Selecting which platform you’ll use to build your online store is a significant decision. You’re laying a foundation: All the other tools — from your credit card processor to your marketing strategy — will be built upon this one decision.
Will it be your full-time job, or a sideline?
This will help you in choosing a platform that matches not only your business goals plus your technical know-how.
New e-commerce platforms are mostly user-friendly that even little technical knowledge known can create a professional-looking store with minimal effort. So, it’s important to choose a platform that caters to your particular skill level while still being on par with the trends in commerce.
Other important factors to consider when weighing commerce platforms are differences in price, feature sets, support services and integrations to third-party software tools.
Now that you’ve picked a platform, committed to a product and worked on winning over a target audience, we can focus on essential tips for creating and launching your store.
While you could whip a website together in a few hours, go live on the internet and just wait to see what happens — all you’ll end up with is a handful of visitors and an empty bank account to show for it.
By creating an organized approach to launching your online store, you’ll set up your store for long-term, scalable success.
1. Give your online store professional look .
If you want to have a viable online business, you need to focus on quality from the outset.
You need to build a store that looks professional, attracts your target customer, and has the right calls to action to help them convert when they visit your site.
Additionally, spend some time thinking about the context of your buyer: Are they casually browsing from their mobile phone or carefully price shopping from their desktop? Chances are you’ll need to prepare for both scenarios, which means designing on a platform that is mobile responsive.
These next three steps are going to show you the basic blueprint to make sure you’ve got the right stuff to run a successful online store.
It’s not about your website, it’s about your product.
Not to say that design isn’t important — an attractive website design can definitely drive online sales. But, your design shouldn’t outshine what you are trying to sell.
Online shoppers will decide if they trust and want to purchase from your website in about three to five seconds.
That means you need to have a simple, trustworthy, and easy-to-use website.
What you are selling and where a customer needs to go to find it should be crystal clear. Resist the urge to overload your website with so many call-to-action buttons, categories, or imagery that people get overwhelmed or lose patience waiting for everything to load.
Building your design on the right foundation is the first step.
Don’t worry about colors or logos yet. Start by selecting a design template that really showcases your products or services.
Your website should serve as a tool for effective online shopping. Overly styled sites run the risk of distracting customers rather than guiding them towards checkout.
Secondly, while picking a design template, make sure that the navigation menu is clear and does not overwhelm your customers.
By having clear navigation you will be able to present various product categories and ensure your customers know where to go within your store and never get lost.
If you only have a handful of product categories, selecting a theme with menu navigation across the top works great.
However, if you have too many products or more than nine main categories, think about consolidating them as best you can. You may also consider choosing a template that has navigation running down the left or right side.
You don’t want to force shoppers to scroll far down the page to get the information they need. Potential customers should be able to see nearly all relevant and compelling parts of your site upon arrival.
Best yet, if you have a lot of categories, you can leverage your homepage design to let customers self-select their shopping journey.
Last, but certainly not least, make sure whatever design template you choose has a rock solid mobile version as well.
You will — without a doubt — lose sales if you don’t provide your customers with a great mobile experience and streamlined checkout process.
Once your design is set, there are still a few elements you need to put in place to make sure your store is ready to accept orders.
2. Pick a payment gateway.
In order to get paid, you’ll have to be ready to accept payments. Might be obvious, but it’s quite essential to running a successful business.
Payment gateways are how you collect money from your customers. Typically, your ecommerce platform will recommend which gateways work bet with their system.
Once you have a list of options, you’ll need to get a full picture of how it works and how it will affect your bottom line.
You also want to choose a payment gateways that can grow with your business. Before you lock yourself in, ask the following questions about each payment solution:
- Are there setup fees?
- Are there monthly and/or transaction fees?
- Are there penalty fees? If so, what triggers them?
- Is there a minimum balance requirement?
- What about transfer delays?
- When I need help or support who do I contact? How do I contact them? What hours are they available?
Ecommerce platforms can help you get the lowest possible rates.
3. Set up shipping integrations.
This step can feel a little overwhelming to someone just starting an online store.
Shipping options depend heavily on your product, your business model, your target audience, and your ecommerce solution.
The secret to success is making sure all of these factors work together. Fortunately, we have some tried-and-true best practices to put your mind at ease and increase your sales.
Shipping is an important value proposition for your store. It has the power to attract customers, but it can also push customers away.
So if you are new to selling online, think about starting small.
That means you may want to stick with domestic shipping and master that before you dive into international shipping.
There are a couple tips to keep in mind when you’re getting started with online shipping.
