Whether your organisation sells direct to the public or offers goods to other businesses, a well implemented online store can have a dramatic effect on your company. The most obvious benefit is that by selling online you can reach a much wider audience and with careful marketing a website can result in significant sales increases. In addition to this many of your existing customers may find it easier to place their orders online, helping to streamline your sales processes. The simple fact is that the British public is becoming increasingly comfortable with online shopping and the widespread adoption of home broadband connections means that people are spending more time and money online than ever before.

According to recent figures from Visa its card-holders spent more than 2.4 billion online in the first quarter of this year, an increase of 123 per cent over the same period in 2003. That growth was mirrored across most of the major European nations. The Interactive Media in Retail Group (www.imrg.org) reports that UK Internet shopping over the Christmas period grew by 70% in 2003, a year on year increase that was 31 times greater than the growth in high street trading.

Ecommerce offers particularly enticing opportunities for smaller businesses. While budget constraints may place limitations on the location and quality of your premises, there is no reason why your online shop-front cannot look every bit as impressive as that of a multinational corporation. The ideal approach would be to hire a specialist web development company to produce an online store for your business, but this path can be expensive and fraught with danger.

There is a surfeit of web developers offering their services to small businesses, but unless you have some expertise in the subject it can be next to impossible to see through the techno-babble and marketing double speak. Finding a developer with the capability to deliver the site you want on time and on budget can be very difficult. Also, if you hire a third party developer to build your online shop, editing and updating the site could prove difficult and you may end up having to repeatedly pay them to implement relatively simple changes to the site.

There are numerous advantages to building the site yourself, and contrary to popular opinion you do not need to be a programmer or web designer to product a fully functioning, professional looking ecommerce site. There are several options available to suit all budgets and you can create a surprisingly sophisticated store on a shoestring, so even the smallest of retailers can start trading online without the need for a large cash investment.


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