Before starting an online shop i want to bring your mind to few things that must be considered before the Alibaba journey starts.
An ecommerce site builder is a program that lets you build, customize, and run an online store. A complete ecommerce solution and the best ecommerce sites will come with the tools to walk you through the entire process: hosting, design, pricing and payment options, marketing tools and reports. These are the signs that you’ll be using the best ecommerce platform available in 2015.
First, consider how much you'll sell. If you anticipate heavy traffic, an ecommerce solution that offers lots of online storage space, inventory, and bandwidth is ideal. Next, decide on the level of customization you'd like, to ensure you’ll have the best ecommerce platform for you. Many e shop site builders offer attractive templates ready-to-use, while others come with HTML for more seasoned web designers. Check for must-have features such as payment security and sales reports. Also, be sure to provide enough payment and shipping options for your customers, and look closely at tools such as the ability to create discounts, loyalty programs, or gift-wrap options on your ecommerce website. Not all website builders will offer the same options, and some may charge for extras. All of these considerations effect the success of your online shop and how you sell online. Finally, go with a program that is easy to use and has a solid customer support team. A well-designed e-commerce builder should be simple yet effective. The less time you have to spend figuring out the program, the more time you'll have to run your business.
Today's top ecommerce site builders take all of these factors into account for your ecommerce website. Many programs are designed to accommodate the sale of both physical and downloadable products. In addition, online businesses are quickly evolving to face times of economic hardship by offering steeper discounts, flat-rate shipping, loyalty programs, and other perks. Many e-commerce site builders and the best ecommerce platform options make it easy to run promotions and keep your customers happy. Finally, although the boom in online sales has also opened a potential avenue for fraud and scams, site-builders have managed to stay ahead by offering top-of-the-line site protection and payment security to keep the online marketplace as safe as possible.
Stick to these three simple S's of ecommerce and you'll be well on your way to launching your online store.
Some ecommerce site builders put a cap on your sales, so choose one offers you the inventory space and bandwidth to fit your needs. The best ecommerce platform will let your online shop sell online without limitations.
Choose a program that offers fraud protection and Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption. This is for the protection of you and your customers. SSL technology makes it possible to send online payments securely and is a must-have on all ecommerce sites.
Your ecommerce solution should have a user-friendly interface. The best ecommerce sites and functions of each tool should be clear and it should be easy to select your desired options. A top-notch site builder will make it easy to build your online store. An extensive FAQ and customer support team can make a world of difference. Also, remember the needs of your customers. Imagine that you're shopping your own online store. Well-designed menus, filters, and sorting options will minimize the amount of time it takes to find a product and purchase it. Consider also the "look" of your site. Many ecommerce site builders offer professionally-designed templates that are both pleasing to the eye and can improve a customer's overall shopping experience. Just like in a physical store, a cluttered and disorganized e shop display will leave customers frustrated and empty-handed, whereas a streamlined and enjoyable buying process will encourage purchasing.
Shopping online has become so routine it seems consumers almost expect to be able to purchase virtually anything via the Internet. In 2016 the U.S. eCommerce market has become the second largest globally, behind China, and is expected to reach $482 billion in sales by 2018, that is about 8% of total retail sales, with $75 billion in mobile commerce sales last year alone. In fact, approximately 43% (and growing) of major retailers in the U.S. now offer a form of in-store pickup for eCommerce orders.
With that said, e-commerce is definitely a great way for any small business to reach more customers and sell more products, but good planning is a must because there are a lot of decisions and cost that go into creating a full e-commerce site. In fact most people who ask us to build them a full e-commerce site eventually decide to scale back and start initially with a more affordable option using PayPal or Stripe for only a few products. Hopefully this article will help you understand how e-commerce works, what decisions need to be made, and whether it makes sense for you to invest in this option. Also note that hiring a good e-commerce developer can help make the whole process go a lot smoother, as well as save you time and money so please consider this before attempting to do it yourself.
- E-commerce Platform & Website CMS
A typical online storefront doesn’t just have a store with product pages, it also has a couple pages about the company, a contact page, and possibly a blog/news/resources section or other pages. So when choosing the an e-commerce platform for your storefront you must also choose a CMS (Content Management System) for your website and your decision should be based on your needs. So knowing what extra functionality you need and if that platform or app/plugin offers this to you is pretty vital. For example, do you know what discounts/coupons/sales you want to offer, what kinds of product variations you will have, do you want to give return-shoppers the option of setting up an account to remember their purchase history, will you offer wholesale pricing to retailers, etc. This is the most important choice you will make because it builds the foundation for your site, yet it is not easy to figure out if you don’t know what the options are and how they work. There are hundreds of e-commerce options out there but I will recommend the two most user-friendly options based on the opinion of several articles as well as my own.
- For a self-hosted option, I recommend Woocommerce (free, hosting costs not-included) because it uses a very popular CMS called WordPress that is easy to use and gives developers full access to the server for easier customization. Tons of plugins are also available to add on functionality (free or at cost).
- For a hosted option, I recommend Shopify (see monthly pricing, hosting costs included) because of its cost, features, and ease-of-use. It comes with a built-in CMS but does not give developers access to the server and therefore limiting for developers to customize certain aspects, especially the cart/payment process. Also please note that Shopify will process the payments on their servers or charge you extra fees to use external payment gateways. However, this also means they handle security issues and updates to the software which can be nice. Tons of apps are available to add on functionality (free or at cost).
To display your product there are several options – simple products (no variations), variable products (multiple variations like T-shirts that have different colors, sizes, etc.), grouped products, affiliate products, downloadable products, virtual products, etc. Regardless, you will need to display a price, photo, and a full description along with size/weight/material info. You can even categorize and subcategorize your products to simplify your navbar as well as offer a search so that people can find what they are looking for quickly.
