The UK has the fourth largest eCommerce market in the world worth an estimated £120 billion in 2021 and the first quarter of 2022. Of course, the pandemic had a huge impact on the digital market, but even with physical stores reopening in April 2021, sales figures are continuing to increase, especially on mobile devices, which accounts for about a third of all online sales.
There are lots of opportunities to find your niche online, and if you get the set-up stage right, you stand a great chance of making a success of your e-business. But there are several pitfalls that need to be avoided and just as many things to implement to ensure you remain on track. Here we go through some of the main things that need to be covered.
Organising your finances
When you come up with the idea of starting an eCommerce business you should go into it with your eyes open and aware of the amount of work and costs involved – even if you are only reaching a modest-sized audience.
You need to identify the product(s) you want to sell, who your audience will be, research your competitors and put together a good business plan. All these elements are just as important as each other because as a start-up you need to make the most of the money you are investing into the business.
There will also be several ongoing costs that you have to account for, such as:
- Website hosting fees
- Purchasing of new stock
- Returns and refunds
- Product storage (warehousing, fulfilment or drop-shipping)
- Payment processing (small flat % fee charged by a platform for every transaction)
- Packaging/postage/courier costs
- Marketing (depending on how far you want to extend your brand)
This is on top of the initial outlay for setting up and designing the website (if there are specific elements you need to include in the build that are not provided for free by the likes of Shopify or WooCommerce, for example).
All of this is manageable providing you plan well and keep track of your outgoings, as the ultimate aim of your eCommerce store will be to produce a steady income that turns a profit.
Find your hosting partner
Customer experience is everything when it comes to converting visitors and building a sustainable audience that will return to your site and spread the good word about your brand.
That’s why it is so important to find a reliable hosting company that offers a fast, stable service with minimal technical issues that affect customers whilst on your site.
Some providers, such as Krystal, offer a high-quality hosting service that is also based entirely on renewable energy, which is ideal for those who want to power their website from sustainable sources. They provide great customer support, package features and easy-to-use tools.
Other providers, such as HostGator, Hostwinds and 1&1 Lonos are built strong reputations, although do not offer Windows server support or Windows-based VPS hosting, which isn’t ideal for everyone.
Choosing the right eCommerce platform
One of the biggest decisions you will have to make is which eCommerce platform to use. Here we look at two of the most popular – Shopify and WooCommerce – along with Magento, which is more suited to larger, complex stores.
- Inclusion of hosting and security features make it easy to get started.
- Amazon, Facebook and eBay can all be easily integrated into the build.
- Customer support is available 24/7, which is ideal for beginners.
- All Shopify stores are mobile-ready, so your store is available everywhere
- As an open-sourced platform, WooCommerce can be customised as much as you want
- No matter how many products you have to sell, the platform can be scaled to accommodate
- The basic option is completely free which is good news for those on a tight budget
- Knowledge of HTML and CSS is not a requirement, so you can get started quickly
- Magento is also open source, so you can customise templates and build to your specifics
- The platform has a host of out-the-box features for marketing, analytics and more
- All essential SEO features are already built-in, so you won’t need any extra plugins
- You’ll have access to omni-channel features, so customers can reach you anywhere
Getting the web design right
You should focus on the ‘above the fold’ section of a webpage, which is the top section that loads first before the user scrolls down. It’s vitally important to get the design of this are right as it can impact impressions and conversion rates. Things to consider include:
- Call to action
Include a CTA button so customers can access products, services or a contact form without having to navigate elsewhere.
- Contact info
Include an email or contact number to build trust, so customers know you are not trying to avoid being contacted.
- Value proposition
What makes you different from your competitors? Explain this using simple language and without making it too long.
- Brand identity
Customers should have a clear idea of your brand identity, with your logo, tagline, colour scheme and any other important parts of your brand identity shown at the top of the page.
Ensure customers have easy access to website navigation tools at the top of the page so they can visit other pages via the menu. Include a search bar so people can easily find what they are looking for.
Use a clean design
When a customer lands on your website they will want to quickly find what they are looking for. That means you need the design and layout to be clean and focused without any clutter and unnecessary distractions.
You can still be creative, of course, but the primary focus should be to present a smart and professional website that can generate enquiries and sales.
- Use high resolution images and keep copy to a minimum so it covers the important points without any fluff.
- Customers don’t want to read tons of words – cover the essentials and try not to exceed 200 words, if possible.
- Site speed is incredibly important too. There are lots of things you can do to optimise your website speed and the faster it loads, the more likely you are to retain customer interest and generate sales.
Building customer trust
There will probably be a lot of other websites out there selling similar products, so seeing it from a customer’s perspective, why should they use you? Just as importantly, how can they trust you?
Trust is fundamental to developing sustainable sales and there are some things you can do to establish your credibility as a company. This includes:
- Displaying any awards or accreditations you have that are relevant to your industry.
- Customer reviews and testimonials go a long way too – link to an external site so people know they are authentic.
- Include a contact page with an email/phone number/address and include your face in the about section.
The more consistent you are with this side of things, the more trust you will build and the faster you will develop that all important loyal customer base.
Fulfilling your orders
When you’re in a position to start receiving orders you need to be well organised enough to fulfil them efficiently. This involves holding stock, which is not always a viable option for companies just starting out, as that requires storage space and delivery mechanisms, adding to your overheads and eating into profits.
A good alternative is to use a fulfilment service that can store your products, pick and pack when an order arrives and ship and track every order. They’ll also manage returns., dealing with damaged stock and providing you with the necessary information to process refunds.
In the short-term this can ensure you can fulfil your orders so you can save money and eventually reinvest it into purchasing your own storage space at a later stage. If you do go this route, be sure to check what kind of reporting and analytic tools they offer and that your own eCommerce system is compatible with theirs.
Putting it into practice
Setting up and running a successful eCommerce business is tough and while giving you a guide sounds great in practice, implementing it is completely different. To give you an idea of how it can work, here are some examples of where we helped to introduce some of the ideas mentioned above and integrated key fulfilment features that support stock and delivery management systems.
We helped a company called Timothy Dunn build a highly customised WooCommerce site that is designed to bring customers to checkout in as few clicks as possible. Apple Pay and Google Pay were also added for convenience for mobile users.
Timothy Dunn hold all their stock but have fantastic DPD integration, so when orders arrive, the details are sent to the courier and a postage label printed with a click of a button. Staff then prepare the order, label the package and hand it to DPD who then complete the delivery, with the customer automatically provided with tracking details.
Another example of these tips working in practice is with Camden Tea. We built a fully customised shop theme that works specifically for their business and the journey embarked on by their customers. They have a combination of physical sites and an eCommerce store so customers can see the product in person or online.
The Camden Tea site is built on Shopify and uses some of the helpful features that enables them to manage both online and physical sales along with their inventory (POS and EPOS). It ensures they have better accuracy to offer ‘live’ stock levels, so online customers are aware of what is available to order at all times.
So, what’s next?
If you’re thinking about setting up an eCommerce website but are not sure where to start, we can help get you up and running. We’ll work with you to develop everything from scratch so the store supports your products and customers, and we also offer SEO services that can boost your search engine visibility and rankings to increase visitors to your site.