hosted


Self-hosting would require businesses to find their hosting partner, manage the installation and updates.

Cloud hosting

Cloud-hosted platforms host their solution on cloud service providers like Amazon web services, Microsoft Azure or Google cloud platform. The advantage here is that the business doesn’t have to worry about the upkeep of the hardware & software systems.

The right way to choose the right solution is to list down the solution’s critical requirements and narrow it down to many options. Get a demo of the platforms, including their front end, admin panel, and features, before checking on the pricing. Also, understand how robust the platform pipeline is to ensure you can meet the growing demands of your businesses.

Another challenge that businesses face daily after buying the software is — support. Some software companies have excellent software but don’t score high on customer support. Some others would respond to customers, but their software could lack the muscle. So, it’s imperative to choose the right technology partner who has the right mix of high-quality software backed by professional support.

2. Knowing the ideal customers for online business

To efficiently roll out the technology solution and benefit from it, retailers can leverage their knowledge of their existing and potential customers. Percentage of customers using smartphones, credit cards, or online payments is an excellent place to start.

Having an online presence provides the chance of acquiring new customers who may not be located near the store to visit it in person. The business owner needs to assess the customer base’s potential depending on their buying trends, preferences, and logistics capabilities.

3. Building the product catalogue

One of the most overlooked pieces seems to be around the data-driven knowledge of the product catalogue for the online store. The product list for online needs to be curated carefully from that of the offline assortment.

The decision on this depends on the user preferences and the business’s ability to provision and deliver them. The size of the product catalogue would have a bearing on the choice of the platform / its variant.

4. Building brand ambassadors

Word of mouth is still the best form of marketing. The focus of the business should in delivering a delightful customer experience. Ensure all the customer touchpoints–like app download, registration, intuitive product catalogue, easy navigation for product selection, order delivery and customer support — provide a pleasant experience. Be keen to pick up even implicit feedback from customers by keenly observing the buying patterns throughout their purchase journey. Collect and share customer testimonials, reviews regularly. This will promote more sales from other customers as well.

5. Promoting your business

The next best form of marketing is through social media these days. Ensure presence across the social media platforms where your customers and prospects are. Make sure the message is consistent across these platforms.

Also, observe how similar businesses leverage social media and learn from those best practices to avoid common mistakes. Define a social media budget and closely track it to measure the return on investment to fine-tune the media marketing strategy. eCommerce platforms have built-in provisions for social media integration.

6. Customer Service

The longevity of the relationship between a business and its customers depends on the service the customer gets. Since most customers use platforms like WhatsApp easily, the support can also be through such media.


Like any other form of business, eCommerce also comes with its own set of advantages. Business owners should be very clear on their approach, diligently execute their strategy and keep tweaking it. Remember, success takes time. The same applies to the eCommerce business as well.

We will explore each of these seven areas in detail in the upcoming blog series.