Launching an e-commerce business is a large undertaking – props to you for considering it!
Even businesses selling the best product in their given industry, or those who already have a thriving brick and mortar shop, may struggle to gain traction online.
So, what does it take? As with any business endeavor, the decisions made early on play a big role in your long-term success. As you prepare yourself to dive in and build your e-commerce website, consider these top 7 factors:
1. Your Pricing Strategy
If you’ve decided that your products or services are a good fit for online retail, the first thing to consider is your pricing strategy.
The price of your products is one of the most important decisions. If the margins are very low on your products, you have to evaluate whether you’ll be able to generate enough revenue to support your website and marketing efforts.
Research your competitors and audit how similar products are priced online. Don’t forget to check Amazon. As you price your products, keep in mind how shipping may affect the overall cost. Amazon’s free 2-day shipping is particularly popular, so consider pricing your products high enough so that you, too, can offer low shipping options. Factor enough leeway for coupon codes or occasional sales, if you intend to offer them.
Lastly, if you’re selling products that are extremely expensive and your business doesn’t have a strong brand recognition, it can be very challenging to gain conversions on a new e-commerce site. If your product falls into this category, you may consider displaying a product catalog on your website without an online checkout, and customer can contact your business to place an order and process payments offline.
2. Your Product Images & Categories
Once you’ve got your prices set, you can move on to the online display and organization of your products. An intuitive navigation on the site is an important factor for user experience and increasing conversions. So, if you are selling multiple products or a single product that has a lot of variables, you may want to organize them into categories.
The product images and descriptions on the site are also extremely important to converting visitors into sales. If you don’t have images of your products, it’s worth investing in a photographer taking high-quality photos. Make sure the photos are authentic and represent the product well.
Online consumers expect the image that they see online to match the product they receive. The product descriptions should be well-written and include as much information as possible to entice a sale and also answer frequently asked questions about the product.
3. Your E-Commerce Platform
The two most popular e-commerce platforms are WooCommerce and Shopify. Your choice of platform will influence how and where you build your site. Changing to a different e-commerce platform down the line would typically require rebuilding the whole site, so it’s critical to evaluate the different options early on.
WooCommerce is a WordPress e-commerce platform and it integrates seamlessly into any WordPress site. If you already have an existing WordPress site, WooCommerce is a great choice because you can add a shopping cart by simply installing a plugin.
WooCommerce is also endlessly customizable, while also easy to learn and use for shop owners. The one downside of WooCommerce is that you will typically need a web developer to build the initial store and add any complex functionality.
Shopify is also an extremely popular platform. Its big advantage is that Shopify is an all-in-one platform, which means they handle the hosting, security and everything on their own platform. However, customization on Shopify is more limited than WordPress, as Shopify is not open source, but the features and apps that are available are easily added through Shopify. As far as security is concerned, you don’t have to worry about ongoing maintenance for the site, as there is only one platform to contact.
While it may be tempting to cut corners to reduce your costs on the website itself, the quality of an e-commerce site and the functionality will directly impact the success of sales on the site.
4. Shipping & Inventory Management
Inventory management is a critical factor for e-commerce sites. First, you need to make sure the system managing your inventory can be connected to the e-commerce platform. A lot of product-based businesses that have never done online retail may need to update their inventory management system to one that can easily integrate with the site.
As previously mentioned, shipping is an important factor when creating your pricing strategy. The popularity of Amazon’s options for free shipping and fast, 2-day delivery has created an expectation from consumers for great shipping options.
Determine whether you’ll be using UPS, USPS or FedEx and set up the proper accounts with your chosen option. Keep in mind to account for areas you don’t service, such as international locations or certain states. And remember to set up limits for shipments, if necessary.
If you are working with a fulfillment center that will be preparing the products & shipping them, it’s very important to bring this up early on when building the site. Work with your web team or web developer to automate the transferal of the necessary information so that each new order goes directly to the fulfillment center.
5. Your Merchant Processor
The next thing to consider is your merchant processor: the method by which you will process financial transactions. A payment processor, such as PayPal, Stripe, or Authorize.Net, enables your customers to pay directly on your site with debit or credit cards.
One of the major benefits to setting up a merchant processor is that your customers aren’t taken off your site to process payment.
Setting up your merchant processor requires several steps and it can take a while to receive approval from the merchant processor in question, so get started early on.
During your review of payment processors, take a look at the fees & rates involved, and talk to the web development team who is building the site. The majority of e-commerce platforms integrate with all three of these processors, but double check to be sure. While PayPal is a common option, Stripe has become very popular in the last few years due to its fees and approval process, so do some research and find what works best for you.
If your business sells products in regulated industries, such as cannabis products, check whether the merchant processor will approve your business, given its products. Certain options will deny approval.
A lot of e-commerce business owners wait a while before deciding on the merchant processor which can cause delays in launching the e-commerce site. Start your research and the approval process as early as possible.
6. Your Marketing Plans
You’ve got an awesome product, and your price established. Now, it’s time to get the word out to potential customers. A lot of e-commerce businesses struggle with getting enough traffic to the site and generating enough revenue in order to keep the site running.
Think about how you’d like to drive traffic to the site. Do you plan on investing in paid advertising, such as Google ads or Facebook advertising, or relying on search engine optimization? Keep in mind that SEO (search engine optimization) takes a lot of time. Pay per click and other advertising avenues deliver faster results.
Email marketing is an important aspect for any e-commerce business. The best way to go about it is to set up a third party system such as Mailchimp or Constant Contact to handle your email subscriber list. You can then set up your e-commerce site to connect to the email platform so that new customers are automatically added to your subscriber list.
While driving traffic to the site is a big marketing focus, that traffic needs to convert in order to generate sales. Investing in a high-quality web design for the e-commerce site and an e-commerce platform that offers an intuitive check-out process helps with conversions.
Finally, consider adding live chat to your e-commerce site. Live chat is a great tool for converting more visitors to customers because it provides an easy way for visitors to ask questions before making a purchase.
7. Website Security & Performance
After investing in a high-quality site, protecting your investment comes in the form of regular maintenance, support and security.
Unfortunately, website security is a concern for every website owner. With an e-commerce site, security is even more important since your customers process payments on the site. Regardless of what e-commerce platform you select, you’ll need to set up security parameters to protect the site. E-commerce sites are targeted for the confidential data involved, and as a website owner, you are liable for protecting your customers’ data.
In addition to security, WordPress and WooCommerce websites require regular WordPress maintenance such as plugin updates or software updates. Skipping these updates can lead to security, performance and functionality issues on the site.
Maintenance is also critical for performance. On e-commerce sites, the page load speed and site performance can have a direct impact on conversions. Evaluate your e-commerce site hosting setup as well because this can affect performance. Visitors are expecting faster and faster site performance, so it’s important to keep your site in top gear.
A Foundation for Long-Term Success
There’s a lot to consider when creating a successful e-commerce business, from pricing, shipping, and product fulfillment, to the creation and maintenance of your website, complete with an e-commerce platform, merchant processor and website security and maintenance. But like any business, attention to detail in the early stages, and a clear vision of the necessary steps will set you up for success in the long run.
With e-commerce, the internet becomes an inexhaustible resource; it is your shop, your bank, and your connection to new clients. So, use it wisely and enjoy your online business!
Read more: How to Optimize an E-Commerce Site
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