9 things to consider before starting an ecommerce site

Starting your first ecommerce site is daunting.

What if nobody buys from it? What if the user experience is rubbish? What if the payment system breaks? What if nobody understands it?

What if building it is so mind-blowingly complicated I have breakdown?

I went through all these emotions. They haunted me until I shut the world out, took a deep breath and engaged in e-commerce battle.

And then, like most things in life, it turned out it wasn’t actually that difficult. It just took time, patience and problem solving.

But there are plenty of things I wished I had considered first, rather than learning them as I went.

If you’re taking a similar plunge into the world of WooCommerce, Shopify and the rest – or want to know what to look for in building an e-commerce site, then here’s nine things I recommend you think about before you start.

Be niche

I’m not going to dwell too much on the nature of your business. But identifying your niche and who your customer is should be central to everything you do.

It should define how you commoditise your products, how you position them and how you choose to market your site.

The time you spend investigating who your potential customers are is an investment.

This means researching your niche and thinking about where your customers spend their time.

This might even mean browsing bricks and mortar stores to research your competition’s products and thinking about how you can improve on how they are marketed in an online world.

It might mean searching the Amazon reviews of products similar to yours, for feedback on how they could be improved.

Question what you are going to sell and how you are commoditising it. How can you be better than your competition? What market can you take advantage of that they have missed? How do you access those customers online?

Get perfect later

Remember that research will only take you so far. Eventually you will have to launch!

Set out a timeline and stick to it. The biggest risk in launching an ecommerce store is not launching at all.

Launch softly and test the market to begin with. Don’t rain down thousands of pounds on Facebook advertising without testing the site and your organic posts.

Your site will have issues however much time you spend on it, this is your chance to correct them. Ask people to test it for you and give you honest feedback (don’t use your mum – she will lie, trust me).

Pick your platform carefully

Full disclosure: I’ve only worked with WooCommerce (in WordPress) and Shopify but I know the pros and cons of both.

As it happens I think they are both excellent ecommerce platforms that will work with most businesses.

But I wish I’d researched Shopify’s limitations more before building a store I realised would later have been a much better fit for WooCommerce.

Equally, don’t go trying to build a WooCommerce site from scratch if you’ve never built a website before. Shopify is going to cause you much less stress.

Shopify is all-in-one service served up to you on a silver platter. But you do pay for that privilege with the set pricing structure (which is less of an issue if you make lots of money from your site obviously).

Bear in mind Shopify has a decent trial period (when you can more or less take one of themes for a test drive and see what your store is going to look like).

If you’re already familiar with WordPress and are comfortable bolting on WooCommerce then I’d absolutely recommend doing so.

It’ll mean that you can build your site without restrictions – customising literally everything.

Content, like always, is king

Don’t be misled into thinking that successful ecommerce sites can rely on technical skill and superb navigation to get people to buy.

Yes, a fabulous user experience will make your site far, far easier to use, meaning people are less likely to get frustrated and buy somewhere else.

But I’d rather have a site with brilliant copy and images with just a few landing pages and a dead simple navigation and checkout process.

The art of a good ecommerce site is in the choice of words, the quality of the images and the brilliance of the branding.

Copy is still undervalued in the marketing world and is arguably the biggest influence on a buying decision on your product pages.

If your product pages offer little insight into the quality of the product, how it will make the user’s life better and how it will solve a problem for them, then you won’t sell much.

Invest in good quality content in the same way as you invest in design and you will be rewarded.

Build your brand

Ecommerce is competitive and trying to win on price is normally a way to lose.

Instead, you need to give your customers a reason to buy from you over everybody else.

Someone will always undercut you on price and before you know it you’re locked into a race to the bottom because it’s the only tool in your armoury.

This means investing time (and money) in good marketing – you need to create a brand that differentiates you from everyone else.

You’ll need to think about who your target market is and hone in on them relentlessly.

Be transparent about who you are and what your products are. Think carefully about what you stand for and push that message at the people you believe will listen.

You’re going to need to market across multiple platforms to do this, but try to do at least one really well.

If your market is mums aged between 35 and 45 then put the majority of your effort into Facebook and push your core identity over pushing sales.

Brand builds long term relationships, and if you’re going to thrive, you’re going to need to keep people coming back, or at least recommending you to other people.

SEO is important

There are a few metrics you’ll be monitoring closely once your store is up and running. They will (more or less) be related to sales, visitors and conversions.

You need to the right kind of visitors to come to your store, then you need to convert them into customers.

Social media is probably going to be front and centre in your strategy to bringing people to your site. But you shouldn’t just rely on social.

Google is going to bring a nice steady flow of people to your site if you can optimise for what your customers are searching for. And it’ll be far less likely to fluctuate like social.

SEO performance, while at its heart is a technical process, ultimately comes back to good content.

Invest time in keyword research to find out what your customers are searching for, and then create the content that they will enjoy when they arrive at your site.

Make sure your product descriptions are simple and to the point. They need to make you want to buy and at the same time be easily found by Google.

Don’t charge for shipping if possible

Shipping should always be free unless there’s a good reason it isn’t.

If I’m going to buy something an extra fiver on top for delivery is enough to put me off. Yes, I’m tight.

Often you can absorb the cost of the shipping and make your products seem more attractive.

Plus ‘free delivery’ is a great marketing message to have on your home page.

Make it easy to buy

The lesson here is ‘few as clicks as possible’. Speed is everything.

Personally I don’t obsess too much over user experience. Instead I try to figure out what it is the customer wants the most and do my best to give it to them.

So if you have one product that sells more than the rest, don’t hide it in a collection on another landing page.

It should be at the top of the home page, nice and obvious. And it should only take a few clicks before they’ve bought it.

Organising everything into neat collections might be good for my OCD, but it doesn’t necessarily make for the best user experience.

Have a guest checkout

Yes, it would be lovely if we could lock everyone into email marketing campaigns and subscriptions and accounts they never bother to cancel.

But shoppers are far too savvy for this nowadays. Email marketing is going to be crucial in keeping customers loyal, so long as it keeps offering them value and enriching their experience.

But few are going to want to sign up to it right away. Equally, users won’t want to be giving over all their details for an account under the thinly-veiled pledge that it’ll make it easier to buy next time (there’s probably not a lot of difference).

So have a guest checkout that’s simple to use – you’ll win people over in the long run by giving a little on this in the short term. Plus new customers will abandon checkout much less.

Thanks for reading and if you have any questions or other tips you’d like to share, comment below, email me or find us on the pbmedia socials.

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