For many people, the thought of building a simple website, let alone one that allows customers to purchase products, is quite a daunting prospect. The truth is though, that with the correct thought and preparation it is a relatively simple process. Advances in technology have made it possible for even those with no programming knowledge or design prowess to be an integral part of a website build.
In this article I will outline the various options, considerations and overall process in building an e-commerce website.
I am going to assume that you already have an offline business established, or if not, have identified the product you want to sell online and have your business plan intact.
The first thing to do is to choose a domain name. This is the address that people type in to access your website. Ideally you want an address that is reflective of your business and is easy for people to remember. Go Daddy is a domain name registrar where you can search for and purchase available domains. Currently extensions like .com and .co.uk are widely used and recognized so these are always good to go for. It is also wise to purchase different variations of the domain you want so that other businesses cannot use them. This will give you a degree of ownership with your chosen address.
Next up, you need to choose an ecommerce platform to build your site on. This will allow you to edit the content (the products, blog posts etc.) on your website in a hassle free way. It will also allow you to offer your customers a recognized shopping experience – including shopping carts, shipping options, discount codes and payment options – and will allow you to log in to the backend of the website and manage your orders.
There are various platforms available that fit the needs of different sized businesses. Shopify is great for small to medium sized businesses with simple product lines. It is easy to use, even for those with limited technological ability.
Another platform is called Magento. This is for suitable for more enterprise level businesses with more complex offerings and a requirement to integrate with external platforms, to enable stock management and distribution, for example.
Once you have found a suitable platform you can turn your attention to the website design. There are lots of pre-designed templates that you can purchase. This is a cheap and convenient way of getting started but can be problematic. My advice is not to go down this route unless you are 100% happy with the template as it is. If you start making tweaks to the design it can become a time consuming and frustrating process to get the look you want. Therefore, if you are fairly particular about the look and feel of your website then I would recommend getting a custom design made. This will allow you full control of the end result.
With more and more people accessing the internet from their mobiles and tablets it is key to get your website designed so the layout adapts to all screen sizes. This is called responsive web design.
Once the designs are completed these are passed onto a developer who will convert them into a functioning website, integrated with your chosen ecommerce platform.
In order to process customer transactions you will need to integrate a payment gateway into the site that is linked to your bank account. Paypal is a widely used payment gateway, but there are many options to choose from, differing in fees and the cards they accept.
When development is completed, the final job before your website is live is to find a place to host it. A host is a computer that stores the files and data of your site. It is also known as a server. When someone then visits your domain they are forwarded to the server which displays the website. Shopify is a hosted platform so you do not need to worry about this, but you will need to organize this for other platforms, such as Magento. There are many providers out there to choose from, such as Go Daddy and Amazon Web Services.
So at this point you have a functioning e-commerce website. This is all well and good, but without any customers it is useless. You will therefore want to build up a marketing strategy to get a steady stream of traffic to the site. You will want to consider the following:
- Email Marketing – build up a customer database that you can keep in contact with through newsletters and promotions.
- Online Advertising – a tightly targeted pay-per-click (PPC) campaign based around relevant keywords will increase the amount of traffic landing on the site. This comes at a price though.
- Social Activity – keep followers on your social platforms updated with news and offers.
Without some measured thought and preparation, building an e-commerce site will undoubtedly be a bit of a nightmare. However, if the above steps are carefully considered it should be a fairly painless, (and maybe even slightly enjoyable..) process!