After COVID-19 forced rough adjustments to regular life for retail businesses around the world, most of them had to move online to survive. While more than 750,000 businesses have had to close their doors, according to the Growthintelligence report, about 85,000 B2B and B2C businesses have either launched their own online stores or started selling on popular multi-vendor marketplaces. The competition in online business continues to grow every day, which means that the later you launch your online store, the more difficult it will be to stand out and grab your share of the market.
With our handy guide on how to build an e-commerce website from scratch, you will become familiar with the steps that have helped thousands of businesses make the move online smoothly, greatly benefiting from the added presence. At Whidegroup, we are well acquainted with this process, having helped many businesses with e-commerce website development. Amongst our clients, you will find e-commerce stores successfully selling furniture, electronics, apparel, catering appliances, and more.
Without a doubt, now is the best time to build your online business! So what are the steps you need to take to create a unique, high-performing online store in a matter of weeks?
#1 Analyze Your Niche and Assess the Competition
It doesn’t matter whether you have been engaged long and successfully in a retail business, or you are going to launch an e-commerce store from scratch, you still need to do your homework. Before you create an e-commerce website, it is crucial to conduct market research and get answers to the following questions:
- What products are trending at the moment?
- How tough is the competition?
- What are the current prices of similar products?
- What skills are needed to build an e-commerce website?
At the initial stage of research the most valuable tool you’ll want to use is Google Trends. To get comprehensive answers, you just need to type in the query you are interested in. In response, you get information on the interest ratings about that query, which can be filtered by country and region, period, different categories, etc.
The term’s search frequency shows the overall interest in the topic and, consequently, gives a rough reflection of the possible competition in the niche. In addition, data on the product search interest will help you clearly understand whether this product is seasonal or garners high interest all year round.
If the products you are going to sell have already been marketed by other merchants, and especially if the research shows increasingly tough competition in your niche, consider making a great website that stands out. You can implement video product reviews, creative product photos, faster order processing, additional guarantees, free shipping, or all of the above.
Try to stand out
Your business can’t live by website alone, especially in a highly competitive environment. When working on your e-commerce business strategy you must clearly define your competitive advantages. In other words – determine the way your services will differ from the ones provided by your competitors.
Let us give you a couple of suggestions just for inspiration, and to help clarify the kind of thinking you may want to be doing. The best option for today is to incorporate a global position into your business strategy. For example:
- 1. Minimizing energy consumption, managing greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental practices.
- 2. Focusing on greening your business and developing sustainable business practices.
- 3. Choosing eco-friendly delivery and shipping options.
- 4. Showing your business’ inclusivity, etc.
With the help of such tactics it is much easier to build your brand awareness and company’s social media strategy, which, today, is one of the most efficient ways of e-commerce business promotion.
#2 Define Your Business Model
Before starting an online retail business, every smart startup should address the challenge of deciding on an e-commerce business model. The business model can be described as a logical representation of how the company operates at all its levels, and most importantly, how it ensures sales and profits.
The choice of business model is an integral part of business strategy planning. The selected model determines the main aspects of the business, including its purpose and further promotion strategy. Let’s consider which business models are most used today:
- 1. B2B (Business to Business) model is represented by e-commerce businesses selling their products or services to other businesses. In this model, businesses who buy your products can be the end consumers, or simply resell the products to their customers. GRAINGER.com and FERGUSON.com are examples of prominent B2B e-commerce websites.
- 2. B2C (Business to Consumer) is a common business model where the products are sold to the end-users. Anchor & Crew and JPMS are great examples of B2C stores.
- 3. C2B (Consumer to Business) model can be applied if you want to connect customers to businesses. For example, the customer wants to either sell goods to businesses or offer them services. It is a kind of sole proprietorship that serves larger businesses. Upwork is one of the earliest innovators in this niche.
- 4. C2C (Consumer to Consumer). The first case of a C2C business model appeared in the early days of the internet and was represented by eBay. Generally, this model lets consumers sell or exchange their goods with other consumers directly.
