Creating and building an eCommerce website can be a challenging task. Looking to start out an online shop? Here are 5 steps to perfection.
As you probably know, the prerequisite to have your website online lie into picking up a domain name. Second, you need to consider acquiring some webspace to store your files. Third, you will get a proper content management system, or CMS, to organize said files. Let’s dive into it.
So, the domain is the address to access our website. We need to register a domain if we want to launch any website, so the same applies to our e-commerce. Otherwise, we cannot appear nor sell online.
This is how we “translate” for our users the IP address of our website, which would be impossible to understand otherwise. For our Fashion Technology Accelerator website, the IP address would be “22.214.171.124” – but www.ftaccelerator.it appears to be much easier to remember.
If you’re curious, you can search any online website using Domain Tools, and you will discover what’s the IP address for any website.
The technical name you are looking for is “domain name registrar“. And, to register your domain, you could use a company such as:
Depending on your country, you may easily find other companies offering the same service. Be careful: do not spend too much on your domain name, and keep it short! This will come handy once you’ll need to structure your URL’s.
An example? Let’s assume we need to launch our own “FTA shirts” e-commerce. A quick research on Godaddy shows that we need less than 10 € to buy the .com domain.
Needless to say, now that we have an address, we need to match this to a place to store the documents and files that will compose our website.
Various companies offer integrated packages offering both hosting and domain, but you can also purchase them separately.
This is far more important for our website: you need a hosting service that is both fast and reliable. Pro tip: consider to spend more money on hosting than on domain acquisition.
A full, comprehensive review of a few hosting services for Woocommerce can be found here. The main decision to make is about having a shared or dedicated hosting, with the latter being far more expensive. You have many alternatives including:
As an example, a website hosted on Siteground would cost you from 4 to 30 € per month, depending on the current offers available.
As of now, we have a domain and a place to store our files, so let’s consider our options to organize our documents and files to build our eCommerce. We need a CMS now.
While there are many alternatives on the market, our suggestion would be about starting with either one of the two leading CMS used worldwide for eCommerce:
On one hand, Shopify is as easy as it gets to start an online business. The downside is that you have fewer customization options, you need to pay a monthly fee and the platform takes a percentage out of your revenues.
On the other hand, Woocommerce is extremely customizable. However, it requires a bit of knowledge of WordPress programming. It can be trickier to use at first glance if you have no experience creating or maintaining a website.
Disclaimer: various plugins highlighted in this article are for Woocommerce, but the reasoning behind is the same for any other CMS.
When you start with either one of these, you have a blank canvas that could be threatening for inexperienced entrepreneurs. No panic!
You can start with a premium theme (paid) from websites such as Themeforest or Themeisle. Such a choice helps you connect the dots without too much effort. Ideally, you should choose a theme with various case studies available. These will add up to live websites with a similar feel to the one you are looking forward to creating.
Verify that you can easily send out e-mails and handle your users from an intuitive interface, as these will be a real problem if not managed correctly.
A professional theme may cost around 69 € per year, as we can see from Themeisle:
Checkpoint #1: we have a domain name, a hosting provider and a CMS installed.
Make no mistakes: privacy policies are mandatory, not an extra.
If you are wondering what cookies are, we can just define these as files that web browsers give to your server. These files will contain information about the visits to your web pages, as well as any information related to (and allowed from) your visitors. You want to learn as much as possible about your visits, hence cookies are important.
You can use plugins such as Cookie Notice to solve this issue without risking lowering your website’s speed.
As you will be selling online, we are taking for granted that you have already registered your VAT.
This is a fundamental piece for any business. Rules and requirements, of course, vary among countries, so make sure to be VAT-compliant before starting selling online.
Doing so, you will avoid problems later on. Also, this is a basic requirement to create a full company policy, since we are talking about e-commerce.
Now, let’s discuss operations.
Assuming that you have already produced all your pieces, it’s about time to answer a few questions.
If your production is local, it makes things easier. Anyway, you still need to consider the time needed to produce your pieces as well.
Depending on the size of your business, you may have a dedicated storage unit. However, the products must be moved from their production place to storage without issues, and this must be planned in advance.
Various platforms enable smooth integration and online stock management. Keep in check your current stock levels. Otherwise, the risk is about losing sales, etcetera.
Do not underestimate this part. Different orders require different boxes, different labels and so on. Finally, somebody needs to take care of this operational aspect.
Depending on your technology stack, you will have various ways to interact with your customers. You will be able to communicate with them directly from the e-commerce interface. Otherwise, you can do so using tools such as Active Campaign or Mailchimp. Be sure that these tools can be integrated with your platform to send delivery updates.
