Editor's E-commerce Pick: Shopify
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With so many people shopping from home, many offline businesses have shifted their day-to-day operations online. And while technology can help facilitate the switch, it’s easy for some of the finer details to get lost in the shuffle. Here’s how to create an online platform for your business — whether it is established or brand new.
Your online platform — whether you decide to create your own website or opt for a third-party marketplace — is your main point of contact with online customers. And the best platform for your store depends entirely on your needs.
Storefronts with a robust inventory may need an e-commerce platform with comprehensive product pages, like Shopify. Smaller retailers with a few handfuls of products may prefer a simpler platform, like Squarespace.
If you need a place to start, explore some of the following e-commerce platforms to see what each has to offer:
The provider you select should be able to track both in-person and online inventory from a single integrated dashboard. The good news is that many platforms, including Shopify and Square, offer this feature. Finding the right platform for your business may take some digging, but don’t rush the process. Building an online storefront takes time and you want to make sure you can commit to the provider you choose.
If your business has a website, start selling online by installing a shopping cart plugin. If you run a self-hosted website on WordPress, consider WooCommerce: a plugin exclusively for WordPress that allows you to accept online payments, manage inventory and analyze sales trends. Or explore Ecwid’s offerings: a shopping cart widget that allows you to list and sell products on an existing website.
Building an online store from the ground up can take time. If you’d prefer to hit the ground running on an established platform, consider an online marketplace like Amazon, eBay or Etsy.
The benefit of setting up shop on an online marketplace is the integrated visibility and audience reach these platforms provide. But competition on these marketplaces can be fierce and you’ll have far less control over how your products are marketed and displayed.
If you want to start an online store but lack the time or technical skills, consider a platform that offers a website setup service, like Stripe. For a one-time fee of $500, Stripe sets up your website for you.
After you select your e-commerce platform, start customizing your online storefront. Most providers offer 10 or so website themes to choose from, but this varies by platform.
When selecting a theme, look for something that matches your established brand identity. Many website themes are free, but if you’re interested in niche features or design options, you may need to tack on $50 to $100 for a premium theme.
Once you’ve selected a theme, you’re ready to start loading products.
There are a few ways you can go about shipping and the method that best fits your business depends on how involved you want to be in the process.
Local customers may appreciate the option to save on shipping costs and pick up their orders in-person. Be sure to notify customers of your business hours and when their order will be ready for pickup.
When you ship orders, you’re responsible for all aspects of the shipping process, from purchasing the appropriate packaging materials to creating carrier slips and applying postage.
Shipping services like ShipStation and Shippo can help you through the shipping process with discounted carrier rates, return shipping options — even scheduled package pickups from local carriers. To integrate a shipping service into your online store, compare providers your e-commerce platform integrates with. Be prepared to pay a per-package or monthly fee for the service.
Some popular shipping providers include:
ShipBob takes care of picking, packing and shipping your e-commerce orders, whether they’re placed through your website or a third-party channel like Amazon.
Fulfillment services like Oberlo, Doba and SaleHoo take care of every part of the shipping process for you, including inventory storage. This option is typically the most expensive, but relieves you of storing, organizing and expediting order shipping on your own. Some dropshipping services even tackle returns and customer service.
Creating high-quality product pages is integral to the success of your online store. Smaller stores may prefer to enter their products one by one, while bigger retailers may prefer to upload inventory spreadsheets, customizing each entry with product descriptions, SKUs and prices.
Each product listing should include:
When it comes to product pages, quality matters. Polished, professional pages increase your store’s legitimacy and help keep online shoppers on the page. High-quality photos help customers engage with the product. And clear, well-written descriptions are crucial for anyone with accessibility needs.
While it’s not a necessity, adding a customer review section can powerfully impact your conversion rate. Ask happy customers to leave feedback on their purchases to begin building a positive reputation for each product.
While it may be tempting to continue using the pricing structure you had in place for your brick-and-mortar store, there are factors to consider when you’re setting pricing for your online store. For example, how will packaging and shipping costs affect your overhead? How is the price of the e-commerce platform and any third-party applications affecting your cost to do business? Factor those costs into your product prices.
Conduct market research to compare the prices of similar products. Price to compete while remaining profitable. It’s a challenging balance to strike, but seeing how your competitors price their products can help give you an idea of what price range to aim for.
Payment processing is essential for online businesses — without it you can’t accept online payments. Luckily, most e-commerce platforms come with built-in processing and merchant accounts, so you won’t need to source these from a third-party. Notable exceptions include 3dcart and Xcart — both require you to set up your own payment gateway through a third party before you can begin accepting payments.
Safeguarding your customer’s sensitive banking data is a seller’s responsibility, so look for a processor that’s PCI-compliant. Processors that are PCI-compliant follow the standards set by the PCI Security Standards Council to maintain the security of credit card networks. But be on the lookout for PCI fees for some processors.
Build rapport with your customers — even if you’re online. Outgoing emails can help you build trust and increase engagement.
Here are a few email templates to consider:
Before marketing your website, make a test purchase to make sure everything’s working properly. Confirm that you can navigate your online store, add products to your shopping cart and securely complete the checkout process. Ensure that follow-up emails you’ve set up are successfully delivered.
If something goes wrong, reach out to your e-commerce platform’s support team. Tech support should help you troubleshoot the problem. Most platforms also offer online learning tools and forums, so check your provider’s website to see if any other merchants have encountered a similar problem in the past.
There are a number of different ways to get the word out about your online store:
While your product pages are the meat and potatoes of your online store, there are a few other pages you may want to consider adding to your website:
Setting up an online store can be a time-intensive process. Increase your chances of success by finding the ideal e-commerce platform for your business.
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