1. Start by researching your competition. You may uncover some really great insights on what works and what doesn’t in your category.
2. Make your shipping policies are very straightforward. This will prevent confusion or surprises, making it more likely your potential customer will follow through with their purchase.
3. Lastly, offer multiple shipping options based on different shipping speed or carriers. How quickly a shopper gets their product can be just as important as how much they pay for shipping.
Now, if you can offer free shipping on your products, do it!
Added bonus: You can actually increase your average order value with free shipping or by offering free shipping at a minimum order amount.
Getting something for free has a huge impact on the psychology of making a purchase. Also, if you can provide buy online, pick up in store — as an option, you should. It’s often easier for everyone involved, plus the customer doesn’t have to pay any shipping costs.
Talk about a win-win situation.
On the back end, you’ll need to plan and organize your order fulfillment process.
A lot of new merchants neglect this step, and that can be extremely detrimental to your business as you grow.
If your products are sprawled across your coffee table right now, you have work to do. Even if you only carry a few items, you need to work on drafting up a procedure for what happens when an order is placed.
Here’s what you should ask yourself regarding fulfillment:
1. How are you notified of a new order?
2. How do you print the invoice? How do you print the packing slip?
3. What packaging materials do you need?
4. What information goes with the product in the box? Directions for assembly or use, batteries or additional parts? Maybe a thank you note or coupon? The options are endless.
5. What does the presentation look like when opening the box? Does the look and feel of your packaging reflect your brand?
6. How do you organize products that need to be shipped? Are they in bins, refrigerators, rooms, or a warehouse? Can you place the product location in your online store so it prints on the invoice for a more streamlined approach?
If you don’t spend time planning out this process, your customers may not get their orders on time, which makes for a bad first impression.
You’ve already turned a browser into a buyer, so do everything you can to keep them happy and coming back for more.
Just like chivalry isn’t dead — neither is fighting for your customers’ loyalty. You must continually provide a leading customer experience. Think about it — you wouldn’t give less than 100% of your efforts to someone you care about, right?
4. Choose a great domain name.
Equally fun and challenging — picking a domain name for your website is critical. Your web address should speak to your brand and serve as an important marketing tool.
Your domain name will be a way for potential customers to find you and then come back to buy more. So keep it simple. Resist the urge to include difficult spellings or unknown acronyms.
If you have an established business already, don’t change lanes and switch your domain!
Choosing a credible domain will instill confidence in customers and build customer loyalty, so take your time.
Don’t be discouraged if you encounter some hiccups as you launch your online store. Aside from any potential technical challenges, the most common pain points for new businesses revolve around inventory and how to generate sales.
Start small so you can pivot later. Ordering lower quantities allows you to get feedback from customers and change your mind before buying a lot of inventory.”
As far as sales go, it’s best to prepare yourself for a slow start. The vast majority of consumers who visit an online store do not make a purchase, and on average only around three out of 10 will complete the transaction after placing an item in their cart.
Also, try not to get frustrated if one of your marketing strategies doesn’t work — it can take a bit of tinkering to figure out how to reach the right audience.
“If you’ve executed on a marketing strategy, and optimized your storefront for conversion, and still aren’t seeing any sales, reach out to customers in your target audience and get their feedback,” said Rojas. “It’s possible it could be a pricing issue, or the product may not really fit the problem or need a customer has.”
5. Check analytics to Improve.
You need data and benchmarks to grow your business.
To start, examine your platform’s in-store analytics.
At the minimum, your platform should be able to help you with basic metrics like:
- Unique visitors,
- Conversion rate,
- Most popular products, and
- Average revenue per customer.
Also take a peek at platform options like in-store site search that could provide you with valuable insights into what your customers are looking for.
It’s pretty safe to say that no matter what platform you’re on, you should use Google Analytics for your online business.
This will help you understand what the search giant sees happening both inside and outside your store. Google Analytics can give you the following insights to help you expand and improve your business:
- Get to know your target audience,
- Track where shoppers come from, where they go, and where they leave,
- Track how your visitors engage with your store, and
- The ability to annotate your efforts.
That last one is my personal favorites. You can tag the important actions or events on your timeline, like adding new products or a sale, so you can see the impact they have on your store.
Analytics in general are a key element in helping you act on facts rather than assumptions about your customers and business.
You’re Ready to Launch
Tackle these key areas — site functionality, business basics, and analytics — and you’ll have created the solid foundation you need to build out your online store.
Now, in my next article I’ll share on how to drive traffic to your online store.