Choose a revenue model
In addition to the business model, you also have to define a value delivery method (revenue model). To some extent, they can also be considered as business models. However, with a revenue model you aren’t deciding “with whom” to interact, rather “how” you are going to make a profit. When it comes to e-commerce revenue models, there are several options to choose from.
- D2C (Direct to Consumer). In other words, without intermediaries. Numerous young brands today launch their business online and not only create a product but also develop, promote, distribute, and sell it directly to consumers (Casper.com, Soylent.com, Honest.com).
- White label. When you purchase products from distributors and then apply your brand to these products, this means you run a white label business. One of the most prominent examples is Dollar Shave Club. The company made a brand out of a simple razor by building a valuable business concept, gaining consumer interest, and marketing the product.
- Private label. In this case, retailers do not manufacture any products. Instead, they find third party manufacturers who can create unique products for them. Retailers, on their side, are mainly responsible for investments, marketing, and selling products.
- Wholesale. Wholesale is a bulk shipment that is often intended for subsequent resale or for professional use. Wholesalers can sell their goods to both customers and businesses (ChinaBrands, Walmart, RoseWholesale).
- Dropshipping. When you start a dropshipping business, you don’t have to keep any products in stock. Here is how it works: you buy the product from a third party supplier and they ship directly to the customer. This is a very attractive business model because it is easy and cheap to set up. All you have to worry about is finding the supplier and managing your website.
#3 Choose a Domain Name
Prior to your e-commerce development, you should choose and register your small business website’s domain name. Here are a few useful tips you can use at this stage:
- Aim for a top-level domain name and extension. About 50% of all websites use the .com extension for their domain names, so for your potential customers, a website URL with a .com extension will be much easier to remember. (Google.com, Whidegroup.com, Amazon.com).
- Choose an easy-to-type and easy-to-pronounce domain name. To test the chosen name, ask several people to spell it. If even just 1 out of 5 of them made a mistake, you should rethink the domain name.
- Make sure the domain name you want isn’t blacklisted or penalized. Do not try to choose a domain name that is very similar to another company’s domain name. After all, you don’t want to start your endeavor dealing with legal action. For example? While it might seem brilliant, it is not a good idea to launch your website with “theamazon.com” as your domain name considering the e-commerce giant Amazon is already in play.
- Make the domain name instantly intuitive. Your website name must correlate with your brand. If you have a succinct brand name, use it as your domain name, as eBay and others have.
- The advisable length of a domain name is 14 characters or less. In practice, you should aim for six to twelve characters. Today, most shorter names are either not available or may cost thousands of dollars. If you can’t get a short name, make it easy to remember.
- Keyword-targeted domain names do not always work. Of course, you can use a short and sweet niche keyword that will perfectly reflect your business values. However, using something like BuyFurnitureOnline.com or BuyInexpensiveDresses.com is not a good idea.
- If you’ve run out of ideas for your brand name, you can try a business name generator like the one provided by Shopify.
To check if the name you’ve chosen for your business is available, make a visit to Whois.net.
#4 Choose an E-commerce Platform
If you are going to build an e-commerce website from scratch, choosing the right CMS for an e-commerce store is critical.
Today, there are dozens of e-commerce platforms. They differ in functionality, ease of use, scalability, and the size of business they serve. In addition, some of these platforms are open source and free while others come with monthly payments.
In our opinion, there are at least three platforms most suitable for e-commerce store development. These optimal choices are Shopify, Magento, WordPress(+WooCommerce). Let’s take a closer look at each of them.
Shopify is one of the best performing e-commerce platforms. It is easy to use and does not require any specific technical knowledge or programming experience to create an online store. It is an affordable solution for entrepreneurs who want to launch their own e-commerce store without any hassle.
Shopify is a SaaS platform. This means with Shopify you get free hosting, round-the-clock support from the provider, and a fully functional online store that will grow along with your business. Here are several fully responsive and successful online stores built with Shopify: LilleBaby, JANE CARR, Moonbeam Baby.
Ease of use, drag-and-drop interface, and a convenient admin panel are all aspects of Shopify that make it a perfect solution for beginners.
