Are you considering an eCommerce website for your business? It’s not always as simple as buying a Wix website and adding a few products. This definitive eCommerce Website Guide will show you exactly what to consider before you begin.
I’ve built my fair share of eCommerce websites. Some have been in London, some have been in the US and some have been in Australia. All of them have been equally as interesting. But all have had one thing in common – people were shocked by what’s involved to get off the ground and build an eCommerce website.
Let’s break down what’s involved:
- Which software the site will run on
- Planning which products you are selling
- What countries / regions / states you are selling to
- How people will be paying
- How will you handle shipping
- How will you handle taxes
- How is security handled
- Pricing strategies
- Will you need to track stock
- What will you say in your communication
- Will people require a tax invoice
- How will you handle returns
- Do you need a Terms and Conditions document
The eCommerce software, or platform, that you run your website on will have a bearing on the cost and performance of your website. Some common platforms are:
This approach is great if you want an all-in-one eCommerce website and you want to do it yourself. These types of websites will be cheaper in the short term.
If you want flexibility, for example how your website looks, then this is not the type of website for you.
Also be aware that you don’t own the website, you’re “renting” it out on a monthly basis for the life of the site.
WordPress / WooCommerce
This platform offers full flexibility. Initially you’ll need the knowledge of an expert to set it up. But once it’s up and running you have full control over the whole website, including reporting, design and the components that you wish to add to the site.
This is the big daddy of eCommerce website platforms. It’s built for strength and robustness, but be aware that you’ll be paying a fair bit more for specialised developers who can build the site for you.
Planning which products you are selling
This part of the process can be quite time consuming. Make sure you plan for at least 50% of the project time to be filled up with product planning and adding products to the system.
Visual customers will want to see what your product looks like to help them decide on whether to purchase. If you can go that step further and include a video with a voice over then this is the icing on the cake – and you’re catering for people who process information using sound.
Every product will need the following information:
- Product name.
- Short description. This is normally displayed on a page that lists all products together.
- Long description. This is normally displayed when a person clicks on a product and wants to get into the detail of what the product is all about.
- Photos / Video
- Dimensions. This is normally used to work out shipping.
- Weight. This is also used to work out shipping.
- Category. This is used to help the eCommerce system work out how to group products. This can be used for a “do you want fries with that” approach.
- Bundles. This can help a customer get a discount if they buy certain products together.
Adding Products to the System
It helps to have an idea of how long each product takes to plan and then add to the system. The best approach for this is to go through a practice run of a single product. This includes the photography, gathering of information and adding the product to the eCommerce system. Once you’ve got an idea of how long it takes to add a single product, simply multiply that time by the number of products that you have and hey presto you’ve got a rough estimate of how long it will take you to add you’re entire product suite to the system.
Where are you selling
The countries and states that you are selling to will have an impact on how you set up your website.
You will need to set up taxes for each country you’re selling to. If you’re selling to the United States, you will need to take into account the tax rate for each state and keep on top current rates.
Some countries, such as Australia require tax to be applied if you are selling within Australia, but tax is not applied if you are selling from outside Australia unless the order amount reaches a particular level. There are some products and services that do not have tax applied to them at all.
Some countries restrict the types of products and services that can be exported to particular countries. And some countries restrict the types of products and services that can be imported to a country. You will need to be across these laws if you decide to sell overseas.
How are people paying
This can be a tough one. There are a few considerations when choosing the right method of payment that you want to offer.
- What rate does the payment service charge? Most payment services charge a fee for a transaction so make sure you’re across how this works.
- Is it secure? This is critical for the customer. They need to be able to trust your website and ensure that you’re taking good care of their credit card and personal details.
- Does the payment method work with your website? If you would like people to be able to pay using a method that deposits straight to your business bank account then check that your bank offers this method and check that this method will work on your website.
This is a really common and secure way of allowing people to pay on your website. It has a trusted and recognisable name. Be aware that PayPal can link directly to a business bank account and allows people to pay without a PayPal account.
The drawback of this type of account is that the customer is often taken off to a different set of screens when going through the payment process which can detract from the look and feel of your website.
Payment on Delivery
This option is great when you are offering a service where a representative of your business can hand deliver the product.
A payment gateway
Payment Gateways are a fancy way of saying that people can pay for something using someone else’s service. They are designed to offer complete security between your website and the bank. They remove the hassle of you having to process credit card information by handling this part for you and telling your website whether the payment was successful or not.
The advantage of a payment gateway is they often integrate nicely into your website – i.e. the customer has no idea they they are using an external service apart from a logo that tells them how they are paying.
Your bank’s merchant gateway
Most banks will offer a service where you can integrate their payment methods directly into your bank account. Again this method usually integrates directly into your website and it means that you’re dealing directly with your own bank.
How are you shipping
Once a customer has purchased their products you normally need a way of getting a product to them. If you’re selling digital products then this can be straight forward. If you’re selling physical products then there’s a few things to consider.
Consider whether you will be using a courier or postal service.
Most shipping services offer an integration between their shipping service and your eCommerce system. If you choose to go down this path, then a whole world of possibility opens up. It’s worth exploring.
Will your customers be able to track their shipment. These days people want information fast. A simple way of providing this information – and freeing up your customer service phone calls – is to tell them the tracking number when their product ships. Most eCommerce systems provide a way of storing the tracking number and automatically telling a customer that their product has shipped.
Delivery and Returns
Make sure you have policies in place to cover non-delivery of goods or damaged or defective goods. It’s normally a great idea to have these policies available on your website.
Security is critical in an eCommerce system. People are normally giving away sensitive information like their address, phone numbers and what they are buying. There are people out there who are aching to get their hands on this type of information.
SSL is a way of scrambling information when it’s sent over the internet. These days we use so many wireless devices and information travels across so many pathways that we can never be sure of who’s listening in.
Scrambling information using SSL Certificates is a smart way to limit the risk of anyone being able to unscramble.
Storage of Details
Most eCommerce systems store customer’s personal details in a database. To minimise the risk of someone hacking into your system and stealing customer’s details you will need to install security layers and ensure that your hosting environment has systems that can keep hackers out.
Consider how special pricing will be offered. Will people be given a discount code?
Will your website have membership, i.e. can people register to get benefits such as discounts?
Will you offer discounts to people who purchase your products in bulk?
eCommerce sites are an exciting way to earn income while you sleep. To get to the point of having a website that earns an income, you will need to plan for the future and get it right as early as possible.
A few hours of planning now will create a future of a comfortable transition to an online business.