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It is becoming easier to sell online now – getting products from new markets in the Far East to sell, creating online courses or content for subscribers, delivering fitness classes through a webcam.  Even before the Coronavirus outbreak, there was a swing towards online, and now with consumers forced to find new ways to buy, it is taking off at an even faster pace.

But if you are considering moving into e-commerce, what are some of the fundamentals that you really need to consider?

1. Platform

You will need to decide what e-commerce platform you use.  This is an important decision, as moving forward with a less than suitable choice can end up costing you in the long run.  If it doesn’t have the capability to do what you need it to, you may lose customers because of functionality.  If it does more than you require, you may end up spending a fortune on maintenance and updates over the long term that you didn’t need to.  Keep your product purchase journey and shop functionality as straightforward as possible, and find a solution that meets your needs.

At the lower end of the market, there are Wix site builders that can handle e-commerce, which works for simple shops that have limited products, and are potentially for more community-based options.  Solutions like Shopify are a really solid option, which is based around a monthly subscription, and they handle the payment gateway element too (more on that later).  We use WooCommerce predominantly, which is really powerful, but affordable, and works perfectly in tandem with a traditional WordPress site.  At the high end of the scale are solutions like Magento, which is perfect if you need a really powerful e-commerce solution, but if you don’t, it may be a hammer to crack a nut.

Before deciding on a platform, do lots of research, and if you are working with an agency to build your site, ask them to explain why the solution they propose is the best one, as opposed to others.  You need to take advice, but own the decision yourself.

2. Payment Gateway

In order for a transaction to take place securely, you need a payment gateway.  A payment gateway is a third-party facility that takes money from your customers and then deposits it into a merchant bank.  Payment gateways not only invest high levels of capital in making sure that the transactions they handle are safe and secure, but they also invest huge sums in improving and enhancing the range of functionality that is available for you, and your customers.

Examples are PayPal, Stripe, WorldPay, SagePay and HandePay – but there are loads available.  They usually charge a base fee per transaction – around 1.4% or so, plus a fixed fee of around 20p, per transaction.  You sometimes have to pay a setup charge, commit for a minimum period or pay for hardware (like a card machine if you have an actual shop too).  You need to factor all the fees, tie-ins and cash-outlay into your forecasting and decision making.

3. Features

You will undoubtedly want to offer discounts, special offer codes, vouchers, etc. so that your customers have a much better experience, and you can entice them with incentives.  Not being able to offer 20% off, free shipping or some other motivation may mean that you lose the sale, so make sure all of these elements are built-in, or can be activated easily at your control through the content management system.

4. Inventory Management

One of the worst experiences a customer can have when shopping online is to purchase a product, to then receive an e-mail saying it is out of stock.  To avoid this, make sure you can control stock levels and inventory yourself, adding a figure for each product range, and then as each is sold, it automatically adjusts the stock levels so that when you run out, customers are aware.  Make sure you can control this in the back-end of the system.

5. Custom Shipping Fees

Imagine that you sell a product, a particularly big product, like furniture.  If you are based in Huddersfield, it is going to cost you a lot less to ship to Leeds than it is to Penzance!  You need to be able to build in some facility that adjusts the shipping fees based on where you are in the UK (or the world), and where your customer is – otherwise it could end up costing you a considerable amount of money.

6. Guest Checkout

As a business, it is fantastic to gather details for your customers so that you can market to them moving forward and secure more sales, but for many online shoppers, they just want to buy and go.  The process of having to set up an account before they can make their purchase in many cases can be an off-putting one, and you run the risk of losing the sale altogether.  Give people the option to set up an account, and incentivize them to do so, but make sure they also have the option to checkout as a guest.

7. Detailed Product Pages

The pages where each individual product will sit need to deliver all the information a customer might want in order to follow through with their purchase.  It isn’t enough these days to just have an image and ‘buy’ button, you need more to really inspire and captivate the visitor to your site.  Ensure you have:

  • hero image
  • image Gallery
  • specifications
  • description
  • customer reviews
  • link to delivery and returns policy
  • social sharing buttons
  • video player

Having pages that are this rich in content also means that you have more content to optimise, and therefore be ranked more favourably via search engines like Google, meaning more people find you, and more people buy from you.

Being able to sell your product online could enable you to expand your reach beyond a physical shop or location, or allow you to reach a UK-based, or potentially, global market.  But all the hard work will be for nothing if when your customers arrive at your site, they have a terrible experience and leave.  E-commerce sites don’t have to be hugely expensive, but there is a level of complexity that is involved to make it a great user experience for your customers, which you should absolutely invest in.  But make sure you do your research, know what your customers will be looking for, commit to the experience your want your customers to have, and then design a specification to get it built.

You get what you pay for, and never is that more true than with e-commerce.

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