This is related to the previous questions as well. If you plan on going internationally from the start, you need to lay out a structure that gives you flexibility and security on an international level.
Small e-commerce websites have a very low return rate. However, understanding and explaining the return flow to your customer is a valuable asset. And to enhance credibility, and ease your mind if this was to happen.
Every platform will have its own system to help you sort these questions out. So, if you are able to clarify this flow, you will be efficient in managing your operations accordingly. Otherwise, the risk is losing time for repetitive tasks that could be better spent elsewhere.
Pro tip: map out on paper the flow you envisioned first, then replicate it on your e-commerce. If you prefer digital tools, even an A0 page on Powerpoint would do the trick.
Well, now let’s talk about money and transactions. Let’s assume we all know what a payment is, right? But, as a consequence, implementing payment gateways on our e-commerce could be trickier than expected.
And now, a few more questions are to addressed as well:
There could be local solutions that are widely implemented, or special requests, such as paying cash on delivery or by bank transfer. Have you considered that?
This is crucial. International solutions may have their own integrations, while lesser-known companies may be more problematic.
Study their tariffs. This is key for your survival and business projections.
Check what happens if there is a return or a dispute with a client. Better be safe than sorry, especially talking about transactions.
Stripe & Paypal are probably the go-to-solutions for payments, especially when we talk about starting out. Be careful about restrictions (goods and nations) and test them out extensively before going live.
It is particularly important to customize the customer experience to make it as seamless as possible, otherwise your conversion rate may be lower than expected. In other words, customers should not perceive that they are going through a 3rd parties platform, if possible.
Checkpoint #3: we know how we will be paid & how to handle purchases.
Now, we have to worry about delivering a seamless customer’s user experience. Visuality and simplicity into the website menus and structure will play the most important role.
Therefore, we have to make clear:
Let’s start with the website structure. This must be logically organized and simple to understand. If you have three different types of products, you can create a menu with three different main categories. Then, each one can be further subdivided into subcategories, and finally, each subcategory has its own products which will be on display.
Remember our “FTA Shirts” website? An example of optimized structure to reach a red shirt would be:
> Homepage > Shirts > Red Shirts
Be sure to always show the breadcrumbs, which represent what should be the ideal path to reach a certain product. This is an example taken from Farfetch, where we can see Home > Women > Designer > Clothing > Product:
Now, let’s shift our attention to the second question. Once we’ve got our potential customers on the product page, we have to make sure that we make it easy for them to buy.
First and foremost, you will need to optimize your above fold.
Taken from https://www.wordstream.com/below-the-fold
“Above the fold” means what we see at first glance when we enter on a website. This means that we need to show information and these must be compelling, such as:
They must be high quality and of good size. Most people like to zoom and look around to get a better feeling of your product. Pro tip: keep an eye on files dimensions, as large files will slow your page loading process.
Easy to spot, including VAT, possibly, and clearly highlighting any fee.
Size and colours. Show them if you have them in stock, and consider adding a size chart and fitting specifics. It is always beneficial to give more details.
The button must be of a different colour and create contrast with the background. Down the road, you will consider also about testing different colour’s options.
Showing customer’s comments and ratings can help you gain credibility and trust. The more transparent, the better.
Show your customers how they can pay, and how much it’ll take to receive the goods once ordered. These are primary concerns for any potential customer.
Now that we have addressed what it needs to be shown “above the fold”, let’s go beyond.
“Below the fold” helps those that are still unsure about their purchase. We can reassure them adding:
You may have two product descriptions. One is short and the other one goes deeper into understanding what’s the product about. This is the ideal space for the longer, enriched version.
Such as videos, testimonials of actual users and technical details about the product.
Added through a plugin, to increase the potential basket size, or cross-sell. For instance, on “FTA Shirt” a good idea could be to cross-sell ties to match our shirts.
If you still feel like you don’t know where to start from, you can study the structure of a product page you like. Use a tool called Wirify to learn what’s going on behind the curtain. The boxes we see here are recreating the Farfetch product page shown above:
Finally, as said, we have to make sure potential customers can find our e-commerce without any issues. Hence, it is important to master SEO and find the right tools to assist you on this technical journey. You need a way to easily update your content and make it visible to Google, regardless of the platform you choose. A few tools that will be helpful down the line are:
Do not underestimate SEO as it’s a major asset for an e-commerce. Even though it’s a fairly technical subject, you cannot escape from it completely.
To discover more about the topic, you can find our free SEO e-book here.
