Remember the days when virtually every polytechnic student was running some kind of blogshop selling clothes sourced from City Plaza or Bangkok?
While that craze died down quite rapidly, Singapore’s e-business scene has actually been quietly growing over the years. Online retailers like HipVan, Love Bonito and Reebonz have made quite a name for themselves.
If you’ve always dreamt of setting up a successful e-business that would eventually become so successful you’d be able to quit your job, well, you never know until you try. But before you jump in, here are four areas in which you should do your homework.
Setting up the website
The first sum of cash you’ll have to fork out on behalf of your new business will be to cover the cost of booking a URL and web hosting.
This is something that is pretty much a no-brainer for those who’ve already done it and have a web hosting company they’ve been using for years.
But for total noobs, it’s easy to get overcharged. Many moons ago, I too had an online store, and we ended up paying 500 SGD to a local company for hosting space and a URL.
Now, if you’ve done your homework, you’ll realise this is way more than what you should be paying, especially for a fledgling site with little traffic. In fact, you can quite easily find a whole bunch of companies online that will give you a year’s worth of hosting and your URL of choice for under 200 SGD.
So make sure you do your research online before signing up for a package. There is no need to stick with a local company, as a local web developer can work on your site no matter where your hosting comes from.
Some popular places to get web space include HostGator and BlueHost, but if you do your research you might be able to find even better deals. It’s a good idea to read reviews to make sure you’re getting a stable connection though.
Designing your marketplace
If you’re serious about creating a professional-looking website rather than a blogshop, unless you and your business partners have web design skills, you’ll probably want to get a web developer to do it for you.
Now, you might be shocked to realise that some developers are quoting a few hundred dollars, while others are demanding tens of thousands of dollars. To deal with this, it’s important to know exactly what these developers are promising to do, and what you actually need.
Those who quote you shocking amounts of money are usually offering to develop a site for you from scratch.
This means they presumably start with a blank template and then magick an ecommerce site out of nothing. That’s like setting up a blog without using WordPress or Blogspot, and instead opening up Notepad and writing the code from scratch. This is something you will probably never need.
What you should be doing is using an established ecommerce platform and then getting a developer to customise a site on it for you. The most famous ones on the market are Shopify and Magento. When you speak with your developer, ask him if he can customise these platforms instead of build an ecommerce site from scratch.
At the same time, you want to ensure the developer’s abilities don’t extend to little more than changing the font and adding your banner on top. It’s usually safer to find someone who has a portfolio containing other ecommerce sites built using the same platform you’re using.
Having a good legal framework in place
There are lots of copycats out there on the internet, and let’s face it, you’re probably not the only one with dibs on goods from your supplier in Thailand/China/Korea.
The only thing that’s stopping some opportunistic person from ripping off your business is what you put up online—your site design, your brand and your online content.
Therefore, it’s really advisable to have a good legal framework in place to protect your work. Unless you’ve invented some new product that promises to reverse balding, you’re not looking at anything long and complicated like applying for patents.
Protecting yourself legally will probably be a matter of simply making sure you copyright all the necessary material so you don’t get ripped off.
Spend a little money and get a lawyer to give your site the once-over. Ideally this should be done at the start, but many online shop owners take a risk by waiting to see if they have a chance at becoming profitable before spending that money.
Unless you’re buying blogshop clothes from City Plaza, you are probably going to be purchasing inventory overseas because, uh, everything in Singapore is expensive and already imported from somewhere else.
While making your very first order might involve you buying one of those huge Thai rainbow bags and hopping on a TigerAir flight, at some point you’ll reach the stage where you need to send large amounts of money to your suppliers. And we really, really don’t advise you withdraw a suitcase-full of cash and take it to the moneychanger at Mustafa.
Instead, you should be using a remittance service like World First that will send the money electronically to your suppliers. Your main concerns about remittance services will be about reliability and not being overcharged for your inventory purchases.
Dealing with all of the above can be pretty overwhelming when you’re still trying to get your online store off the ground, but trust us, it gets easier with time, and once you know how everything works it’s a model you can easily replicate should you later decide to start selling Kpop merchandise/fake eyelashes/stress balls online.
Have you ever tried to set up an e-commerce site? Share your tips and experiences in the comments!
This article was brought to you by World First Asia Pte Ltd.