Financial Data
Updated 20 Jul 2018

3 Steps to cash in on ecommerce: Setting up your first online business

The benefits of starting your first business online are plentiful. Here’s how to get started, and learn from leaders in the field. 

Diana Albertyn, 13 May 2017  Share  0 comments  Print

All the answers to your unique business lifestage questions

When it comes to ecommerce, barriers to entry and the financial capital needed is lower than starting a bricks and mortar business. This is why so many start-up entrepreneurs are going the ecommerce route.

There’s also the fact that by 2018, South African’s online spending will reach R53 billion, taking it from 1% to 5% – proof that local shoppers are going online, and that you need to be available when they log in to the myriad of retail options out there.

Related: 4 Essential steps to start-up success


“Online offerings is about offering quality products in a quality environment that works every time,” says Mike Cotterell, Pick n Pay’s head of online shopping. This is even more important when you’re running a purely ecommerce store. 

While ecommerce could be a great way of getting into business, it doesn’t make it an easy one. You still need a fair amount of capital and skill to build a website, find a host, stock your inventory and set up a versatile payment system.

Here’s some industry-leading advice on how you can get it right:

1. Find a home (host) for your business

Who’ll handle your webhosting and what would work for you? First, consider this: The service your webhost provides will have a direct impact on how customers view your site, so choose wisely.

“Ask any potential host what is included in its per-month charge, and what costs extra,” says SME Toolkit SA. “Depending on the package you purchase, you could end up paying additional fees for things like image maps, Java applets, streaming audio/video (RealAudio), or server-side multimedia (Shockwave). Make sure you're clear on what this means to your site’s design or your budget.” 

Luxury online sock store owner Nic Haralambous weighs in on the ease of getting started. “Putting up a website is ‘free’ and easy today,” he says. “You can use Woocommerce, Shopify or any number of solutions to launch something.” But remember, hosting is important because you don’t want your site to crash from heavy traffic during your very first Black Friday promotion, do you?


 2. Build a quality site  

Haralambous started his first website at 12 years old. By 2012, NicHarry was born. “I started my thriving business with R5000 and made a profit in the first month,” he says.

You can hire someone build a site for you cheaply, or do it yourself, like Haralambous did. There are many free website builders available once you’ve established what you’re looking to model yours on. “I specifically wanted to get into e-commerce,” says Haralambous. “I didn’t want to accept returns and I wanted a light product that could ship cheaply to anywhere in the world.”

With this in mind, the next step would be ensuring clientele from anywhere in the world can purchase and receive your goods.

3. Establish (global) payment capability

PayPal might seem to be your likeliest (and most popular) tool for online payments across the world, but there are other options out there. When choosing one, consider fees payable.

According to technology and productivity expert Melanie Pinola: “PayPal, which accepts all major credit cards, is an easy solution that integrates with most major shopping carts. There are no setup charges or monthly fees, and getting started is very quick. But, PayPal takes between 2.2% and 2.9% of each transaction, depending on your monthly sales volumes.”

It’s also important to remember that some customers might not want to use PayPal. “Not everyone is comfortable using PayPal, so having another payment gateway would be beneficial. Allow shoppers to order directly from your website, but also offer alternative payment options like EFTs for people who don't trust online transaction processing,” Pinola says.

You’ll save on rent costs and mitigate staffing issues by starting your first business online, but this method doesn’t come without its challenges. Just like a traditional store, if the basics like location (your hosting), look and feel (the design of your site), and ease-of-payment options aren’t in place, the chance of not getting your ecommerce store off the ground are still real. 

Related: Why successful start-ups use design to boost brand equity


Make it easier for customers to place an order by adding a live shopping cart option so customers can monitor their entire purchase, and add or remove to their total before checking out. In addition to this, your products and their prices should be clearly displayed, along with available delivery options for a better customer experience.

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Diana Albertyn

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