Doing business online means different things to different businesses. For some it’s the place to sell products and services. For others, it’s to showcase what’s offered at a physical shop.
Either way, you’ll need to be wherever your customers are online. This could mean having your own website, your own space in online marketplaces, or both.
Most businesses benefit from some sort of online presence. It can increase sales and make it easier for people to do business with you.
Before you start, think through your strategy. Which products or services will you take online? Who will your customers be? How will customers find your website? What sort of experience will you give them? How will you protect their information?
Are you ready to build your own website, or does it make sense to set up shop in an existing marketplace, like Trade Me? Ideally, you’ll do both, to maximise your brand visibility and reach more customers. But maybe you’d like to start with one and expand to the other later. Here’s a few pros and cons to help you decide where to start.
Selling on marketplaces and via your website means you are more likely to be where your customers are. Customers tend to spend more on brands with multiple sales channels. This approach is often known as omnichannel retail.
Other benefits include:
An online marketplace is a site with products from many sellers. You set up an account, create your own space, and start selling straight away. Many marketplaces have step-by-step guides to help you.
New Zealand examples include:
International examples include:
Choose a marketplace (or multiple marketplaces) popular with your customers. For example, if you want to export pure New Zealand honey to Europe, choose the marketplace most used by European foodies.
Check any marketplace you want to join has good cyber security measures in place. Do they keep their data encrypted? If they have a security breach, will they tell you?
With limited leeway for branding and personalisation, make every word and image count:
Te sells printed t-shirts and hats from a small shop. They also have a growing presence on social media, especially Instagram. Social feeds help to promote new designs, but fans have no way to buy the products online. Te sees a clear opportunity to make the most of current and future audiences by starting an online shop.
Te isn’t sure what to do first: build a website or join an existing marketplace. Te talks to a few customers instore to find out where they buy other hand-printed t-shirts — and searches online to see where similar products are sold.
Te finds an online marketplace focused on handmade art and design. It showcases a wide range of Aotearoa designers, so Te’s t-shirts are a great fit. It’s free to open an account and start selling, with just a small commission for each sale.
Te starts by selling just a few t-shirts online while working out the logistics of packaging and delivery. It takes time to build up a solid customer base, and a few delivery issues need sorting at first. But with few upfront costs, the marketplace is a good way to try out online selling.
Building a Te’s Tees website can happen a bit later, when it’s time to market to a wider audience. In the meantime, Te makes sure to connect existing Instagram fans to the online store with regular posts about new designs and deals.
Creating your own website has never been easier, with many do-it-yourself platforms and tools to choose from. It does take time and patience to get set up though. You may decide you’d like an agency or a freelancer to help with things like branding and technical details.
Before you start, check out tips for protecting your website and your customers’ information. CERT NZ, the official cyber security agency, has a handy 12-point checklist:
Protect your website (external link) — CERT NZ
You’ll need a website platform that lets you create, edit, and publish your own content. You have plenty of options, so do your research carefully. You’ll need one with a good reputation that fits your technical and design abilities. Also look for:
Make sure it suits your ideal customers.
If you plan to sell via your website, you need sales functionality. Most platforms either offer this, or allow extensions or plugins.
If you’re building an online store from scratch, consider starting with a platform specifically designed for e-commerce.
Make sure your chosen platform offers mobile-friendly designs, so your website adapts to the screen size of any device — desktop, tablet, or smartphone. This is crucial, as most customers buy online using mobile devices.
A domain name is a unique name that identifies an internet site, eg business.govt.nz. Choose a name that’s unique and simple. It should be easy to remember and reflect you well. It could be your business name or a keyword related to your business.
Domain names (external link) — Digital Resources
ONECheck helps you make sure your chosen name is available.
Authorised registrars (external link) — Domain Name Commission
Make your site secure by enabling HTTPS on every page. This means your web traffic is encrypted, preventing anyone from accessing or changing any information that should be private.
You can provide your customers with one or many different ways to pay you. Some methods are easier to set up than others, so it’s worth understanding the options and knowing the best place to start.
To find out more, click to expand each accordion.
Payment gateways process transactions securely. They fend off hacking by providing encryption between you and your customers.
Gateways can process either:
Some gateways need an online merchant account — a bank account specifically designed for e-commerce.
A merchant account can take time to set up. Your bank may want evidence of an established e-commerce business first.
Some gateways don’t need an online merchant account. Instead, they hold the money you make in a central location until you transfer it to your bank account. PayPal and Stripe are trusted examples of this type of gateway. You can get them up and running in half an hour and be ready to receive payments.
Before you start selling, test your gateway. Be confident your customers will have a smooth payment experience.
Microfinance gateways allow customers to pay in instalments, eg Afterpay. You receive your payment immediately, while the company behind the gateway takes on all of the risks.
Not all microfinance gateways integrate with all e-commerce platforms, so check the various options carefully.
A manual bank transfer involves giving customers your bank details and waiting for them to pay you. It’s best to wait until the money arrives in your bank account before completing the order.
This method is the least automated. It can slow down your process and increase the time your customer waits between purchasing and receiving.
Give your bank account details privately to each customer. Avoid posting your details more publicly — eg on your Facebook page.
Create categories on your website to help your customers find what they need. Keep categories simple and name them in obvious ways. Look at similar businesses and check their website categories — could something similar work for you?
At a minimum, you’ll need the following pages:
Follow these tips for creating good content:
Link your website with social media to:
Integrating your website with your social media (external link) — Digital Resources
Website analytics are essential. It’s a wealth of information you can use to measure your performance and improve your site. You can delete content no-one clicks on. Update pages to be more useful. Add content your analytics show is missing. And measure if campaigns or promotions drive more sales.
Useful analytics include:
Google Analytics (external link) — Google
Once your website goes live, let your customers know. Talk to them. Send emails, post on social media, add signage to your shop window and any company vehicles, and add your site to Google’s local listings.
My Business (external link) — Google
Web traffic doesn’t happen by magic. You need to drive it with ads, email marketing, and other methods.
Having an up-to-date website is essential for modern businesses. Use this tool to reflect on how well your website is meeting the needs of your customers and how you could improve it.
At the end of this assessment you’ll get:
5 - 10 minutes
To get a clear picture of how your online business is tracking, link it to your accounting software. Your software can help track sales, costs, cash flow, and inventory.
If you don’t yet use accounting software, now is a good time to start. It can make selling online a smoother experience for you.
Trusted providers include:
Get started with business finance:
Customers need to find you easily online — ahead of your competitors. It helps to adapt your web content so search engines like Google rank you better in search results. This is known as search engine optimisation.
It’s a bit of a specialist skill, so consider getting professional help. But you can get started using these techniques:
Review the functionality of your site regularly too. Technology changes quickly — make sure your site is keeping up. You need it to stay secure, work well, and be appealing.
Reviewing your website (external link) — Digital Resources
Good cyber security is crucial for your online business. Make sure you know how to:
To understand the risks and steps you can take, explore these resources:
Logs record all the actions that people take when they access your website. This information can be really helpful when things go wrong.
But logs often aren’t turned on by default. You may need to turn them on — it’s best to do this before issues arise. Having complete logs will help to diagnose and resolve any issues quickly.
CERT NZ is a government organisation that helps resolve cyber security issues. Reporting an issue will help your business as well as others.
At times business.govt.nz refers to specific businesses to make our resources more effective and easier to understand. We do this on the advice of our independent expert partners, including the New Zealand Business Performance Panel. However, we do not endorse any third-party private-sector businesses.