- One-page Checkout & Cart Access
It is recommended that you make the checkout process as quick and easy as possible using a one-page checkout option (WooCommerce offers this option). This can help prevent cart abandonment issues and makes people happier overall with the process. Also, you need to make sure that shoppers can see their cart total and product listings at all times as well as checkout from any page.
Taxes and Shipping
There are many e-commerce settings that you have to setup but taxes and shipping are a necessity so be aware of what is required in your state.
- Setup sales tax rates (state and local) by downloading a sales tax table from www.taxrates.com that you can import to the site. Read more about this at www.salestaxhandbook.com.
- Shipping can be simple (with flat fees) or complex and costly (pulling in table rates from UPS, USPS, Fedex, etc via a plugin that can be $199/yr), so I recommend trying to keep it simple whenever possible. Table rates are based on weight or shipping box dimensions so that info will need to be entered for each and every product if using this option.
Payment Gateways & SSL (Secure Socket Layer)
A payment gateway is an e-commerce service provider that processes your payments and funnels the money into a merchant/checking account (see below). Below are several options that should help you decide which one fits your budget based on your expected income. Almost all of the following solutions charge fees of 2.9% + $.30/transaction.
- PayPal has no monthly fee but is limited to $10,000/mo or you will have to upgrade to PayPal Pro for $30/mo. PayPal does not require a SSL Certificate because visitors are taken away from your website to their servers to process the payment securely, either through their PayPal account or as a guest. However it is still recommended that you purchase this extra level of security to gain the trust of your clients especially with an ecommerce site that allows visitors to sign up for accounts to remember their transactions. To obtain the funds, you must transfer the funds manually into your checking account of choice which may take a couple days.
- Stripe also has no monthly fee and is the latest coolest open source payment gateway because your visitors don’t have to leave your website to make a payment, instead it will display an overlaid popup box for payment. Checkout how it works here: https://stripe.com/checkout However, Stripe will deposit funds automatically every 2-7 days and there is no limit to the amount of income you obtain. SSL is required.
- Authorize.net: $49 setup fee + $25 monthly gateway fee includes merchant account cost. No limit of transactions. SSL is required.
- Balanced (balancedpayments.com) is unique in that it allows automatic “payouts” to multiple parties for each transaction. You must transfer your funds manually. SSL is required.
Please note that some shoppers prefer to use PayPal so offering this solution in combination with another payment gateway is quite normal.
SSL Certificates add an extra layer of protection by encrypting your transactions and cost around $50/yr. With SSL installed the http protocol changes to https with a lock icon in the browser next to the web URL.
Merchant Accounts (fees may vary)
Some payment gateways don’t require a merchant account but some do, i.e. Authorize.net. Merchant accounts are meant to collects funds from your customer’s bank and deposit funds into your account automatically. International transactions may cost an extra 1.5% and chargebacks may be assessed a fee of $25 by your merchant.
- Security and PCI Compliance
Please be aware of your responsibilities for security and PCI Compliance. Read all about that here: https://www.pcicomplianceguide.org/pci-compliance-overview/
- Google Analytics
To track your success — where visitors are coming from, what keywords allowed them to find you, or what referring sites they came from, etc. you will want to install Google Analytics which is a free web statistics software that Google offers everyone. It also allows you to further evaluate how many people fall off from your site or complete the checkout process through the setup of goals
With the ease of setting up an online store and the profits that can be made from it, business owners can no longer overlook the benefits to ecommerce. Let’s take a look at five things you may not know about ecommerce.
1. Ecommerce is not just for big businesses.
Because of the previous cost and high-tech process, ecommerce attracted big businesses with big budgets. Today is very different. Ecommerce is not just for the big guys; small businesses, DIYers and mom-and-pop shops are jumping on board to establish online stores. With an extensive selection of ecommerce software, it makes practical and financial sense to sell products online.
2. Ecommerce benefits local businesses.
Ecommerce is often associated with taking your business globally. But if you operate a small business and want to expand your reach within the local area, ecommerce is a great solution. Why? Your customers want to read reviews about your products and have access to discount codes and coupons. They want the option to shop online 24/7. They don’t want to wait in line or deal with crowds. Having an online store gives local customers the shopping experience they expect.
3. Ecommerce sites need to be mobile friendly.
When setting up your ecommerce site, it’s imperative that it has a responsive design. This means that it looks and performs the same on all devices. Google recently announced that for the first time, mobile searches have surpassed desktop searches. Also, Google favors websites that have a responsive design. If you want to bring visitors to your site and convert them into loyal customers, you must have a mobile-friendly website.
4. You must be proactive on ecommerce.
Today’s shoppers are on the hunt for the best bargains. The trouble is that some shoppers spend time going into small businesses so that they can “showroom shop.” They touch the product, test it out and ask questions. Then they go and find that product online for less. To avoid being a showroom for another business’ sales, you must think proactively. Be accessible on social media, engage your audience and reward loyal customers.
5. Ecommerce has a social component.
You can have a clean, engaging ecommerce site, but if you’re not social online, you’re limiting your potential. Social media is an essential part of ecommerce because it adds interactivity to the ordinary buy-and-sell relationship. Research shows that people are more likely to trust a brand and buy their product when it’s recommended by friends on Facebook or Twitter.
Ecommerce offers many valuable assets, and it’s important to understand how these elements fit into the buy-sell lifecycle. The exciting news is that ecommerce is no longer reserved for big businesses. It’s an opportunity that anyone can take advantage of.