Opening an online store can help you earn extra money. In some cases, an online store could even become your sole source of income. Before that can happen, though, you need to prepare. Start by making sure you understand these four things to know before opening an online store, and you’ll improve your chances of success.

You Already Have Competitors

No matter what you plan to sell through your online store, someone else already has it in stock. Researching your competitors will help you determine whether you can match their prices and services to attract more customers. If you can’t do something better than your competitors, then it’s unlikely that many people will buy from you.

Researching competitors can also give you ideas for how to improve your concept. Maybe you can build a better website that encourages shoppers to buy more items. Perhaps you have connections to a supplier that can help you sell items at lower prices. If you can find someone else’s weakness, you can turn it into your strength.

You Need Merchandise to Sell

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It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling MP3s or hand-knit sweaters. You can’t open a store until you have merchandise. That means you will need to invest money and time before you have a chance to recoup the cost.

It also means you have to think about where you will store your merchandise, how you will ship items to buyers, and how you will keep products organized.

If this sounds like a nightmare, you may want to consider drop shipping. With this method, you don’t keep inventory in your store or at your home. When shoppers place orders through your website, the items get shipped from a central warehouse that’s owned and managed by another company.

There are a lot of benefits to drop shipping, such as:

  • Low overhead: you don’t have to purchase products until you sell them
  • Scalability: your business can sell more without experiencing growing pains
  • Flexibility: you can sell popular products no matter where you’re located

On the other hand, you won’t make as much money from drop shipping. Stores often sell products as inexpensively as possible even if that means eliminating customer service and good website design. Still, that can cut deep into your revenues.

Shoppers Want to See Professional Websites

An amateurish website will convince most shoppers to buy from other stores. Considering how prevalent identity theft has become, that’s the smart thing for them to do. No one should give payment information to a company that can’t even build a professional website.

You can hire a designer to make the site for you, but you should expect to spend a few thousand dollars. If you want to save money, you can learn how to develop sites. You may need to pay a professional to add extra features, but at least you can do most of the work on your own.

Before you launch the site, test it on several computers and mobile devices. You need a responsive design that will alter itself slightly to fit different devices. After viewing it on your desktop and laptop computers, test the design on T-Mobile’s iPhone 6S Plus to make sure it’s compatible. The iPhone 6S Plus is a particularly good device to test your site on because it’s popular and has a retina screen that will reveal any flaws.

SEO Keywords Can Help or Hurt Your Store

Search engine optimization (SEO) can make or break an online business. You can research SEO keywords on your own or hire an online marketing specialist to do the work for you. Not surprisingly, doing it yourself is much more affordable.

After you choose keywords that work well for you, start creating valuable content that your buyers will want to read. Search engines often give better rankings to websites with high-value content. Useful articles will also make your store look like a brand shoppers can trust. That goes a long way toward building a successful online store.

There aren’t any guarantees when it comes to starting an online store. If you follow these tips, though, you can improve your chances of success.