Magento is one of the most powerful, scalable, and customizable platforms ever. It was developed to fit businesses of all sizes and models, selling nearly any type of products or services. If you take a closer look at Magento you’ll see that it is a complete e-commerce solution that provides merchants with an astonishing number of top-notch features, out of the box that no other platform is eligible for. Additionally, its open source structure allows virtually any customization and gives you the possibility to choose where to host your website.
However, if you want to set up and launch a store quickly, without decent investments and customizations, and on a tight schedule, Magento might not be the perfect solution for you. To customize the platform you will need to learn at least some technical aspects or work with somebody who already knows them. Therefore, as well as with other open source platforms, creating an e-commerce website from scratch on Magento will require the help of a developer, and sometimes a whole team of Magento developers.
At the beginning of 2019, WooCommerce became the most popular e-commerce platform. This plugin for WordPress powers 22% of all e-commerce stores. One of the reasons why WooCommerce is so popular is the fact that it is easy to use, update, and manage. To use WooCommerce, you do not need to have decent technical knowledge or expertise in WordPress. In addition, there are thousands of free and paid plugins, which can significantly enhance the functionality of an online store.
WooCommerce, as well as WordPress, is a free open source product that is a perfect solution for e-commerce sites for small businesses that have decided to move their business online. With the help of custom themes and a little bit of effort, you can build a beautiful and responsive store like Porter & York, Jack Rudy Cocktail Co., or JOCO.
Of course, there are a plethora of other successful e-commerce platforms to choose from. They are used by thousands of businesses worldwide and definitely deserve your attention. So before you make the final decision be sure to revise all the best e-commerce CMSs available on the market.
#5 Host Your Website
We suggest you proceed to this important step precisely after you have chosen an e-commerce platform. Of course, you can skip the previous step and look for hosting first, but if you end up choosing one of the SaaS platforms (like Shopify), you will have wasted your time. These platforms provide a domain and hosting, out of the box.
If you choose an open-source platform (e.g. WooCommerce or Magento), you will have to choose reliable hosting yourself.
Whidegroup recommends that you first pay attention to the following hosting providers:
Each of them offers different types of hosting and their pricing starts at around $2/month, reaching up to $350/month. Everything will depend on the size of the required storage and the stack of features offered by each separate provider.
#6 Outline the Critical Features
Features can attract more customers to your website just as easily as they can discourage them. So, what features do you need? Let’s consider the list of e-commerce website requirements below.
It’s obvious, mobile optimization is a must for any website. In case with online stores, it is primarily about user-friendliness. After all, every year more and more purchases are made from mobile devices. While a couple years ago some clients could put up with an unresponsive mobile version of an online store, today they won’t stay on your pages for more than 2 seconds.
In addition to potential customers, search robots that regularly index your pages pay extra attention to mobile optimization. Several years ago, Google switched to mobile-first indexing. Since then, non-optimized online stores have little to no chance to be found at the top of SERP (Search Engine Results Pages).
Responsive design themes, accelerated mobile pages, or custom design – these are the points to pay attention to at the initial stage of the store development.
Looking at the average cart abandonment rates (about 70%) it is hard to underestimate the importance of a smooth checkout process. The graph below shows ten critical issues that make e-commerce customers abandon their carts.
We advise you to not only look at those pain points but to take them into consideration when designing your own checkout.
More than 45% of small businesses successfully use email marketing in their e-commerce business strategy. There are numerous specialized tools, like MailChimp or Zoho, that help to implement email marketing campaigns, improve conversions, and reduce the cart abandonment rate. Thus, thanks to thought-out email marketing campaigns you can increase the conversion rate of your store by 3% or even more.
Testimonials may be the best way to show your potential customers that you and your business are reliable and trustworthy. That’s why you should consider allowing confirmed customers to leave their reviews under the products they bought. Additionally, implement a Q&A (question & answer) section to let your users ask questions about the products they are interested in. If you do this however, it’s important that you do not forget to answer every question asap.
Give your customers a sense of safety and security when making a purchase on your website by providing them with clear return/refund policies. According to the data provided by UPS, before making a purchase, about 88% of customers read the retailer’s return & refund policy.
