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How To Start An eCommerce Business

We’ve seen many entrepreneurs come and go from our office to set up their eCommerce businesses. Some very well organised with a clear vision in terms of where they want to take their business and how they want their eCommerce website to function. Whilst others are the complete opposite, they haven’t thoroughly thought about some of the most crucial parts of their online business and how they may relate to their website. Or at the very least they failed to communicate it to the designers and developers, which innately leads to an increase in project costs or delivery time.

So from our experience offering eCommerce web design services we’ve put together a checklist of key points which you should know before you approach a web design agency to help you sell online.

Do I even need an eCommerce shop in the first place? – Are my customers actually going to buy online?

Before looking to commission an agency to build an eCommerce website, it’s important to consider if your customers are actually likely to buy online, this, of course, depends very much on what it is that you are selling, and the level of barriers there for your customers to cross before they can make a buying decision. For example, buying industrial or plant equipment or machinery may require much more scrutiny or customisation before a customer can buy it then say selling a computer game or an item of clothing where the decision to buy may not require as much thought.

Are there any barriers to online purchase set by you, especially if you are a B2B business, for example, do you require your client to raise and send you a purchase order before you can take payment and dispatch goods, in which case a fully functional eCommerce website may not be the right solution for you.

Who is my target customer?

Identifying your target customer is crucial when looking to build an online business and especially when commissioning a web design and digital marketing agency, for example if you are targeting a specific niche there may be a web development and design agency that specialises in building sites for that industry or niche, this would be very much applicable to businesses looking to offer online training or courses online.

If the target customer is based on ethnic, socio-economic or age factors or simply people who share a specific interest (cycling, hand gliding, etc.), it helps web designers during the design phase of a project as they can gear their design work to that market in terms of imagery, fonts graphics and any other styling and effects the designer may use.

How do my deliveries work?

If you are selling a physical product which needs to be delivered, quite simply how do your deliveries work, what rates do you charge? Is there anywhere that you don’t deliver? These are all things that you need to consider before commissioning anyone to build your website as they can be one of the most complicated parts of the website development process. From experience, we know that businesses selling big bulky items can have quite complex delivery charges which vary by regions and postcodes for example whilst businesses selling cheaper products find it harder to cover the cost of postage when they sell internationally.

Which is the best payment gateway for my eCommerce business?

Payment gateways are used by many online business and eCommerce websites to process credit card payments, essentially they all do the same job regardless of whether you use PayPal or a gateway from your local bank. Where the difference comes in is in the way they charge you as a customer to use their services. In some cases this can be in the form of commission on transactions in other cases it can be a very negligible charge per transaction followed by monthly payments. Depending on how many transactions you are likely to do you need to calculate which payment gateway if is going to be the most cost-effective for you. It’s worth doing research into what each offers to make a decision on which is the best for your business, beforehand so that you can set up accounts with the gateways in advance, this avoids unnecessary delays to the development and delivery of an eCommerce store.

How big is my product range?

For a web design agency the size and range of products that a client sells impacts web design and development in two ways, its impacts during the design stage where the designer needs to put together whether that be through wireframe design or going straight into the design itself. To do this effectively it’s important to know how the products are structured, do products have variations, are there any parent-child categories which we need to be aware of, this is so that fluid and logical navigational structure can be designed.

Furthermore, from a development standpoint, the complexity of the product range impacts the choice of CMS system that is used, whether it is based on a Magento platform, WordPress or something custom built.

Having a clear idea about the product range offered to clients can save time on the design and development of their website project, making for a quicker product turn around.

What is the USP of my online store?

A question to ask yourself is “what exactly is my Unique Selling Point (USP)?” “What am I offering that’s special” or “How, if at all am I doing things differently from others in the market?” For example, is my USP based on price i.e. am I selling my products cheaper than everyone else in my market. Or is the USP based on differentiation, for example, do I allow my customers to configure and customise their products as opposed to selling just stock products?

