With a relatively low cost to entry and the potential to sell to the world having your own online store can be a tempting proposition. This article goes through some of the steps that would be worth taking in order to give your ecommerce business the best chance of getting off to a good start.
Check for demand
Are people going to buy the products that you plan to sell? And if so, are there are a lot of other ecommerce websites out there selling exactly the same thing? It can be difficult to answer these questions but it is worth doing as much research as you can to make sure you will make sales through the site. You will most likely be in one of these two scenarios:
Completely Bespoke Product
If you are manufacturing your own product, this provides you with a unique advantage in so much as no one will be able to undercut you and you have complete control over your stock. Depending on what you are selling, it is worth having a look at tools such as Google’s keyword planner to see what kind of search volume there is for your products. You should also check any relevant competition sites to see what price point they are selling their products for to make sure you don’t price yourself out of the market
Selling other brands products
If you are buying in stock from other brands to sell, the big advantage of this is that you obviously don’t have the headache of having to manufacture your own products and will most likely be provided with professional photography and product content to use on the website. Of course, the big downside to this approach is that there will almost certainly be a large number of websites also selling these brands online – so why would a customer choose to shop with you as opposed to established stores like Amazon? You will need to make your offering different, whether that be through price, service, content or delivery in order to stay ahead of the competition. Think about what can make you a more compelling place to buy.
Choosing a name for your new business can be both one of the most fun and frustrating parts of starting your new business. You’ll most likely come up with a name that you love only to then find that someone has nabbed the domain name for it. The next days will probably be spent doing the same, making you wonder if there are any free domain names left at all! However, you will get there and eventually find a name that is both available and you like (even if it wasn’t your first choice).
You can check domain name availability on many hosting company websites such as 123reg
top tip: Don’t be tempted to stuff your domain name full of keywords for ‘seo purposes’. Not only will it not have much of a positive effect on search rankings, it usually also looks ugly to a customer.
Choose your business type
Sole trader, limited company, partnership – there are quite a few different ways to set your business up. It is recommended that you seek out the help of a business accountant who will be able to advise on the best setup for your ecommerce store. Most will offer a free initial conversation and from there can assist you with your business setup from a legal point of view including letting HMRC know and setting up payroll for you.
Choose your ecommerce platform
Getting this step correct is vital. If you end up with a platform that is not quite right for your business you could well see yourself letting the technology dictate your business strategy rather than the other way around. What you sell and your business aspirations for the next 3-5 years should dictate the ecommerce platform you choose. Whilst there is a wealth of content out there going through the virtues of each platform it is often worth seeking the help of an ecommerce consultant or specialist ecommerce agency to go through the pros and cons. Three ecommerce platforms that are popular and worth considering for small to medium size businesses are:
Complete the legal steps
You will be required to have content on your site such as terms and conditions and privacy policies. Adhering to new online rules such as GDPR is important so it is worth seeking the advice of a legal professional who specialises in online business. They will be be able to create this content for you to make sure you are covered from a legal standpoint.
Build your website
If you have a very simple setup then it is possible to create your own ecommerce website without the help of any technical expertise. In order to do this, you would need to go with a SAAS (software as a service) platform such as Shopify. You will be able to choose a theme and customise using their online tools, link it to your domain and easily add your products. The technical parts such as the checkout, account area and site security is all handled by Shopify so all you need to do is add the content.
If your site is a little more complex and requires bespoke customisation you will most likely need to employ the help of a developer, whether freelance or through an ecommerce agency. Now is the time to not scrimp on cost if you can do – you wouldn’t necessarily go with the cheapest quote to build a house so you shouldn’t do with an online store either. If your site is poorly built you could see yourself constantly having to address issues and bugs rather than running your business.
Top tip: Platforms such as Magento and BigCommerce are different to normal CMS platforms so it is worth going to an agency that specialises in these platforms rather than offers these as just one of their services.
Get all your 3rd parties in place
You will most likely need to put in place extensions to your website to add in essential functionality. Make sure during the build phase these are all factored in – it is generally much easier to bake these in as part of the main website build rather than treat them as a bolt on. As a starter for 10, these pieces of functionality usually require 3rd party functionality to improve on an ecommerce website:
- Site search
- Shipping options
- Email marketing provider
You’ve launched your website and….no one visits it and no one is buying! Don’t panic, there are plenty of things you can and should do in order to get some customers in the door and products out.
- Submit your site to Google Search Console – Here you can submit your site to the search engines and add elements such as XML sitemaps (all good ecommerce platforms should offer this functionality)
- Look at marketing options such as Google Ads/Shopping – This is a low cost way of getting qualified traffic through to your website with no ongoing commitment to spend. Google will often offer vouchers too for those new to their advertising platform. If you don’t have time to work out what you need to do, there are plenty of agencies out there that can run these for you.
- Create content! – Write blog content, enrich product description, update the homepage regularly. Give your customers a reason to come back to your website.
There is naturally a lot more to do when it comes to running your online business – we haven’t even touched on buying for example. But getting these steps in place and done correctly will give you a good chance in giving your online store the best start possible.