Checkpoint #4: We know how to offer an attractive interface to our customers and how to make finding us easy.
According to Hubspot, there are 16 main reasons why people leave a website. Let’s see what we can do on the technology side to increase our conversion rate and optimize our online presence. Then, we will give you a few tips on the Customer Experience side.
When the site is too slow, not well responsive to the mobile experience, it relies on outdated plugins, does not use exit intent technology or has been hacked, there is no chance to offer a fluid experience to our customers and generate trust.
Let’s see how we can tackle and avoid these annoying problems.
There is a series of likely causes for our website’s poor performance:
In this case, you can just compress the pictures. You can do this asking professionals or taking advantages of online resources such as:
It may be that your plan is not enough to accommodate a certain number of users, especially if you have a shared hosting plan. Review it and act accordingly, checking also its location when compared to your most active clients. For an extreme example, if your main target is France and your hosting is in Australia, this would surely cause troubles speed-wise.
CDN makes your website faster. Without going too much into technicalities, our hosting service may provide you with free CDN. Alternatively, we may use Cloudflare, which is also free for a small website.
This is a capital mistake for any website and it’s even worse for e-commerce. It happens frequently if you change your product names often, if you modify your website’s structure and if you don’t redirect nor clean up your broken/missing links. A few tools that can help you are:
Your website must be properly accessed on any given device. Be especially careful if your mobile experience isn’t as optimized as the desktop. Google won’t be happy about it, also because many potential customers will discover you from their own smartphone.
Let’s see what we can do to solve this:
The key is starting from mobile. If you are sure that the mobile version is in line with what you envision, enriching the experience on the desktop will be easy. On the other hand, going from desktop to mobile often results in cramped websites with an awful interface and poorer overall experience.
If we are using an old theme or CMS, this may be the culprit. Overall, you could skim through the aforementioned Themeisle, Themeforest, or the WordPress Directory to find the perfect theme for you. We need to check the last updated version available to avoid compatibility problems. That’s important when we have to choose from different plugins solving the same issue. If the theme is no longer supported, we need to change it.
It could be that you want to make small tweaks to your existing website. Be very careful about it. Modifying the code (HTML and CSS) does not break your website, but it could worsen the experience on different devices, or cause unwanted errors.
Themes on CMS are optimized for each device through various lines of code, and if you tweak them, you could be in trouble.
Overall, if you really need to make small edits you could use Simple Custom CSS so that you can make small experiments without touching the core. If you use a theme with a builder, you will face fewer troubles while adding flexibility on your layout choices. Of course, you can also find a skilled developer on marketplaces such as Upwork.
Clearly, this is the worst possible scenario for our e-commerce. If your website is hacked, customers will lose trust in you (and your brand) and this could harm your SEO efforts as well. While this matter may seem trivial if you experience low traffic, take for granted that hackers will try to access your website regardless of your current commercial success.
What could you do?
You need an updated back-up of your website available at all times. Review your options, as this could be offered by your hosting. If not, you could resolve to plugins such as UpdraftPlus. Even if you are hacked, you will be able to restore your website through your back-up. If you don’t have it, this will be way more challenging.
SSL is what modifies your link from http to https. This means that the website is secure and this is also a good sign for ranking on Google. Various hosting providers offer free SSL, that you can then add to your website with plugins such as Really Simple SSL.
You probably use 2-Factor authentication to access your bank account or other sensitive websites. If you use it to access your website’s back-end as well, you make it extra secure through tools such as miniOrange. Combine this with a complicated password, and you will make it way harder for hackers to access your website.
Constantly update your plugins as they may be vulnerable to attacks if left untouched. Control what’s happening on your website, for example adding layers of security through dedicated solutions such as Wordfence, Limit Login Attempts Reloaded and Disable XML-RPC.
The likely causes why your site is not using exit intent technology are that either you do not know what it is or you do not know how to implement it. Basically, this is the pop-up that comes out when you are going to close a certain webpage.
We have already shown what you need to build an excellent e-commerce. Now the question is: how can we optimize our customers’ experience?
One of the main plagues of many e-commerces is that customers add products to their cart but finally do not buy them. This is why it’s so important to create a smooth check-our process encompassing the following:
Avoid hidden fees, navigation menu, and long forms during check-out. You will see a steady increase in conversion rate if you are able to assist your customers during this phase.
Taken from: https://pinkclove.co.uk/pages/size-guide
We also recommend to consider the following for a better experience:
So, this is the end and bottom line to create a successful eCommerce business. The experience, of course, is the best teacher, and you will find the journey as exciting and challenging as ever. Enjoy the trip!