Ecommerce sales will be worth an estimated $435 billion in America during 2017. The growth of online shopping has provided a welcome boost for a retail sector struggling with declining store activity and shrinking profit margins.
However, building a quality ecommerce website involves a great deal of planning and research. In this feature, we review the steps market entrants need to consider, from competitor analysis and branding through to upselling and repeat custom drivers.
Research the Market
This is perhaps the most crucial stage of all, since ecommerce platforms in congested markets will fail if they have no unique selling point (USP). Undertake competitor SWOT analysis to identify how they’ve succeeded, and whether there are gaps in the market that you can exploit and fill. Perhaps you could lead the way on affordability with low margins or free postage, or by providing a wider choice of products than anyone else. Service may be a key differentiator, so look into same-day delivery, 24/7 customer service and no-quibble refunds.
Dedicate some time to a package like Google Analytics to determine which keywords rival sites perform strongly for – for example, perhaps a competitor ranks poorly for a term that you could use extensively. Take some time to experiment with their sites and see how functionality could be improved upon. There’s nothing wrong with combining the best elements of rival operations into your own platforms.
Develop a Strong Brand
If your company doesn’t already have a name and a logo, this is another critically important stage. Avoid wacky names, or anything people wouldn’t instinctively understand on first hearing. Try to use shorter names with more recall, since research has indicated website addresses with six letters or fewer are easier to remember and enter correctly.
Pick a top level domain like .com if you want to sound authoritative – something that most of the big ecommerce sites have done. Alternatively, WestHost has a variety of other TLDs available, which are generally more affordable and widely available.
Design a Website
There are three main options available:
#1. Code it yourself in HTML
#2. Employ a web development company
#3. Use an ecommerce website builder like WordPress.
The first option is only advisable if you know your <head> from your <h1>. The second one quickly becomes expensive, which is why WestHost offers dedicated WordPress hosting. The world’s leading ecommerce website builder has over 45,000 plugins that perform specific functions, many designed specifically for ecommerce.
Whichever assembly option you choose, every page should drive consumers to the checkouts with a compelling call to action. You’ll need a robust content management system for adding new product lines or deleting obsolete pages, underpinned by a prominent and up-to-date sitemap. Baskets should be visible on every page, beside a bold Checkout icon.
Adopt a Flexible Design
One of the main purposes of an ecommerce website is to drive sales, so every possible audience demographic must be covered. A responsive template adjusts to suit output screen resolutions, making it equally robust on a TV screen or smartphone.
Catering for mobile audiences on flaky Wi-Fi or patchy 4G involves clever programming via ecommerce website builders. Compress images to minimize download times, which significantly affect SEO performance. Embed videos from YouTube’s servers rather than your own, for lag-free buffering. Eliminate superfluous code or CSS, only install essential plugins, and avoid bandwidth-hogging features like cinemagraphs and autoplaying media files.
If consumers don’t know your brand, they won’t automatically trust it. Persuading them their dollars are safe involves rigorously testing security, starting with encrypted data transfers via HTTPS. WestHost provides free SSL certificates with every hosting package for end-to-end encryption, so customers can trust the sanctity of credit card data. Explain how data is stored if they choose to save card details, and live up to any promises you make. Digital payment methods like PayPal and Amazon Pay could also be offered.
Incorporate Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
The exact composition of search engine algorithms is unknown, but keyword usage plays a major role in determining which pages rank most highly. That includes long tail phrases – for example, this article uses the term “ecommerce website builder” five times, so it’ll perform highly in those searches. Complement your SEO efforts with targeted advertising on Google Adwords, focusing on particular terms.
SEO also extends into site programming, so incorporate an XML sitemap and a robots.txt file the search engine crawlers can read. Add tags to images and pages, making effective use of captions. Tools like Yoast identify opportunities for additional SEO, as well as analyzing text for potential improvements.
Market Products Comprehensively
Ecommerce stores aren’t staffed with sales assistants, and three of our five senses are ‘neutered’. Detailed product descriptions provide a partial alternative to the tactile environment of a real-world store, listing every attribute alongside 360-degree images or photos from multiple angles. Don’t second guess what customers want to know – people purchasing an electrical appliance may be keen to investigate how many connectors it has on the back, for instance.
Extensive information doesn’t have to increase a page’s loading time, either. Use thumbnail photos that expand into a gallery, alongside externally hosted YouTube videos. Display headline information like the price and key features, hiding tech specs beyond a More Information dropdown or downloadable PDF.
Ensure Site Reliability
Few things enrage prospective purchasers more than an out-of-stock notification being sent after a purchase has been completed. This is effectively deceitful, and most customers will boycott your site thereafter. Ensure real-time stock levels are accurately reflected on product pages through effective database management. If your business revolves around drop shipping partners, set up more than one partnership to maximize the chances of availability. Automatic stock reordering can also prevent key lines selling out.
It’s crucial to ensure the site is robust, so conduct extensive beta testing prior to launch on every device and OS you can think of. Installing a well-developed checkout tool like Shopify or Etsy should prevent page errors or hanging transactions. Try to engineer complex scenarios to see how the software copes. Can you click back from payment fields to adjust stock levels without a Page Expired message, and do cookie settings enable people to resume an interrupted session?
A customer willing to purchase an item represents your best bet of additional sales. Build an algorithm into your site that suggests complementary products – blades and gel for razors, cables for computer equipment, and so forth. A few “You might also like” fields promoting high-profit items can boost income considerably, and related recommendations could be made if something is out of stock.
Alongside related products, investigate value-added services. Recommend extended warranties or insurance which might earn you commission. Offer to wrap presents, or supply pretty gift cards for a couple of dollars. Another tip is to add plus and minus symbols beside every product in a basket, supporting quantity increases at any time.
There are two aspects to this – before and after an ecommerce transaction. Optimizing the former involves well-written error-free content and large, clear images. Avoid underhand tricks like hidden postage charges or stealth taxes that only appear on the last checkout page, and ensure inventory databases provide real-time updates on availability.
Once a transaction has gone through, the hard work begins. Buyers want instant order confirmation with contact details in case of problems, while delivery dates should under-promise and over-deliver – particularly during peak times. Provide several ways to contact customer services with a dedicated address, even if you’re solely responsible for every aspect of the business.
Regular communications are vital as an order progresses. Having invited customers to choose their preferred method of communication (usually email or text), send out the following messages:
#1. Order confirmation and purchase invoice
#2. Dispatch confirmation with a delivery tracking link
#3. Delivery confirmation (in case they’re out and the package is left in a ‘safe place’)
#4. A follow-up email inviting feedback, checking the order was satisfactory.
Courier partners should be chosen for quality rather than cost, but items have to be packaged to survive being dropped and shaken. Returns are inevitable, so ensure the packaging can be used to return everything inside. Include a postage-paid returns label, honoring the no-quibble refund policy that should be displayed prominently on your site.
Encourage Repeat Visits
The best source of business comes from past clients, so leverage every opportunity to entice them back. Harvest email addresses (with permission of course) and send out periodic newsletters or blogs promoting discounted products or new lines. Regularly update Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with engaging sales-oriented content. Encourage reviews on your site or third-party review portals, building other people’s confidence in your brand.