By Dave Hobday, Managing Director of Worldpay UK

Are you happy with your bottom line? Do you feel as if your business is achieving its potential? Would you like to sell your products and services to a whole new market? A vast, borderless, virtual market that could help you boost profits and stand out from the competition? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes”, then it’s time to start planning to turn your business into an e-business. There’s certainly plenty to consider – from building a website to choosing a trusted payments provider – but the rewards on offer will make you wonder why you didn’t start sooner.

So why online? The truth is that over the past decade our shopping habits have undergone a radical transformation. Today we’re just as likely to log-on and get goods delivered direct to the door as walk down the high street with a shopping bag. Last year alone, the UK spent £91 billion online – a 16% rise from the previous year, according to the IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index. What’s more, the forecast for 2014 is even better, with an anticipated £107bn to be spent in online stores. These are big numbers and they’re growing even faster thanks to the increase in mobile shoppers clicking to buy online via their smartphone or tablet. In December last year 27% of all online sales were made via mobiles.

In spite of the tough economic climate, e-commerce is clearly booming in the UK, but it can also open up your small or medium sized business to a vast global market. This cannot only help give your profits a healthy shot in the arm but also differentiate your business. It also diversifies your customer base, reducing the impact of potentially unfavourable market conditions at home.

Getting started

So, where do you start? The to-do list may seem daunting to begin with but it actually doesn’t have to be that complicated, or costly. The first thing to consider is a website through which to display and sell goods and services. For many small businesses, an off-the-shelf all-in-one package which includes the site plus domain registration and hosting is a good option to start with.

The next big decision is who to choose as a payments provider. To set up as an e-commerce business you need to create a Merchant Account – designed to process online credit and debit card payments – and a Payment Gateway service which settles customers’ online payments into that account. There are countless third party payments providers who will help with all of this. But it’s important to make sure they accept all payment types, including multiple currencies, so that you can appeal to as many customers as possible around the world. Another must-have is fraud screening to give you peace of mind that any suspicious transactions will be spotted and blocked. Finally, make sure you don’t have to work with multiple suppliers and the provider you choose has a customer support hotline in case any problems arise.

Another major consideration is your shopping cart provider. There’s a huge amount of choice but at a basic level you need to work out if you want to host your own payment page or have it taken care of by a payment provider like Worldpay. We recommend you focus on simplicity and security. Make sure it’s intuitive and easy to navigate, or shoppers may abandon their cart, and that it complies with PCI DSS, the industry standard for keeping card details secure.
It also goes without saying that all of the above needs to be mobile friendly, so your business can cash in on the growing trend for shopping on-the-go. In June this year 19% of payments processed by Worldpay were through mobile devices and tablets – and over the last two years we’ve seen a 15% increase in mobile devices being used to make payments through our hosted payment pages [1].

Now for the legal bit

Online trading also brings with it a few extra regulations you need to comply with, so familiarise yourself with the Distance Selling Legislation, HM Revenue & Customs, Health & Safety and the Data Protection Act 1998. There’s also new European-level legislation as of June 2014 which will mean you need to provide several features. These include a basic rate phone number on the site; a 14 day “cooling off period” where consumers can cancel and get a full return; a clear “Buy” button; a 14-day limit on returns following a cancellation; and no pre-ticked boxes which might incur extra charges.

It might sound like a lot to think about but a potential market of £107 billion in the UK alone speaks for itself. Once it’s up and running your e-commerce business will give you the kind of international reach, scale and differentiation which is virtually impossible in the bricks and mortar world.

[1] Worldpay transactional data from January 2012 – June 2014.