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Getting started with your e-commerce website

Photo credit: Dylan Gillis/Unsplash

In a world of social isolation, setting up an e-commerce website should be top priority for new businesses. Even before December 2019 when talk of coronavirus began to spread, shoppers were opting for online purchases over brick-and-mortar stores. For some retail chains (ex. IKEA and Nordstrom), online shopping upgrades are a matter of saving our carbon footprint. For other retailers, it’s a matter of convenience and storage space. And for you, it could be a little of both.

Although apparel companies tend to be a gray area where customers usually want to try on clothes in person to see how they look and feel before buying, even return policies (pre-COVID-19) made it easier to wear and return—from everyday clothing to Rent the Runway luxury brands. Billions of web users are looking for online options to buy their favorite brands in just about everything without leaving home. 

From startups and small businesses to huge brands, setting up an online store does not have to be complicated and time-consuming. By hiring the right company to handle your digital marketing needs, you can have an eye-catching website to help put your products in someone’s home and money in your pocket. 

Preparing for Your E-Commerce Website

Before you jump into creating an online store, you’ll need to consider the following: 

  1. Narrow down your inventory. Do you want to start with a few items or put a large amount of items up all at once? Do they come in different sizes, colors, gender specifications or materials? Decide how many options you want to provide for each item sold online. Have your inventory photos ready to display.
  2. What buying options do you want to offer? Some online sellers only ship locally or nationally but not overseas, which could risk lowering their sales revenue. Some prefer to only accept payments from bank and credit union networks like Zelle. Others are all about major credit cards and online money transfer sites like PayPal. Your payment choices are up to you, but keep in mind that each option may have its own fees.
  3. Have an idea of pricing for profit. Selling online means you’ll have to calculate a profitable rate that includes materials, shipping charges and/or any additional labor. Make sure your prices are competitive with other online stores. 
  4. Decide on your delivery options. Will you only ship in the United States or to other countries? Are you more invested in selling locally? If your business is neighborhood-based, will you have a curbside pickup option? Or, will there be a brick-and-mortar option tied to your e-commerce site?

If you have the time to properly organize all of your listings, sales and fulfillment options, then go for it. But if you are new on the e-commerce scene, this can be overwhelming. Try a few items first that you believe are more likely to sell, and see how it goes.  

Setting Up Your E-Commerce Site

With an e-commerce DIY toolkit, you can combine a Google Cloud platform with WordPress. This easy-to-use platform is a perfect way to organize your products, product descriptions, and neatly set up logos and other brand-related designs. Be ready to confirm your domain name, tagline and a subdomain, too.

If you don’t want to create a website from scratch, no worries. Many website providers have multiple templates to choose from. Whether you hire a web designer or programmer to fine-tune your site or figure it out on your own, just make sure the final product is something you can be proud of. Don’t rush to release the website to the public without getting any bugs out, missing images, vague product descriptions or faulty buttons beforehand. 

Share your domain link with a few friends, family and business partners who can give you immediate feedback on what works and what doesn’t.

Learning What Works and What Doesn’t In E-commerce 

Who knew that grocery items like paper towels, hand sanitizer, alcohol and thermometers would fly off the shelves so fast that major retailers would not be able to keep them in stock? 2020 was proof that online sellers never can tell what consumers will absolutely need, so they better be ready for new demands and trends at all times. It’s no accident that popular apparel companies and retailers suddenly started selling face masks and moving them to checkout aisles. Always be “in the know” of what’s currently trendy as well as what will stand the test of time.

With that said, your ecommerce site should make people feel like they’re missing out even if they didn’t have any intention of buying your products beforehand. That’s where custom image designs, quality website copy and advertising come in. Product descriptions and services should be presented in a way to let customers know what’s in it for them—not just you—when investing in your business.

Usability can make all the difference, too. Your site will need to be simple enough to navigate so that users can browse without needing too much website assistance, and fun enough that they’ll want to see more of what you have to offer. If you can balance this mix, watch customers peruse your site, buy and ship their items, and help them get their packages on time and as described. As a startup, it’s your job to make this process as seamless as possible.

Your e-commerce website should also have a dashboard to show you daily, weekly and monthly analytics to see which pages or products that people are most likely to peruse.

Get Rid of the ‘Noise’ on Your E-Commerce Website

Templates come in handy for making your site easy to build and publish in a timely manner. However, sometimes there will be “noise” on the page—meaning features on the site that don’t really help the customer’s shopping experience. UX design (a customer’s emotions and attitudes about using a particular product, system or service) and A/B testing (two-sample hypothesis testing to see which site design has better usability) will often resolve that before your e-commerce site is made public. 

If you don’t want to dive in that deep, just make sure all the buttons, navigation bars, scroll menus and printable material is correctly set. If there are other elements (i.e. text blocks, default images, animation) that are getting in the way of the sale, delete them. As good of a friend as Tom was, your e-commerce site is not doing anyone any favors if it looks like an old-school MySpace page. Avoid glitter or hard-to-read bright backgrounds and fonts, loud music that automatically plays and/or excessive animation. For some industries (ex. gaming), these display options make sense. But for the average e-commerce business, less is more.

What’s Next When Your E-Commerce Site Goes Live? 

Congratulations! You now have an e-commerce website that is ready to sell your merchandise. But a cool site with no customers isn’t cool enough. Now it’s time to engage customers on social media so they’ll want to come visit, and then bring a friend or two. With the right balance of social media marketing, e-newsletter marketing and/or in-store work, your products could be flying off the online store shelves in no time. 

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