Planning tips for your first online shop

When setting up a new business that sells a product, whether it is physical or digital, one of the first things you will create is a website. Ecommerce sites cater to all walks of life, like those offering a service, manufactured goods, or digital downloads

Although it's an exciting project that puts your product out into the world, it can also be a daunting task. There is a lot to plan, from what the design will look like to what content should you put up. 

With so much to think about, there are often questions that don’t get asked before going live that have to be addressed after the fact. Here are five questions, some obvious and others not so, to help you set up a great ecommerce shop.

What platform to choose

As is the case with building a house, websites need to have a good foundation otherwise there can be issues down the road. There are so many different ecommerce offerings and new ones are coming out regularly. So where do you start? Services like Shopify offer a simple, quick and robust starting point but what happens if you outgrow or want to sidestep what they make available to you? 

This is where a platform that you can develop yourself, and backed by a big community, is the best choice. The biggest of these is WooCommerce, a plugin that turns WordPress from a standard CMS into a powerful ecommerce platform. Nearly a quarter of ecommerce sites run WooCommerce, so you can be safe in the knowledge it’ll work right away. With this option, you also have a huge amount of scope to adapt and evolve at a speed consistent with your business.

Selecting your hosting

The process for choosing a hosting package that runs a normal website and one that runs ecommerce has some similarities but also some key differences. The first key factor comes from the platform you have chosen. Most hosting solutions will be able to install and run almost any CMS but many often provide a specific one set up for their preferred CMS, in the case of SiteGround, this is WordPress. 

This comes with better, WordPress tailored security and performance as well as easier install and transfer processes, all built into your hosting. Once you’ve got your shortlisted hosting packages you can list some key details that will help you make the decision; how much space do you need? How many visitors do you anticipate on your site? Do you need a staging area? From this you can then determine the level of hosting you need. You can always hop on a chat with a sales rep too. 

Starting with content

It's very easy to come up with a big list of all the content you would love to have on your site. The home page making a big splash, the product(s) themselves, about the company, the team, a blog etc. But making such a detailed list often leads to delays with a website. 

Whilst all intentions are good, most people, unless hiring a dedicated marketing person, will struggle to find the time to produce well written and concise copy for their site. This can lead to users either not engaging with or trusting what you have to offer. Start with distilling what people need to know with your product. Are you meant to be an expert on a subject, a fitness instructor for example? In this case, a blog is likely very high on the list of what is needed.

Are you offering something simple like a publication? Then you might only need two pages, home and the actual product page. If you are totally stuck on writing for yourself, why not try reaching out to a copywriter with knowledge of your customer base? A good copywriter is worth their weight in gold.

Optimizing your checkout

The checkout is just as, if not more, important than the rest of the site. It's easy to get caught up in the fun front part of your site, but if your checkout process isn't well structured and thought out, users will either get bored or flat out give up. How many times have you gone through to pay and something isn’t easy or doesn’t work so you give up on the product? 

One of the biggest parts to think about now is not just the payment gateway (Stripe, Braintree etc.) you choose but also what methods you want to accept. Each method comes with its pros and cons and requires certain services but think about how easy it was to pay when PayPal first got introduced. Now with Google Pay or Apple Pay, it's like contactless payments for your online shop. It's not a bad idea to take cues from brick-and-mortar shops.

Have you ever noticed the small items at checkouts? They invite impulse buying, add-on purchases, and upsells so why not add this to your checkout process? Ecommerce sites and physical shops can have a lot of things in common.

Going bespoke

With so many themes and premade templates out there, it's often hard to know when or why to get something custom done. First off, you need to tackle the ‘why’. Justifying the design and development cost as well as the time needed to go this route can be difficult. If your product is a winner though, then this will be an inevitable step you will have to take. 

Whilst themes can really help you get established, they often lack that personality of your business, creating a disconnect between your site and your brand. They are almost always over-engineered so that theme creators can generate more revenue over more use cases which leads to their biggest downfalls: speed and usability. Usability will vary depending on your ability level but as the site wasn’t made with you in mind, there will be a bigger learning curve and if you don’t update your site often then going back into it can feel like starting from scratch.

The speed of themes can often be slow from all the added features that you likely don’t need being loaded in. Without the technical knowhow, there’s no easy way to get rid of them. 

So you want the site to reflect your brand, be completely developed for you and blazingly fast... When do you move to a custom site? It’s best to do this before you become frustrated or held back from your existing online presence as this will only add negativity to the whole process and lead to a lack of motivation and enthusiasm to create the best offering for your customers. It can be even more powerful if you do it at the outset, with the added excitement of launching your product into the world reflected across the site. 

When it comes to getting the site created, remember to work collaboratively with all involved, especially with the designers and developers. They will bring a huge amount of experience and knowledge as well as potentially solve UX problems in less obvious ways that you might not think were possible!

Ready, set, go!

So to conclude, being upfront about the small details and the specifics you want from a website now and more importantly 2, 5 or even 10 years down the line is important. You don’t want to be held back or fall short of customer expectations by publishing a site that feels like it's an afterthought. Your product was created with only the best intentions and so its physical and digital representations should reflect this. Bringing these five points into your decision-making should ensure your site is not only fit for purpose but exceeds everyone's expectations.

This was the 8th installment of our Black Friday series. Eager for more tips on optimizing your ecommerce performance? Stay tuned for more posts just like this one featuring industry experts and some of our technical partners. Learn how to improve your website design, conversions, online marketing, and more.  

Designer

Ade Mills is Senior Designer at Playne Design and host of The Design Jones podcast based on the south coast of the UK. His work ranges across multiple mediums from print to digital applications and has involved clients across a variety of sectors.

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