by Sydney Stone
If video killed the radio star, then eCommerce is currently killing the shopping mall.
According to Shopify, eCommerce sales will reach close to $5 trillion by the year 2021. With more and more consumers preferring online shopping to brick-and-mortar stores, the timing couldn’t be better to launch an eCommerce business. And it also couldn’t be easier.
There are numerous applications, platforms, and solutions that can help you set up and operate an online business for pretty much anything you want to sell. (Anything legal, of course.) Anyone can be a retail entrepreneur, regardless of your level of experience. But in order to become a successful eCommerce store, you need to get started on the right foot.
Here’s how to build an eCommerce website in 5 simple steps.
Step 1. Do your research. What are you selling?
You may already have a crystal-clear idea of what you want to sell on your eCommerce site. But are you also crystal-clear on whether or not there is a solid market and audience for your product?
The #1 reason that startups and small businesses fail is that there is lack of market need. It is imperative that before you launch your business, you do your research to determine if people will actually buy what you are selling.
You don’t have to hire a fancy consulting or research firm. You can use Google Trends to see what people are buying. Or you can simply visit any of the top eCommerce sites, such as Amazon, eBay, and Etsy, and sort your search by “Most Popular” or “Recently Sold.” Also, check out some of the top influencers on Instagram and YouTube and see what they’re peddling and what kind of response they’re getting from their audience.
Once you’ve gotten a pretty good idea of what’s trending, then you can choose what you want to sell based on your own current interests and passions. The point is, no matter how great of an idea you have for your eCommerce store, if people aren’t interested in what you’re selling, it’s going to fail.
Step 2. Choose your platform: Shopify vs. WordPress
Now that you know what you want to sell (and know there are people out there who want to buy it!) it’s time to choose a platform to host your eCommerce site. There are many solutions available to choose from, but the two most popular are WordPress and Shopify.
Here are some of the differences between Shopify and WordPress and the pros and cons of both.
There are two types of WordPress sites. WordPress.com is a cloud-based SaaS platform while WordPress.org provides a self-hosted platform that can be downloaded to a local server and customized with plug-ins.
Many people looking to start an eCommerce store already have a WordPress blog or website with an engaged audience. Naturally, they want to integrate their eCommerce business into their current platform rather than directing their visitors to another site. And while WordPress is the perfect platform for blog and website hosting thanks to its variety of free and paid themes and plugins, ease-of-use, and customization capabilities, it does not have a built-in eCommerce tool. If you want to open an eCommerce site on WordPress, you’ll have to use a plugin like WooCommerce.
You do need to have a bit of programming and graphic design experience in order to create a user-friendly shopping site, as there is no real customer support available with WordPress. Plus, you have to be extremely diligent about updating the latest releases and all your plug-ins. This can become time-consuming and frustrating and cost a lot of time and money. However, you do get to maintain complete control over your content and your site.
WordPress offers a free plan as well as monthly pricing that ranges from $5 – $45 per month.
WordPress pros: ability to leverage your current audience; minimal costs; abundance of themes and plug-ins – both free and paid; you own your content and it is stored on your own servers
WordPress cons: you are responsible for server, hosting, domains, security, and all updates; need advanced HTML knowledge or skilled developer; time-intensive set-up; little to no customer support
If you are starting your eCommerce business from scratch and don’t have a current blog or website (and you’re not a control freak), then Shopify is probably the right platform for you. You can quickly and easily set up a great looking site with no coding or graphic design experience required.
Shopify is the eCommerce website builder for over 600,000 stores worldwide that have raked in over $100 billion in sales. It has built-in secure payment solutions as well as integration with social media. It is the perfect platform if you want to integrate your eCommerce site with a brick-and-mortar store location. There is also a wide variety of templates, plug-ins and Shopify apps to choose from.
Because Shopify is a cloud-based eCommerce solution, you don’t have to worry about updates, payment integrations, or security, as the platform handles all of that for you. Also, the application is very user-friendly, with a simple dashboard, guided tutorials, and a community of other eCommerce sellers offering tips and best practices that can help you get started and grow your business.
And finally, if you are already selling on another site such as eBay or Amazon, Shopify features a handy “import” tool that will transfer all of your product info and photos for you, which can save you a lot of time and effort.
Prices range from $29 to $299 per month.
Shopify pros: easy set-up; all-in-one solution; no coding required; stored in the cloud; built-in security; trusted eCommerce provider; 24/7 support; easy to integrate with a brick-and-mortar store
Shopify cons: limited customization; challenges when changing your theme; must host your store on Shopify servers
Step 3. Select the right template.
Whatever platform you choose to use for your site, you will have several different templates to choose from. You’ll want to select the one that best displays your product and is easiest for your users to navigate. This is another time to do some research. Spend some time online looking at the sites of some of your biggest competitors. Study their themes and layouts. Don’t copy them, of course. But make a note of what you like and don’t like about each.
You want your site visitors to be drawn to the products themselves and not the graphic design, header images, fonts, etc. The main focus of your site design should be to get them to make a purchase in the least amount of clicks as possible.
- Make sure you include a highly visible “search” bar at the top and a drop-down menu based on categories such as sizes or colors.
- Allow customers to sort by price, size, new arrivals, etc. All of these practices can make a huge difference in your conversion rate.
Step 4: Perfect your product pages.
Your product page is what can make or break your eCommerce site. If you think of your homepage as your storefront, the product page is the dressing room.
Remember that your buyer can’t touch, feel, or smell the item online like they can in a physical store. Do your best to provide them with descriptions that make them feel like they are holding the item in their hand.
It is imperative that you have several high-quality images along with detailed product descriptions. Think of every possible question a buyer might have about the item and make sure you answer them in the description.
- Provide hi-res photos of every angle.
- Show the item in real-life use situations.
- If you’re selling clothing, show different ways to style the item.
5. Build customer trust.
Make sure you have an easy way for customers to contact you. A phone number, email address, or even better – a live chat option – will put buyers at ease. Include a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) page as well as an About page that tells the story of you and your shop. People want to know the person they’re buying from, so the more personal you can make your site, the better.
- Provide a way for customers to leave reviews and include integration with all of your social media accounts.
- Create a blog and write regular content that your customers will find useful (but not too salesy) and they’ll keep coming back for more.
Okay e-commerce-preneurs! Now you know what makes a good eCommerce website, so all you need to do is acquire your inventory, get it listed, start promoting, and start selling!
Keep in mind that with any new business venture, there will be a learning curve and you will have to make many adjustments along the way. But just pay attention to the built-in analytical features of your platform to see what’s working and what’s not and you’ll be able to fine-tune your store until you get it just right.