Are you thinking of selling products online? Perhaps you already have an e-commerce website but are thinking of having it redesigned.
There are millions of online shops, and whether they’re selling clothes, books, tools, gifts, homeware or camping equipment they all had to take the first steps towards getting their store online.
Setting up an e-commerce shop might seem daunting, but by reading these tips and following them up you can make the process smooth and hassle free.
Our case study will be Ben, who’s setting up a UK-based shop selling vintage music-related t-shirts.
1. Decide on a name for your shop and buy your domain name. It should be memorable and not too long. You can buy domains at Go Daddy, 1 & 1 Internet and Easyspace plus hundreds of other sites. Make a note of your username and password – this is essential as your web developer will need these details.
You could also look into buying domains that are related to the products you're selling, and then point them towards your primary domain.
Ben’s business will be called Vintage Tees, so he’s going to buy www.vintagetees.co.uk
He would have liked to buy the .com address too, but that name’s already taken. He's also bought www.vintagemusictshirts.co.uk and www.vintagemusictshirts.com
2. Talk to your bank about setting up an Internet Merchant account which you can then link to SagePay and/or Streamline (secure card payment service). This can take time, so best to start the process off early.
Ben already contacted the bank when he initially thought of the idea for his business, so he has everything in place.
3. Work out your budget. This is crucial, as it will help you focus on what you actually need at the moment, and what would be nice to implement in the future. It will also help you choose who will build it (see point 5). Be realistic and remember that the more you invest in your new website at this stage, the less time and money you'll have to spend in the future developing the site.
Ben’s decided he can afford to spend £3,000 on his Vintage Tees website.
4. Think about the branding, pages, content and functionality you’ll want. This will enable you to give a clear brief to your potential design agencies. It’ll also save time in the long run if you have a clear picture in your mind of what you’re aiming for.
Vintage Tees will be bright, colourful and eye catching. Ben likes the Truffle Shuffle website and wants something along those lines. He will have 50 products, each available in different men’s and women’s sizes and each will have a choice of colours, with a zoom function available for the images. There will be a front and back view of each t-shirt.
Ben would like to include About Us, Blog, Join our mailing list, Delivery Information, and Privacy pages and he would like to give customers the ability to log in to check the status of their order. He’s sourced some high impact images for the homepage which he’d like to appear as a slideshow.
Vintage Tees will accept all major credit cards.
In the future, Ben would like to incorporate a “wish list”, where customers can pre-order items that aren’t yet in stock.
5. Start researching web design providers - both agencies and freelancers. Look at e-commerce websites that you like and find out who built them, or search online for agencies that can help. If you can look at testimonials from their customers or even speak to people who’ve used their services, you’ll be able to make a decision on who you feel most comfortable with.
The Vintage Tees website will be built by an agency which built a vintage clothes website that Ben browses regularly. He loves the way it looks and it’s clear, easy to use layout. They’ve quoted £2,500 for the website design and build and £400 for logo and stationery design. This fits Ben’s budget perfectly and allows some budget for the first year’s website and email hosting (which the agency will advise him on).
6. You’ll probably find that it’s preparing your product list and images for the website that takes most of your time. Your web designers will give you advise on what they need from you, but if you want to get a head start you can create the product list on an Excel spreadsheet and columns headings would be along these lines (depending on what you will be retailing).
- Unique product code
- Sub category (if applicable)
- Product name
- Image file name (this should be the exact file name for the relevant main image – e.g. “rolling-stones-tshirt-lips.jpg” or it could be labelled by the product ID code, e.g. “100233.jpg”
- Product description (remember to make it informative and use your keywords for the search engines)
- Sizes available
- In stock (1) or out of stock (0)
- Quantity in stock
Ben started compiling his list in his spare time whilst he was researching website design providers.
7. Prepare your images and PLEASE don’t snap away with that disposable camera you stole from a wedding 2 years ago! There’s nothing worse than seeing a well-designed website with poor, fuzzy pictures.
You may already have professional photographs from the manufacturer, or you may need to book a photographer. The crucial point here is that your images must be crisp, and clear.
Label them well and file them in an organised way, so that they will be easy to find and sift through as and when needed. Your web design provider may need to crop, cut out or alter the images for your new website and the better the quality of the photographs, the easier and more effective this will be.
Vintage Tees have excellent images, as Ben assembled some male and female friends for a professional photo shoot at a music festival. They’ve decided to keep the theme going by always illustrating their products in a music-related environment.
8. Make sure you’re completely happy with the visuals from your website designer. Any tweaks to colours, layout, typefaces, etc. should be requested now as it would be very difficult (and expensive) to change these further down the line.
You would be wise to steer clear of anything that's too "of the moment" and fashionable when it comes to design and colour - this will date very quickly. Neutral tones will ensure your website remains a contemporary classic and it will need little future investment when it comes to design.
Ben received his visuals and loved them, but asked if he could have an additional area allocated on the homepage for him to recommend an “album of the week” in line with the music theme.
9. While your website is being built, make yourself available for any queries from the web developer. The faster you can come back with the answers, the sooner your website will be ready to launch.
You’ll also need to test, test, test. Think of every possible scenario, try out the payment system and ask your friends to do the same. Their comments will be invaluable as you don’t want your customers to come across too many glitches in the system. There are bound to be a few teething problems and the aim here is to reduce them as much as possible before you launch to the general public.
- Is all text free from spelling errors?
- Has content has been placed consistently?
- Have enquiry or shopping cart forms been tested and processed correctly?
- Have the compulsory question and answer fields been tested?
- Do your enquiry and order forms send to the correct recipient?
- Has your website been fully optimised for search engines?
- Does your website display correctly on all browsers
- Is your Web Statistics package (e.g. Google Analytics) installed and operational?
Ben at Vintage Tees rounds up as many friends as possible to test the website and come back to him with their comments. These are passed on to the web developer so that any last minute problems can be rectified.
10. Launch date!
Tell as many people as possible about your new website. If you already have a customer database, send them an email to let them know that their shopping experience is about to improve beyond measure.
If you have a Facebook account, set up a business page too and invite all your friends to “like” it. Join twitter to promote your website and try out using Google AdWords if you have the budget.
Check that your web design providers have submitted your site to Google, and register with as many relevant online directories as possible such as FreeIndex. Make sure your web address is on all your stationery and business cards.
Ben is a dab hand at social networking, so he creates his own twitter and Facebook business accounts and keeps them updated every day. He also adds himself to the free directories available online, with detailed information about his shop. He decides to use a consultant to help him with Google AdWords as he hasn’t had any experience of it.
We hope you’ve found this guide useful. Obviously every online shop is different, and some are far more complex than others, but hopefully our tips will have given you some food for thought.
All the best with your exciting new venture and if you need help, get in touch.
*Oh and by the way. Are you wondering what happened to Ben and his t-shirt shop? Well we like to think it's going from strength to strength. In fact he's hopefully already bought himself that brand new Harley Davidson he's always wanted!*