Starting an online shop can be a hugely exciting and great way to earn an extra income, especially if you already have a physical shop on the high street. However, setting up an e-commerce website is quite a lot more complicated than your average ‘brochure’ site. It will require plenty of planning and thought.
Here are a few of the questions you might have before you get started:
How much is it going to cost?
The cost to setup your e-commerce website will depend entirely on its complexity and functionality as well as the layout, content and overall design. The actual cost of setting up simple e-commerce site doesn’t have to be too expensive – but once the technology is in place there are a few other things to think about including:
- Professional graphic design to make your site stand out and look great. You can think of this as the decor of your shop.
- Continuity with your existing brand so the site ties together with your existing logo, colours and layouts.
- The addition of detailed & descriptive product information as well as professional photography to ensure your customers get a really good idea of what your product looks like. This is important as customers will need this information to make the decision to buy your product.
All this information takes time to put together and real design flair. Unless you feel confident that you have the skills to do it yourself, it’s a much better idea to get a professional to work on it for you. But don’t worry – it’s a good investment in the long run and will save you time and stress.
Do I need to set up a merchant account?
This is not always necessary – you have a few options. You can ask you customers to print out an order form and get them to post it to you along with a cheque, or ask them to call to obtain their credit card details over the phone. There are also a number of payment process companies who you could consider using such as PayPal or SagePay.
However, if you want to make your customers shopping experience as hassle free as possible then we would strongly advise setting up a credit card merchant account. If customers feel that paying for or processing orders is going to be a nuisance there is a change they will simply abandon the shopping cart and go to another site – this is obviously not what you want!
What is a payment gateway?
If you have a physical shop on the high street, your payment gateway is the credit card machine customers use to enter their PIN. With an e-commerce site the payment gateway is a software interface that takes the payment information from the shopping cart page and processes the payment.
How do I make my site secure?
The security of you site is hugely important and if customers don’t feel safe making purchases you will probably lose a lot of potential orders. An SSL security certificate reassures customers that your site uses technology that will encrypt any information they provide. Some of the most reputable security providers include Verisign, GeoTrust & GlobalSign, your customers will be much more likely to continue their order if they see any of these logos.
Do I need a shopping cart?
A shopping cart allows customers to add lots of individual products to their order, just like they would in a high street shop. Customers probably won’t come back if they have to purchase each item with a separate transaction so a shopping cart is a necessity.
How will people find my shop?
In a same way as a high street shop will suffer if it’s tucked away in a little known corner of town, if people don’t know your site exists, you’ll struggle to make any money. Effective marketing and advertising campaigns are essential. You can use traditional media like print, radio as well as online advertising such as banners and digital press releases.
Another effective method is Pay Per Click online advertising on search engines which offer sponsored listings. You pay a certain amount every time someone ‘clicks’ on your ad and is taken to your site. It can sometimes be expensive but is a great way of getting fast results.
Another very important way of receiving traffic to your site is to make sure it can be found in the ‘organic’ search engine results. In order to make this happen you need to work on search engine optimisation (SEO). The aim of any SEO campaign is to ensure your site appears at the top of first page when people search for your product with a ‘keyword phrase’. Generally it can take months of work to get your site near the top of the listings although much depends on how competitive the ‘keyword phrases’ are. Once you’re at the top for your chosen phase you’ll really notice the difference.
How do I manage my shop and products?
Your site will need to be build around an e-commerce system such as Prestashop or Magento. These systems allow you to manage every aspect of your shop including adding/editing products, stock control facilities, invoices etc.
Depending on which system you site uses will determine how much control you have. Don’t worry – you don’t need to have expert knowledge of HTML or any other coding language, everything will be pre-coded for you if you use a professional website design company.