You may be dabbling with the idea of setting up your own online shop, in which case this is the first article you want to read. Whilst other web design and hosting companies may offer quick and cheap solutions, making it all sound easy, we’re here to tell you the truth about building your own ecommerce website.
We’re a web design agency in Essex and we’ve setup many online shops over the years and generally speaking, most people don’t know what they’re getting themselves into when creating an online shop. The options and dynamics for building your own online shop are vast so here’s a quick guide to technical jargon and what you need to know to start building your ecommerce website.
Online shopping systems
Today, websites are rarely built from scratch. They commonly use a Content Management System (CMS) which is like a premade website with tons of features built into it, so you can build your new website on top of it. This means that you can setup a website quicker and cheaper, keeping in mind best practice and the latest features.
Online shops also use CMS’s but an ecommerce site needs specific features to make it operate like a shop. This means that online shops have their very own set of CMS’s to be used specifically for the creation of an e-commerce website.
To setup your online shop you’ll need to pick which online shopping system to use:
Shopping systems round up into four categories:
- A CMS with a shopping cart plugin (joomla/virtuemart, WordPress/Woocommerce)
- Pure shopping system (Megento/Opencart)
- Pay monthly option (Shopify, Adobe BC, Magento)
- Buy now button (pay pal)
1. A CMS with an e-commerce plugin?
Some businesses don’t want a full blown shopping experience, just a quick way to add and sell a hand full of products. This makes the idea of a shopping cart plugin ideal as it can attach itself to your existing CMS website.
These plugins can be minimal in features or full blown shopping systems so they’re viable choice for any e-commerce operation with the flexibility to make your shop exactly how you want it.
- You retain ownership of the online shop
- Highly customisable
- Good support
- Lots of designers and developer support
- It’s an independent solution so you’ll need help to build your online shop
- There are more technical details to manage
2. The pure shopping system
If you want a full blown online retail website then the likes of a pure shopping system such as Megento or Opencart are a good idea, giving you every feature you’d need to handle a retail operation.
Once upon a time, these systems were highly popular as opensource products but the high costs to set one up have made the pay monthly option a more favourable choice for today.
- Designed to be an online shop
- Can be used to start selling straight away
- Support varies from platform to platform
- There a little more specialised in terms of shopping systems so finding a developer to help may be hard or costly
3. The pay monthly online shop
If you’re willing to let go of ownership then pay monthly sites like shopify is a great option. It’s a pure shopping system built and hosted on their own servers. Professional, quick and with low overheads, there the ideal solution to get your online shop going.
- Quick start
- Start selling straight away
- Designed to be an online shop
- Less management and maintenance needed.
- You won’t necessarily own the online shop
- Customisation of the shop may be limited
4. The buy now button
Have no budget! The buy now button is your best option, integrative into any website. Opening an account with a Payment service provide (PSP) will allow you to create a buy now button and use it on your site. There’s no shopping cart just an instance to “buy now” and take a payment. Ideal if you’re selling one or very few products and don’t need any functionality apart from a sale.
The quick and obvious choice is paypal
5. Payment service providers. (PSP’s) for online shops
Paypal, Worldpay, NoChex, Sagepay, Payflow are all payment service providers, online banks that put your transactions through for your online shop. Each has their own plans and features so pick carefully as pricing varies. You’ll have to create an account with them, verify yourself and business alongside integrating them with your bank. (speak to your bank for more details)
6. Payment Gateways for online shops
Payment Gateways are portals provided by Payments Service Providers, serving as a connection where your customers can make a transaction. You have the choice to make transactions live on your site in which more web development may be required or to take the customer to the PSP site which is a quicker and safer option.
7. What to sell in your online shop?
To be honest, sourcing, manufacturing or even selecting products to sell is the easy and fun part of being an online shop. The most difficult thing is actually selling them online. For this you’ll want to look at
- affiliate sites
- marketing tactics
8. Affiliate sites for online sales
Just because you have an online shop, it doesn’t mean that anyone will visit it, but a great way to counteract that is to also sell your products on other sites who do have an established name. As well as building your online store, think about selling on the likes of Ebay and Amazon as well.
