The fundamentals of starting an e-commerce business 

Scalability of this kind requires planning, funding, technology, processes and staffing.

There are many strategic essentials to be considered. These include preparing a new or revised business plan, researching the market, assessing the competition, developing your online presence through SEO and social media, devising promotional plans both above and below the line, and securing your supply chain.

In terms of logistics, if you are serious about scalability then you need more than a laptop at the kitchen table. Most capabilities will come only at a price so it’s important to know how to spend your money wisely.

No two businesses will have identical needs, so start with the essentials. Obviously, you need computing power, either a single computer or a network if you have a workforce. Since you are an online business you should aim for equipment that has the largest operating memory and storage you can afford. You may not need this capacity now but if your scale-up goes well, you’ll soon be handling huge amounts of information as well as memory-hungry graphics and video files. It’s a good idea to organise access to a cloud-based system that is easily upgraded and an in-house network you can add to without complex reconfiguration.

PC or Mac? The old compatibility issues between the two have largely been removed now that Microsoft products are built to operate on all operating systems. It also makes the question as to which software to use for your admin tasks simpler. Microsoft Office is still the most widely used package and while there are open source alternatives, even the best of these have limitations that may be more trouble than the money they save.

When it comes to your customer interface you have an important choice to make. Should you use a fully hosted e-commerce platform such as Shopify where you simply slot your products or services into the platform’s templates keeping all functions and costs in one place or one of the open-source products such as WooCommerce which gives you much more freedom in how you create and maintain your online shop, as well as limitless scalability, but does require some coding skill and technical ability in the building process.

Efficient and customer-friendly communications are vital. For many people, the worst aspect of e-commerce is the difficulty of conversing with online retailers both before and after a transaction. Primary communication will be handled via email or custom forms on your website. If you advertise yourself as being contactable by email or web form, you should make sure you live up to the promise. Make these easy for customers to find and use- even the biggest online businesses complicate this process, sending increasingly frustrated customers in endless circles looking for an email address.

Sometimes customers may require more than an email facility, with no certainty as to how long a response will take, so you should consider at the very least using some form of live chat. Most platforms and software packages include a rudimentary version which you could try out, but if they prove unsatisfactory, there are dedicated software solutions or you could even think about outsourcing to a telephone answering service. These can be cheaper than you think, with a modest standing charge and then just a small fee per call.

Another essential is security. You’re collecting and using customer data, including financial information, so you must hold it securely in order to meet your statutory obligations. Online payment providers who already run compliant systems can take the heat out of this for you so they are the best and simplest option.

Build your system logically, piece by piece, and be prepared to spend what you can afford on the best solutions. It will pay back many times over.