It’s important to be aware of this because only then can you as the person commissioning the website to identify how the website fits into delivering or supporting your desired USP. For example, if your USP is customised then you need an appropriate feature built into your website to allow you to do that, from a development point of view. Or if your USP is that you are bringing a service to a niche market then that may have design implications for example targeting a website towards people with visual impairments may require the use of high contrasts for example.

What information does my customer need before they buy online?

As a business owner or potential business owner, you know your customers much better than we do. With that in mind, you should also know what type of information your customers need to see to help them make a buying decision. For example, if you’re selling DIY products to retail customers, they may need to know technical measurements and product dimensions before they are willing to buy in order to judge if the product meets their requirements or not.

While you are selling children’s toys, for instance, your customers may want to know if the age range of the product is suitable.

To sell online effectively this core information must be presented in a clear way, therefore the web design agency that you as a client choose to hire must be informed of what these are so that they can build emphasis around that information and make it clear to understand.

What types of promotions are common in my market and how do I encourage sales and promote my business?

Knowing how you are going to promote and market your business is not only important for your business plan, it is also very important for your web developer to know this as well so that they can make sure that the relevant features are built into the system that they provide you. For example, if you are running a loyalty scheme and want to offer points or if you plan to run seasonal special offers, the system needs to provide the appropriate level of flexibility and functionality to allow you to coordinate the online and offline elements of your marketing strategy.

What is my brand all about? – How do I want to be perceived by my customers?

If you have an already running business you may find this task a little bit easier than if you are starting a business for scratch. But nonetheless, both running and start-ups businesses need to be clear in terms of what brand message they want to portray, and how they want their customers to perceive them and feel when they use their products or services.

This message must be made very evident and clear to designers working on your website during the design phase of your project so that it can be incorporated in any template design work, font choice, visual effect and the general theme of the website’s aesthetic design. The more information which is provided the better the design work and faster the process.

Can I afford what I need?

As important as it is for you as a client to know what you need from your website, how you want it to work and what type of specification it should have, it is equally important for you to be clear and confident about the budget that you have set to invest into the website you want. Will your budget actually be enough for what you’re asking for?

Although this is a bit of a chicken and egg situation especially if you don’t have very much experience dealing with digital agencies or have been left feeling completely bamboozled by the wide and varied prices agencies quote you.

I find that in most cases common sense always needs to be applied, but surprisingly sometimes it isn’t for example if you need to work exactly like “Amazon” for your business to work and your budget is £1000. Then it’s not going to happen, and if anyone says to you otherwise they are either really incompetent, a liar or both.

This can sometimes mean you have to swallow a bitter spoon full of realism, but it’s better that you do it before you commission a site and pay any deposit than after.

Generally speaking the more complexity within a website, the more functionality it requires, therefore adding the increase in costs of the design and development. This is why you may find eCommerce websites to be significantly more expensive than a standard CMS/Blog or static brochure websites.

It’s not the end of the world if you cannot afford the full bells and whistles website that you had originally hoped for, in this case, we recommend analysing your requirements and asking yourself the question what is the bare minimum functionality I need to get my online shop up and running. This approach allows you to have a lower initial outlay and you can still enhance the features of your site on a step by step basis as you need to, so eventually you can still get all the bells and whistles you wanted.

What content do I currently have and what do I need?

If you are going to launch a website, whether eCommerce or not, you need to make sure you have all the relevant content, this means being aware of what pages you need on the site and writing specific content for them. It also means making sure that you have detailed descriptions for all your products or services.

Most credible agencies won’t write your content for you unless you commission them for copywriting services, so if you need help with generating content is always worth asking if you can work out a deal with the agency if they offer a content writing service.

How would my customers filter my products?

Sometimes clients can forget that you know your customers and your market better than we as a web design and digital marketing agency do. You are better equipped to advise us as an agency on how your customers search for your product and how they would look to categorise or filter down your products to find the one they want. This is important for us when we are developing the structure of the site and setting the relevant filter functions and product attributes.

Getting these points right can make the process a lot smoother. We hope that the above clears any problems that you may be having with your eCommerce business, if you still are, not to worry… email us at We can provide you with some effective eCommerce strategies to get you started.

(Featured Image by Richard Bolland)


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