Taking an Existing Business Online - dummies

By Rob Snell

Planning is everything! You have a much better chance for success when you map out a strategy for selling online than when you just put up a Yahoo! Store and hope to sell something. There are major differences between selling in the real world and selling virtually.

Creaming your most profitable products

If you’re an existing retailer and you have an existing brick-and-mortar business, use the Pareto Principle (the 80/20 rule) to see what to focus on online. Twenty percent of your products probably generate 80 percent of your sales. You want to look at those products first and spend the time and energy to put those dudes online, and then later, when you have more time, add the other 80 percent of stuff that you sell to your online store. But odds are that you can cream your product line, just sell your bestselling items online, and still do most of the business with only 20 percent of the work that you would do by putting your entire product catalog online.

Leveraging existing inventory to the Web

If you already have a store, then you probably have a lot of inventory. Take some pictures, write some descriptions, and upload your products to a Yahoo! Store. Now your inventory is available in your real store and online in your virtual shop. You get double the mileage out of the same inventory. Eventually, when you start moving a lot of products, you want to be careful not to run out of stock on the popular products that you sell online.

Maximizing supplier relationships

When you have an existing business, you have a leg up on people who are just starting out because you already have a relationship with your suppliers. Use these tips to maximize your supplier relationships:

  • Existing retailers can use their real-world status to get product databases and images from suppliers. For some reason, vendors tend to be stingy with product data. Manufacturers and wholesalers can give you additional content for your store, too. Just ask for permission to reuse articles or sell sheets, PDFs, owner’s manuals, buyer’s guides, or anything else that makes your store better.
  • Pick your suppliers’ brains from time to time to keep up on industry trends. Suppliers have a much broader view of the market than any one retailer, and they can give information on what’s selling elsewhere with new product ideas you might not notice in your local market.
  • Encourage your suppliers to protect their existing customers by increasing the barriers to entry for new competition. Suggest that they have large initial orders or higher minimum orders or require a physical storefront as a condition for buying wholesale.
  • Ask your suppliers for a link from their Web site to your Yahoo! Store. When you do hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars a year in business with a company, it’s really easy to get a link from its site to yours. Don’t be afraid to ask for a link and hound the company as much as you can until you get that link. Links from manufacturers and other suppliers really give you a leg up on the competition because they help your search engine rankings. You’ll also get traffic and sales from these links. When potential customers are on the manufacturer’s Web site, they’re looking to buy, and you want to be one of those 10 or 15 stores with a link. If you don’t ask, you don’t get (a link), so ask!

Selling locally while shipping globally

When you sell both online and offline, sometimes you need two different sets of prices. There’s more online competition, so you have to be much more price conscious when you sell online. But because your costs are lower selling online, you can actually make more online than you do offline.

However, the last thing you want to do is alienate your local customers, so use a different business name online and not to use your Yahoo! Store as your company site.