There are many different levels of e-commerce websites. From the buy now button on the static HTML site to premium templates on a CMS platform to specialized fully functional shopping cart and customer management software. The difference between them is cost and functionality.
The common elements of any e-commerce site:
Determine your functionality needs first;
- How many products will you have?
- Do you need to be able to update products and prices yourself, if so how often?
- Do you need monthly sales reports?
- Do you need to have the shopping cart generate customer lists, reports or emails?
- Are you using a merchant account or third party payment processor (keep in mind cost of accepting credit cards)?
- Are you integrating shipping components like UPS or FedEx?
- Do you have complicated tax calculations for your products (tax exempt items)?
NEVER choose your e-commerce site based on looks.
Your web designer can help you integrate the functionality and advise you. The long term success of your website will depend on your product, pricing, website functionality and marketing.
Cover your Bases
Establish and operate a well thought out business with business processes in place to grow. Full disclosure online instils confidence from your customer. Every E-Commerce website should address the following in their documentation.
What payment is accepted?
How purchases are made online (process)?
Who is the payment processor?
What kind of credit card security is there?
Who owns the company and how do I contact them?
What are your policies on: privacy, returning items, shipping, defective products?
What are the shipping options?
What are the shipping costs? Are they included? How are they calculated?
What taxes are due on purchase, are they extra?
Are there any warranties on the product or service?
Failure to accurately disclose any of these topics could be a reason for not making a sale.
The Look of E-Commerce
The look of the site should be clean and professional but the importance here is in the functionality of the site. By focussing on the wrong aspect of e-commerce you will waste a lot of money and time. Most likely you will end up paying for a lot of graphics and have very little function to your website. People will not spend $XX on your product or service because your website looks nice, they are buying the product only.
Of course you need your logo, branding colours but unless you are a very well-known brand, you can be flexible. Product shots should be done by a professional photographer or at lease taken with a high resolution camera on a solid background. All products shots should be consistent in look and size.
Masking all your products shots to remove backgrounds is both time consuming and costly. This will be virtually impossible for the small business owner to maintain unless they are proficient with a high end graphics program.
The idea of a first time e-commerce website is to test the waters, show people your new and unique product and generate a buzz. Most of your success will come from your marketing plan.
Yes Marketing is Key!
Gone are the days of putting a site online and business comes. There are millions of sites online as your competition. If you narrow your area of sales to a smaller geographical area then the competition will be smaller. You can create a niche market close by which will allow you to concentrate your marketing efforts.
Some marketing ideas for success:
Have lots of content (text) – Search engines only read text not photos. The more informative text you have about your products/ service the better. Industry trends are a great way to add more content and gain credibility.
Establish a content creation plan to add new info over time.
Have a blog that includes; what you are doing (for business only), new product info, ways to use your product / service, how people have benefited from using your product/service, industry info…etc UPDATE OFTEN
Make connections on social media; facebook business page, twitter and linked-in . Use forums and comment often.
Grass Roots Marketing: do some trade shows, tell everyone, use consignment shops, do some freebee giveaways, use signage, car lettering, only use print if you can afford to do it 6+ times.
Use video, what better way to see your product/ service in action than with live video- YouTube is FREE
Join networking groups, meetings
On the backend of your website and business as a whole; how will you handle?
- Out of stocks
- Customer Info privacy
- Physical shipping and packaging
- Tracking sales
- Accounting and bookkeeping
- What is your formula for setting your online price? ( cost of goods +mark-up + cost of packaging + credit card fees + your time to ship )
- How much do you need to sell to recover your investment on the website
- What level of gov’t reporting is required
- How much stock will you carry
If you make a go of your e-commerce website you need to be able to address all of the above so that you are positioned for growth.
The internet is information driven. Tell people why your product/service is different and prove it. Make an emotional connection with the web audience whenever possible. The look of any website is subjective, so whatever you love someone else may not. The important thing is what you are trying to sell and how smoothly the process is for people.