9. Marketing tactics for ecommerce sites
As an online shop your best source of sales leads would be from appearing in the likes of google and other search engines but getting to the top of google for anything specific can be a long and costly process. To do it you need to look at, learn and invest in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). In laymen terms, it’s the practice of making your website likeable by search engines and it involves tons of research and implementation into your online shop.
Most people ask me how much does SEO cost and to be honest that’s like asking how long is a piece of string. SEO is pretty much down to how much you want to spend on it. Spend a little and you’ll get little results over a longer period of time. Spend more and you’ll get better results, quicker.
In most cases a good budget for the SEO of an small startup online shop would be an average of £1000.00pm. You don’t need to invest that kind of money to start selling online but you might need to if you want to appear on Google. Like wise you don’t need to spend money to do SEO at all, you could do it yourself but it is a time consuming process, particularly to begin with.
In any case, a good thing to do before you engage in any form of marketing including SEO for your online shop is to check out the competition.
10. The competition of your online shop
As much as we love the internet, it surely is a devious place. You may be opening the likes of a clothes shop and could be thinking that your clothes shop is unique and therefore people will come to your online clothes shop. The truth is that they won’t, primarily because of your competition. As a clothes retailer you’re competing with giants like ASOS, TopShop, Debenhams, Zara, River Island and Amazon. They will dominate the top spaces of google and unless you have a few million in the bank, there’s no competing as a retailer.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t compete. There are thousands of online shops, each trading successfully. Some are smaller then the big brands with a niche offering like Jacamo who specialise in big mens clothing. They dominate an area of fashion all on their own. Like-wise there are thousands of smaller online shops who dominate their area by focusing on one category of products or through a unique business model.
If I type in “jeans” in to google, the first result shows ASOS (everyone knows asos)
If I type in “Gothic Jeans”, the first result shoes AttitudeClothing (I’ve never heard of this brand before)
The search rankings below Attitude clothing also showed a whole list of other competitive fashion retailers who I had never heard of. These are all existing online shops, who may be smaller then ASOS but right now, they’re probably bigger and more popular then your online shop is.
Finally we can dig deeper and do a specific search:
eg. gothic jeans size 10 with skull
This reveals online shops such as rosegal, katesclothing and ebay.
Whats the point?
The above examples show you where you stand in the marketplace and how invisible you might be as a new online shop so its imperative to do competitor research to figure out what your up against but also how you can change your business model to compete.
Big companies like Asos can dominate for generic keywords such as jeans.
Smaller brands can dominate for more niche products like attitude clothing do.
As a startup online shop you’ll be competing with brands that might not be huge but are big enough online (such as Jacamo ) or you’ll be competing with smaller brands who dominate a niche (like attitude clothing). We’ve not mentioned the million other shops who are also competiting on a product level and not a brand level.
When starting an online shop try and be niche for a better chance of success. Sell one product, or one category of products.
11.A niche online shop
The benefits of a niche online shop means that you can dominate a particular marketplace but can also make marketing easier for your business. SEO should become easier and the costs associated could be cheaper. As well as comeptiting on a product level you can compete as a brand because as a brand your not trying to squeeze into the marketplace and compete. You’ll be creating your own space in the market as a unique retailer.
This is were branding can play a vital part, helping your online shop to target and communicate with potential customers and build a relaionship with them as the “go to brand” for something particular.
12. Get support for your online shop
If you’re not professionally tech savvy, marketing savvy or design savvy then you will need help to setup your shop regardless of which system you decide to use. Even the systems which are marketed as a quick, easy and cheap way to start selling online have tons of features, lingo and technical requirements that you’ll need to handle in order to get your shop open and functioning.
You will need help when:
- You want to link up your domain to your site
- You want to change colours on the site
- You want to change the graphics
- You want to market the site
- You realise something has gone wrong
Even menial tasks like uploading product photos need to be done in a particular way. Do it wrong and the site will slow down, put off users and maybe even put off search engines.
The bottom line is get the help that you need to set up your online shop.
To prepare yourself even more, check out 7 misktakes that startup online shops make.