This article is an extract from a lesson within our digital training program, Australian Small Business Advisory Services Digital Solutions, which is structured to assist small businesses get access to low-cost and high quality digital training & advice. The program provides training via workshops, 1:1 mentoring, online lessons and webinars. Small businesses with an ABN are eligble to join here.

Last year, Australian’s spent 21.3 billion dollars online, according to a recent report by Australia Post. If you’ve got an online shop and are selling via a website, it’s clear that with those figures, selling online is an opportunity to grow revenue.

But what do you need to think about if you’ve got an online shop selling via a website?

Ask yourself these questions.

Why would people buy from your online store?

Online retail is noisy, cluttered, and fast-paced. It's important that the reasons a customer should buy from your store instead of your competitors are clear. This is sometimes called a unique selling point (USP). Whether it's fast shipping and free or competitive postage rates, or the widest range of products and competitive pricing, even superior customer service and support, it’s essential that your online store has a competitive edge.

Considering your website’s USP in the planning stage means you can factor in key functionality from the get-go, which saves time down the track.

What’s the best way to showcase your products?

A recent report by Australia Post estimates that by 2020, one in ten products will be purchased online. With this dramatic shift towards online shopping, it’s important that the products you sell as well as their features and benefits are clearly demonstrated online. It’s a good idea to nut this out in the planning stages, so when it comes to building your website, you have everything you need at the ready.

Quality product images

Shopping online means customers don’t get to experience the product in person before they purchase. This makes good quality product photos essential. Product photos should show every aspect of the product, as well as give context.

For example, if your online store sells furniture it’s a good idea to show close-ups of materials used and different angles. It’s also worth including images of the furniture items styled in a room with other items – this helps to demonstrate scale and how the product can be used.

Detailed product descriptions

A picture might be worth a thousand words, but when it comes to shopping online, including detailed product descriptions can make a big difference. It’s a good idea to include information about product benefits, key features and functionality, where the product was made, what it’s made from, along with returns and shipping policies. If there are any specifics like sizing charts or manuals, it's worth making these available, too.

Customer product reviews

In case you hadn’t heard, reviews are all the rage. But don’t just take our word for it. Trust research. According to a 2017 report by Spiegle Research Centre, almost 95 percent of shoppers read online reviews before making a purchase. Displaying reviews on your website can increase online conversion rates by up to 270 percent.

Product demonstration videos.

Product videos can help demonstrate key product features and functions and give potential customers an idea of what it would be like to use your product. This is especially helpful if the product has fluid functionality – like a pram that can be pushed, or a mattress that absorbs partner movement, or a car that has hands-free parking.

Is the online store safe and secure?

It might sound obvious, but providing a secure online shopping environment is essential.

Will you offer free or competitive shipping?

When you’re selling online, it’s important to consider whether you’ll offer free or competitive shipping rates. While the cost of postage can be expensive, especially if you sell bulky or heavy items, it can be a seen as a real positive by consumers.

Some stores offer free shipping when customers spend over a certain amount – which can help increase order value and keep customers happy – or offer competitive rates on fast shipping instead of free shipping.

Be clear on this in the planning stage, as the functionality required to facilitate shipping needs to be considered before the website is launched.

Will you have sales or special offers?

Think about whether you will run sales or special offers on your online store. There can be specific functionality required for this type of activity. Things like the option to apply a discounted price across a selection of products automatically, or the ability to offer single-use discount codes should all be considered.

How will customers purchase products?

At a minimum, a successful online store needs to have an easy-to-use checkout and secure payment gateway. Most of this comes out of the box with online store platforms, but you might also want to consider different ways people like to pay. Think about whether your customers will use credit cards, gift cards, PayPal, Apple Pay, Google Wallet, BitCoin and foreign currencies.

Will you follow up with customers who don’t purchase?

Sometimes customers add items to their cart, make it to checkout, but don’t complete purchase. This is sometimes called cart abandonment. Think about whether you want to follow up with these abandoned carts by email to encourage the customers to complete their purchase or find out why they didn’t.

What’s your returns policy going to be?

Before you start selling online, you’re going to need a well-considered and robust returns policy. Getting this organised up front and making it clearly available to all website visitors and customers will save you time and unnecessary complications down the track. Make sure your policy is reasonable and most importantly, compliant with local legislation.

How will you deal with damaged and faulty items?

Sometimes items are damaged during shipping, and sometimes they’re faulty. Before you start selling online make sure you have a clear and fair policy in place for damaged and faulty items.