Did you know that about two-thirds of small retail companies have already moved their businesses online? Before you start building a website for your e-commerce business, you should become familiar with the steps that helped thousands of businesses smoothly make the move online and benefit from the added presence.
At Whidegroup, we are well acquainted with this process, having helped many businesses successfully develop their online stores. Amongst our clients, you will find Kjellmann, Lillebaby, FoneJoy, and many others.
In this article, we want to share some tips with you and provide you with insights on how to build an e-commerce website step by step.
#1 Define Your Business and Revenue Models
Before entering the e-commerce market, every smart startup should address two challenges: decide on an e-commerce business model, and choose a revenue model that will work best in your chosen niche.
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, as well as resell the products to their customers. GRAINGER and FERGUSON 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.
When it comes to e-commerce revenue models, there are several options to choose from. 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.
- 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, Soylent, Honest).
- 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 it finding the supplier and managing your website.
#2 Analyze Your Niche and Assess the Competition
It doesn’t matter whether you have long and successfully been engaged 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 in your niche 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?
To get comprehensive answers you can use online tools, such as Google Trends, which provide information about products and customer behavioral factors.
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.
#3 Choose a Domain Name
Now, it’s time to 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).
- Make sure the domain name you want isn’t blacklisted or penalized. Do not try to choose a domain name which 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.
#4 Choose an E-commerce Platform
If you are going to build an e-commerce website from scratch, choosing the right e-commerce platform is critical.
Today, there are dozens of e-commerce platforms. They differ in functionality, ease of use, scalability, and the size 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 making an e-commerce website for small businesses. These optimal choices are Shopify, WooCommerce, and OpenCart. Let’s take a closer look at each of them.
Shopify is one of the leading 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 perfect for beginners.
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 startups and 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 YOCO.
OpenCart is a free CMS. It can be easily downloaded under a free license from the official website. To set up an online store with OpenCart, a business owner will only have to pay for a domain name and hosting.
Some of the default OpenCart features are:
- Showcasing product ratings
- A “related products” section
- The discount system
- Payment and shipping methods configuration.
The CMS also offers built-in statistics tools allowing its e-commerce entrepreneurs to analyze the target regions and audience of the store.
The basic functionality can be expanded with the help of plugins. There are about 9k paid and free add-ons in the official OpenCart store. There are chat widgets, apps for tracking shipping and other useful tools for running a successful e-commerce store.
There are no problems with the theme templates either. However, you are only allowed to implement minor theme customizations and edits in the template files. To do this you need to have some knowledge of HTML and CSS.
#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 third 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 chose an open-source platform (e.g. WooCommerce), 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 below.
User-friendly checkout – 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.
Multiple payment options – It’s simple. If a customer does not find a suitable payment option (be it PayPal, Stripe, Google Wallet, etc.) you have almost no chance to get them to choose another option that they have never used before. Luckily, today you can find payment option integrations to any taste and for any e-commerce platform.
Newsletters – More than 45% of small businesses successfully use email marketing in their 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.
Customer testimonials – Testimonials may be the best way to show your potential customers that you and your business are reliable and trustworthy. If you don’t have any, consider sending an email to your customers asking for their feedback on the purchased product or service. Most satisfied customers will gladly provide this.
Return/Refund policy – Give your customers a sense of safety and security when making a purchase on your website by providing them with clear return/refund policies. Ensure they are 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 Work Over the Website Design
UI/UX design is one of the most important steps to build an e-commerce website. Here are the basic principles to stick to:
- Coherent navigation – 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.
- Product 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.
- CTAs (Call-to-action) – 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.
In case you prefer a custom design, you can take advantage of professional design assistance from a team that knows how to develop an e-commerce site with a perfect layout. If not, you can always use one of several ready-made templates.
#8 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 and develop a visually appealing product page, the things you want to be sure to check are:
- The website 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.
- HTML/CSS errors and compatibility. 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 to detect and fix any possible issues. If you’re going to run an e-commerce website, you’ll like our Storalyze tool, which is specifically intended to test e-commerce websites.
- Third-party integrations. If you use any third-party integrations, modules, extensions and/or plugins, just double check that they’re all working properly.
It is also a good idea to use Google Analytics to track important e-commerce metrics such as the sales conversion rate, shopping cart abandonment rate, customer lifetime value, etc.
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#9 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. At 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. This process should include the following steps:
- 1. 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 analyzing a website for internal errors, broken links, uniqueness of meta titles and meta descriptions of the product pages, sort out the keywords, 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.
- 2. Contextual advertising 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.
- 3. Social networks. 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 to sell your products on third-party platforms and social networks like Facebook.
A few years ago, an online store’s 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 e-commerce startup guide in order to show you the critical steps in the process and to help you to 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 to suit your business needs, or you are looking for any professional assistance in the development, we are here to help! To get answers fast, you can conveniently submit your questions right here in the comments section or fill in the contact form on the right.