Going forward, you should also regularly review your policies and make sure they meet your customers’ expectations as much as possible. To prove that such reviews align with the best practices, let’s take a look at the results of a survey that was conducted in May 2020 among representatives of e-commerce businesses based in the USA. The results show that within two months of the Covid pandemic outbreak, about 40% of respondents have revised and updated their return and refund policies, adjusting them to the changing world. Another 27% were in thought. And only 33% of respondents said they have not revised and did not plan to do so in the near future.
That is why you need to stay flexible and ensure your return and refund policies are up-to-date, easy to understand, and clearly spelled out.
In addition to the features listed above, it’s also vital to remember that pages of your website should be fast loading. People are impatient, especially when it comes to websites, and according to Google policy, pages should load in 2 seconds or less. Another important focus is on design. It’s no doubt that most of your website traffic will be carried by mobile devices. Hence, it’s critical to ensure your website is responsive and looks good on any screen resolution.
#7 Set up the payment gateway
Definitely, you need a payment gateway. More of that, to provide your customers with the best user experience, you should provide them with numerous payment options, so that at least one of them will fit the customer’s preferences.
Of course, PayPal has long been considered as one of the most popular choices of online shoppers. However, credit/debit card payments still win the competition. Today, there are numerous payment gateway integrations made to cover the needs of any customer as well as merchant. So before limiting your payment options to PayPal you should discover all the opportunities available in the market and find the most profitable ones.
#8 Secure your website (SSL)
If we talk about online transactions it is vital to mention the security aspect. When creating their personal account, your users are required to fill in their sensitive data, like phone number, email, address, credit card info, etc. If they feel unsure that the collected data will be treated properly, and have even the slightest doubt in your website’s security, customers will refuse registration and, of course, from sharing their payment info.
Currently, the only way to secure your customers’ data and to build a trust among your customers is to install an SSL certificate. Nowadays, Google insists that every single website has an SSL certificate installed. Otherwise, when users try to land on your pages they are warned that the domain does not provide a secure connection, and are not recommended to enter any sensitive information.
#9 Figure out your shipping options
The choice of a shipping partner may differ depending on the location you’re selling from and shipping to. Right after launch, you do not need to implement all shipping options available in the market. At first, it will be enough to implement 1 to 2 of the most popular shipping methods (e.g. UPS, USPS, or FedEx). You can just add more as needed.
The choice of a shipping provider will also depend on the type of products you are selling. For example, the size and weight of the products, the presence of any transportation restrictions, etc. Make the final decision only after considering all these subtleties.
In addition, your forward-thinking plan should be to provide customers with the most flexible shipping rates. For example, you may offer free shipping to customers spending a certain amount of money per order, or to ones that order regional shipping.
#10 Make sure your website is SEO-friendly
Most often, search engine optimization (SEO) comes into play when the website has already been launched. Sometimes, merchants abandon search optimization in favor of contextual advertising. But this is fundamentally the wrong approach. The first steps for on-page SEO should be taken at the stage of website creation and then maintained on a regular basis. The main steps include:
- Semantic core creation (selection of keywords for which you want your pages to rank)
- Improvement of the website’s internal structure (robots.txt, sitemap, etc.)
- Elimination of technical errors (pages duplicates, broken links, site speed and performance)
- Continuous improvement of the website’s usability
- Increasing the relevance of pages (compliance with the user’s request)
- Image optimization
- Implementation of internal linking, and so on
The bigger your store is, the more SEO issues may appear over time, and the harder and longer it will take to fix them. Therefore, when creating an e-commerce website it is better to take the SEO recommendations into account. This is so that later you do not spend a lot of time and money on the corrections, the effect of which may only become noticeable in six months or more. SEO is not a one-time measure, but an ongoing process which is an important part of your e-commerce store’s marketing.
Your site should be high-quality, fast, user-friendly, and fully provide customers with the information for which they came to your site.
#11 Work Over the Website Design
UI/UX design is one of the most important steps to build an e-commerce website. Here is how to design an e-commerce website well, namely, the basic principles to stick to.
Don’t make your website some sort of a puzzle, confusing your visitors. Instead, let them find everything they need fast. If your site is not clear, people will get frustrated and leave.
Keep it minimal
Less is more – this adage will never get old. Executing a minimalistic look will focus your customers’ attention on the things that you want them to notice.
Products page design
Your product page must sell! Most modern themes already include selling product pages. But if you decide to develop a custom theme, it is crucial to pay attention to the correct placement of the page focal points, like product characteristics, versatile product photos, and contrasting CTAs. You should also consider the entire layout of the page, making it user-friendly.
If you were trying to sell something in person, would you skip the part of your pitch where you actually convince your customers to buy? Of course not. So, don’t forget to include visible and appealing call-to-action buttons throughout your online store. While something as simple as “Call now” might not seem very creative, it’s totally fine. It’s clean, crisp, and clear, and that’s exactly what you want.
In case you prefer a custom design, you can take advantage of professional design assistance from a team that knows how to create an e-commerce website from scratch with a perfect layout. If not, you can always use one of several ready-made templates.
#12 Prepare to Launch
It may sound obvious, but it’s vital to check that everything is correct before launching. After you add your products to the store, develop a visually appealing product page, and add all missing pages (e.g. about us, contact page, etc.) the things you want to be sure to check are as follows.
Revise the design
Make sure it looks the way you expected. Review templates for inconsistency in layout, header style, fonts, formatting, and content. If there are any stock images on the website, make sure licenses have been purchased for each. Verify that all images are compressed for the website, are of high quality, and have size consistency.
Test your store
If you use any third-party integrations, modules, extensions and/or plugins, just double check that they’re all working properly. Pay extra attention to their cross-compatibility. The thing is – too often third-party features developed by different providers may conflict with each other. These conflicts may become a reason for small to huge mistakes in your website operation.
Also, test the pages for any errors and compatibility across all major browsers, on all devices. Ensure all programmed features and functions are user-friendly across all devices. Check performance grades on Google PageSpeed Insights to detect and fix any possible issues.
#13 Get Ready to Promote Your Online Store
Many business owners believe that after the launch of their store, they will enjoy an endless flow of online customers. In practice, this is not usually the way it happens. First, you must inform your potential customers about the existence of your online store. To do this, you must consider the strategy of promotion and customer attraction. So which are the first steps you should consider when constructing an online business strategy?
- 1. Search Engine Optimization
- 2. Contextual advertising
- 3. Social media promotion
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
This is a universal method recommended for every online store that wants to get more organic traffic to the site for minimal costs. You can do this by implementing an on-page and off-page website optimization, which include:
- Regular analysis of a website for internal errors
- Identifying broken links
- Writing unique meta titles and meta descriptions
- Sorting out the keywords
- Building links, and more
In general, the SEO checklist consists of more than 200 points. The more points you stick to, the closer you get to the Top 3 in search results.
Depending on the competition in your niche, you might need to spend no less than a year to achieve significant results in search engine optimization.
Advertising in Google is a fast but expensive way to attract your target audience to the store. Again, depending on the competition and the frequency of the keywords you use for advertising, the promotion cost can vary greatly. In addition, to properly configure contextual advertising, you need to have appropriate experience. Therefore, most merchants have to connect with experienced specialists.
Online presence is crucial! With the right approach, corporate pages in social networks can increase customer loyalty and significantly expand the community of your followers and loyal customers. In addition, some e-commerce platforms offer such features as a “Buy Now Button”, which allows you to sell products on third-party platforms and social networks like Facebook.
A few years ago, an online store development required weeks of work, a bunch of technical skills, and was pretty costly. Today, every merchant has access to dozens of useful tools helping jump-start an e-commerce business in a matter of hours. We created this complete guide to launching your website in order to show you the critical steps in the process and to help you understand that every challenge you face has at least one obvious solution.
Summing up, we want to say that at the initial stage after you launch your online store, you need to be patient, keep analyzing sales, monitor the statistics, and address mistakes so you are constantly improving the customer experience.
If you still have any questions, need help building an e-commerce website from scratch to suit your business needs, or you are looking for any professional assistance in e-commerce business development, we are here to help!