A beginners guide to e-commerce

There are many options available to anyone starting out selling online. What you need is a beginners guide to e-commerce.

The first thing to do before you consider creating a web presence is some market research, then create your marketing strategy. This isn’t a list of actions to complete and channels to use. As a beginners guide to e-commerce you need to start by writing down who your customers are, what they are looking for/interested in and how your product or service solves those specific problems for them. If you don’t do your market research in the first place you won’t be able to measure your successor assess the results you get. Marketing is about testing theories, then refining strategies and goals.

Here are our top tips for creating a good e-commerce solution:

  1. Get your marketing plan and content strategy organised first. Make sure your pricing is competitive and you know the postage costs for the areas you cover.
  2. Choose a platform that is right for you.
    • If you just want something hosted for you and off the shelf (you will pay commission on the sale and usually a monthly usage/hosting fee) then the top platforms are; Shopify, Volusion, and Bigcommerce. It can still be time-consuming to learn how they work though. So do your research on the platforms and see who else is selling similar products! With these solutions, you are tied into the company providing the solution. They are good to test the water and have a plethora of options but you may eventually find you outgrow the systems, or you are not happy with the level of support/service you get. Usually, clients leaving these solutions are moving to a bespoke solution as we will look at next.
    • If you want to have your own bespoke website e-commerce solution then choose something that is popular so if you need to change developers at any stage you can do so without having to migrate to a new system, there will also be more off the shelf plugins to enhance functionality, you will need to pay upfront development costs but then there are no commission charges on sales and usually one reasonable yearly hosting fee to contend with. The top CMS’s are: Joomla!, WordPress and Drupal. Each of these then has extensions available for e-commerce. Joomla! hasVirtuemart and more recently K2 Store. WordPress has Woocommerce, Drupal has its self-named e-commerce solution and Ubercart. Magento is a standalone solution. Magento is however a solution for larger businesses, Woocommerce is more for the small to medium-sized businesses. Joomlas’ Virtuemart is pretty flexible and can be used for small and large company’s. Make sure your web developers keep regular backups and keep the site up to date with security patches though. Ask them if they will produce video and/or text-based guides for you to learn how to edit and add information yourself.
  1. Ensure your e-commerce system is easy to use without too many steps to checkout, and pricing is clearly displayed. Offering free next day delivery is often something people look for and can encourage a sale.
  2. When you display a product ensure you have multiple views available so customers can see the product from every angle so that the customer receives the product they are expecting.
  3. When listing a product ensure the shipping price and any other charges are clearly displayed before the shopper gets to the checkout page.
  4. Have online reviews easily available. Shoppers will usually want to research the product. Get some testimonials (even if it’s from friends) and have them displayed under your product and pricing, or display a clear link to them. If it’s possible to have a star rating system on your product pages this can help with the purchase decision as it inspires confidence in the product. The star rating can also appear in Google search results for your product, and improve your position in the search engines.
  5. Having to register before buying is a big turn off for many shoppers. Ensure your solution has a “checkout as guest” option.
  6. Display your phone number clearly. It is a major turn-off if a shopper doesn’t think they can get hold of you if there is an issue or to ask a question.
  7. If you want to use email marketing offer an incentive for people to sign up for your newsletter. For example “sign up and get 10% off your first order”. Then send them the voucher code. Vouchers are a fantastic way to encourage a sale.
  8. More and more people are shopping from mobile devices (tablets, laptops, smartphones) so it is usually a good idea to have a solution that is “responsive”. Responsive means that on any size screen your solution will look correct, in “mobile mode” you might even expect a cut down version of the usual view. That is not to say you need a mobile site as well as a normal site (as with an “adaptive” solution), responsive solutions change to suit the screen size fluidly, future-proofing your site to any new screen sizes customers use to shop. Clever stuff!
  9. Have a merchant account set up or be prepared to just use PayPal. A merchant account is different to a normal business bank account. Usually, it needs to hold transactions for a while before they are cleared. You can find out more about the options you have available through your bank, or you can try to get an online merchant account like Sage Pay (which links nicely to Sage Accounts if you use it).
  10. Insurance is important if you are shifting goods around. Check with your insurance broker that you are adequately covered. Consider chargebacks and anti-fraud measures too.

That is all for now folks. Now you have a beginners guide to e-commerce to get going online!

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