So you're ready to begin building your eCommerce business. This will involve creating your eCommerce website and also setting up the various accounts required.
Here are some of the big questions you will need to ask when planning your eCommerce website.
1. What domain name should I use?
The domain name is the website address that people will type in to access your online store. Try to keep your domain name short and catchy.
Don't worry about trying to stuff keywords into your website address - just make it memorable and easy to spell!
2. What platform or system should we use?
When you hear people talking about a website 'platform' they are referring to the software that is used to manage your website. With eCommerce website, this will usually refer to a Content Management System (or CMS). This gives you tools to easily edit the content on your website, such as products, blog articles and pages yourself without needing to rely on a website developer for simple changes.
There are a lot of options out there when you start looking at eCommerce platforms and everybody has their own opinion about which is best. To narrow down your choices, I would recommend that you consider the following 3 big names in eCommerce, so you can make up your own mind (I'll be honest - we are biased!):
Magento is a very robust and heavy duty eCommerce platform. There are a lot of well respected web developers out there who work on Magento. The platform is well established and has a lot of advanced features already built in such the product filtering and advanced product search options. The downsides for Magento are that the admin screens that the customer doesn't see can be very complicated to use. This makes it harder to train your staff on how to manage your site and you may need to outsource smaller tasks to your web developer. Which leads me on to Magento development. Typically, Magento website development will be a more expensive option, so for smaller businesses or those with no existing eCommerce presence, cost may be prohibitive.
WordPress & WooCommerce
So up front, this is the platform that we use!
We choose WooCommerce for a number of reasons. The system is very scalable - you can add more advanced features as your business grows by using 'plugins'. These are small add-on programs that can be added to your site to add new features.
When running on a reliable hosting environment, a WooCommerce site is solid and dependable. We have used this system for a range of eCommerce websites and it has never failed us.
The interface is simple and easy to use, which means your staff will be able to do more to manage your website and spend less time outsourcing small changes to your web developer. This makes it a more cost effective system for smaller businesses.
For businesses on a smaller budget, you can choose from a wide range of off-the-shelf themes to get your business up and running without additional development costs.
Over the last few years Shopify has become a household name for eCommerce websites and has a lot of buzz around it. The team at Shopify put out a lot of excellent resources to help shop owners.
Shopify has some beautiful off-the-shelf themes, which makes it easy to get a great looking site up and running fast.
Initially their sites can seem very cheap as they start with low monthly subscriptions. Watch out for their payment processing on their lowest plans, because they take a percentage of the sales and don't allow you to add your own payment gateway. Depending on the number of sales you make, this could end up costing you more each month.
With Shopify you are paying for the convenience of their platform which will cost you more month-by-month than other eCommerce solutions.
If you choose a self-hosted eCommerce platform such as Magento or WooCommerce you will also need to choose a suitable host for your website. You are basically paying for a computer to 'install' your website on so that people can access your site.
For eCommerce websites it is particularly important that your hosting is suitable. This means it needs to be fast, reliable and secure.
For websites that run on WordPress we personally recommend Flywheel, who we use for all of our clients' websites. Although another great option is WP Engine. Avoid cheap hosting where multiple websites are stored on the same server.
Any hosting that costs less than £10/month is usually too cheap and not worth the risk. You don't want the GDPR dogs chasing you down because your customer information was compromised because you scrimped on your website hosting!
4. Branding & Design
Are you going to go for bespoke or off-the-shelf design? I'll start by saying that almost everybody says they want a bespoke design, but is it something that you truly need?
If you are an established company with a strong brand you are going to want to pay for a fully bespoke design to match your brand as this is what people will connect with.
With modern website platforms such as Shopify or WordPress this no longer needs to be decided before you start. If you are starting your eCommerce business from scratch, choosing an off-the-shelf theme can lower your initial investment and get you up and running to start selling. You can add that extra-slick design to your site once you've made some profit and can re-invest it back into the business.
5. Choosing your developer
Once you have decided your platforms and the route you are going to take, you now need to choose a company to develop your eCommerce website for you.
When building an eCommerce site you are going to want to make sure that the developer has experience working with your chosen platform and also follows best practices when developing the site. If you are having a bespoke theme created, you want the code behind the site to be well written and optimised to ensure your site is fast and responsive.
With an eCommerce site, you are also going to be starting a long term relationship so you need to make sure you are able to go back to them for support at a later date. Many website companies will offer ongoing support packages or 'retainers' so that they are available when you need them. You'll need to know what to look for when choosing your eCommerce partner.
6. Collecting reviews
Before you start making sales, it's important to also consider how you will collect reviews for your products. Reviews are a great way of adding 'social proof' to your website and increasing confidence in your business. This leads to increased sales!
Many eCommerce platforms will have an integrated reviews system which will get you started, although these rely on users deciding to log in to your site and write a review. We would strongly recommend you look to third party review platforms as this allows you to auto email customers after their purchase and can also help you to offer incentives for writing a review.
Depending on your budget here are a few review platforms to consider: