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5 steps for launching an e-commerce site

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Advice for getting your online store up and running successfully.

Building an easy-to-use online shopping site is no easy task. But it's critical for most businesses' success because online shopping is such a big part of the shopping pie. Online shopping is expected to grow by 20 percent in 2014 to $1.5 trillion globally, reports industry research firm eMarketer.

Online shoppers expect to have multiple shipping options, get shipping cost information at or before checkout, and get tracking information throughout the order and delivery process.

And mobile is already huge. In 2013, 40 percent of online purchases on Black Friday were made on a mobile device, according to Custora's E-Commerce Pulse report.

So how do you get started in e-commerce? Or improve what you already have? UPS has several resources that can help small businesses do the job right. Here are five essential steps:

1. Get your feet wet. A good first step is to build an online presence with a store on eBay, Amazon or Yahoo, says Adam Sever, UPS small business segment marketing manager. "Through the UPS Ready® program, we have partnerships in place that can help brick-and-mortar stores get into the e-commerce space more smoothly."

With Amazon Seller Central, for example, UPS value-added technology is built in, so you can compare rates and transit times, save time and reduce errors, using labels preprinted with order information. Another plus: a 37 percent savings off standard rates by using your own UPS account.

2. Think through your inventory and fulfillment issues. "It's important to make sure you can handle the influx of new orders a web presence can trigger," Sever says.

"Having the right inventory on hand and ready to ship is essential because you need to be able to get product to customers when they expect it. You want their online buying experience to be a positive one," Sever says. "One option to consider is using a resource like The UPS Store® to handle fulfillment on smaller orders. They can help you with choosing the right size box and packing materials so you're not overspending or adding unnecessary weight."

3. Invest in your own e-commerce website. As you grow and develop more online sales volume, you may want to launch your own hosted website. "You can use a service like 3dcart or Shopify to get a turnkey site built," Sever says.

Look for a service that gives you the tools and support you need to create your own e-commerce website using predesigned templates. Be sure you can add product images, YouTube videos and a blog, and that you're able to expand into mobile marketing.

4. Add UPS APIs to your online shopping cart. Online shoppers expect to have multiple shipping options, get shipping cost information at or before checkout, and get tracking information throughout the order and delivery process.

One way is with UPS Developer Kit application programming interfaces (APIs), which integrate directly into online retail sites and back-end business systems. You can choose different APIs that sync various features. One, the Rating API, allows your customers to see shipping costs and choose shipping speeds right at checkout. The Shipping API links UPS shipping functionality directly to your website checkout, saving you time on order entry and speeding up the order fulfillment process. Other APIs allow automatically validate customer addresses during online checkout. The tracking API lets customers track packages right on your website, based on an order number you provide.

You might consider getting help in the programming of APIs by reaching out to a UPS Ready Program provider. These companies have been approved and certified by UPS to integrate APIs.

This can be a smart move, as "implementing APIs is not a simple ‘drag and drop' process," says Daniel Franz, UPS product manager. A lot depends on the number of APIs you want to implement, the platform and the skill of the programmer. "It can take from three or four days to three or four weeks or more," Franz says. He recommends that businesses review the resources at the UPS Developer Resource Center, download the UPS Developer Kit User Guide for complete details and involve an experienced programmer in the setup.

5. Include mobile and social media in your plans. "Mobile and social media are both important trends to watch," Sever says.

One real-world example: Chocolate Pizza Company, a UPS customer based in Marcellus, N.Y., uses Facebook and Twitter to promote discounts and free shipping offers exclusive to its 18,000 followers. "Every time we do that we see a nice spike in orders," says Ryan Novak, CEO.

To learn more about the growth of e-commerce and m-commerce and what online shoppers are looking for from retailers, download the 2014 UPS Pulse of the Online ShopperTM study.

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