Hooray! You’ve got your business name, business plan, your policies and perhaps even your products and you’re ready to build your website and start your eCommerce business. Here’s what you need to know.
So you’re ready to create your eCommerce website and launch your business? First up, there’s a major decision you need to make. Will you design and build it yourself or outsource to a website design company? We chat to Chris Walker, General Manager at Melbourne digital design agency MagicDust, about the pros and cons and the things you’ll need to do, whichever you chose.
The host of your website is the company that will store all your website information on its server. There are many companies you can store your website with and they’ll generally charge an annual fee. Whether you need to find a host will usually depend on whether you are designing your own website – if you outsource, the design company will generally arrange your hosting – and with what platform.
“Some platforms, like Shopify and Squarespace, are hosted solutions. Those packages have hosting included and with them you don’t actually own your website – you pay a monthly fee to use the platform and it’s all included,” explains Chris.
If you do need to look for a hosting company yourself, Chris recommends starting with a shared hosting environment which means sharing a spot on a server with other businesses. As your business grows, if you’re getting a lot of traffic, you might need to upgrade to another hosting system where you are potentially the only website on the system. Think of it like starting at the local store and then moving onto a bigger space.
To find a hosting company just do a Google search. Chris recommends choosing a company based in Australia and to ask them if their servers are actually in Australia.
Choosing an eCommerce design platform
If you’re going it alone you’ll need to chose a platform to build your website on. This choice will depend on things like how much control and design flexibility you want, how technically capable you are and how much you want to spend. Platforms generally provide pre-built templates that can be customised to varying degrees. The great thing about shopping cart platforms is that they are set up for eCommerce businesses.
“There are really two main types of eCommerce shopping-cart platform,” outlines Chris. “There are paid and hosted platforms, such as Shopify, which are called Proprietary Content Management Systems. These are like Microsoft and Apple infrastructure in that they own all of the software and only their developers are on it – it’s like a closed community. The catch with these (if it’s a hosted solution) is that you don’t actually own your website, so if it’s not meeting your needs, or you have an issue with your provider, you would need to shut it down or build a new site. Likewise, if the company went out of business you would lose your website. Some of them also take a percentage of your sales. However, they can be a cost-effective way to get an eCommerce site up.
“Then there are Open Source Content Management Systems, such as WordPress and Magento, which means the source code is available to any developer. With these, you build your website using their platform and you own it. Open Source Platforms have a big community of developers working on them all the time so they’ve got great functionality and they’re priced well for start-up businesses.”
Chris’s company looked into a lot of platforms to decide what they would use. “We decided to go with WordPress with its eCommerce plug-in WooCommerce – it has a lot of functionality and flexibility and it’s a great SMB solution for not a lot of money.”
Click here for a look at some of the different WordPress themes you can choose from.
Check out five shopping cart platforms here.
Accepting payments on your website
Shopping cart platforms are created to help you take sales but they won’t actually take payments for you. You’ll need a merchant account and payment gateway for that.
SecurePay Online Payments works as a merchant account (like an EFTPOS account for online payments) and a payment gateway – a secure connection between your business, your card providers and banks. When you make a sale online, the funds are securely processed through SecurePay Online Payments and the money is deposited in your bank account.
“You need to make sure that the payment gateway you want to use is compatible with the platform you’re thinking of using,” says Chris. “A lot of platforms have several options, for example WordPress accepts most payment gateways but some of the proprietary systems are more limited in the gateways that they use.”
Here’s a list of shopping carts compatible with SecurePay.
What a website developer will do for you
As well as designing you a beautiful website, a developer should have great SEO (search engine optimisation) and UX (user-experience) knowledge. This means, they’ll understand how people navigate a site, what makes for an effective, eye-catching design and what content you need to include to get your website performing well in search engine listings. Finding a developer who specialises in eCommerce can be an advantage as they’re familiar with shopping cart platforms and what design features will draw in sales!
A good developer will teach you how to manage your website once it’s up and running. “Having an eCommerce site is very much like running a shop – there is a lot of day to day management of the business such as processing and sending out orders, setting up specials, displaying new products to their best advantage and taking down old products,” says Chris. “We provide training and teach people how to use their platform, how to set up their shipping methods, how to upload and delete images etc. and we do also provide an ongoing package with support and maintenance.”
Chris suggests that before you sit down with your developer, have an idea of what you want your website to achieve. “Have an idea of who your audience and target market is and what appeals to them. Also have an idea of what styles you like, as design is pretty subjective. You can always show your designer a few websites you’d like to emulate.”
Measure and test everything
Whether you’re creating your own website or outsourcing, it’s important you learn to check it with web analytics programs such as Google Analytics, which is free. This will allow you to monitor how visitors use your website including what products they are looking at and how long they spend on each page. You can also track which particular marketing efforts have had the greatest impact on sales.
Google also has a program to test how well your website performs on a mobile phone. As more than 40 per cent of eCommerce sales are now conducted on mobile phones, it’s crucial your website is mobile-friendly.
If you have a website developer, check that they do in-house testing across all screen formats, devices and browsers.
For inspiration, Chris recommends checking out these three websites.
“The first one is one of ours – its called House of Tindale. What I like about this site is it’s got powerful images, the products really stand out, it’s got clear navigation and a good returns policy. They also offer a good discount with a lead magnet.
“The Iconic is one of the most well-known eCommerce sites in Australia and again they’ve got really powerful imagery, an easy navigation system, they use Livechat, have an easy-to-use checkout process and they’ve got such a good returns policy that when you get your order they have a pack ready to go in case you want to send anything back.
“The last one is called StellaJane Interiors. This one has strong product images and a good layout, easy navigation and great social integration because there’s a lot of ways you can ‘share’ things from their site.”