Think you are ready to set up your own online store? Here are some things you should consider before you begin the development process.
Tax and Shipping
Collecting sales tax and determining the optimal shipping methods are probably the least glamorous aspects of selling online, but they are very important to establishing an online business. It is important to know your state and local regulations when collecting sales tax. To make matters even more complicated, some locales require tax to be applied to shipping as well. There are some online guides to help guide you, but it is best to consult a tax expert for your area. Ecommerce platforms will usually come pre-built with methods to collect taxes if necessary.
Shipping is also a key consideration. What shipping carriers will you be working with? What packaging will you be using? Most open source Ecommerce platforms such as Magento and WordPress, provide plugins to integrate the site with major shipping companies to get accurate quotes based on the weight and dimensions of the order. If you sell smaller items that can easily fit into a flat rate box or envelope, you should determine what is the most cost-effective for your business.
Every person who will make a purchase on your site will be using whatever payment method you choose. This is an important consideration for both you and and your customers. Each major payment processor (PayPal, Authorize.net, Stripe, etc.) will collect fees, and you should consider how those fees will impact your bottom line. Some charge a percentage of total sale, some will charge a flat rate per transaction, and some will use a combination thereof. These rates tend to vary, so it pays to do up to date research.
In addition to the fees the processor collects, processor integration will be a key aspect to your website development experience. The most popular processors will often have multiple plugins and extensions that integrate it easily within your store. However, should you choose a more obscure payment processor in the interest of lower fees it may not easily integrate into your store, requiring large development costs for a custom integration.
Prior to creating your site, you should consider the customer’s perspective, namely: “Why should we purchase your products, and why should we purchase these products from this store?”. There is far more to Ecommerce than simply creating a site and then sitting back watching the orders roll in. You must use the website to tell a story, about you, the brand, and the products.
One of the best ways to tell a story is through blog content. A blog will explain your company and keep your customers engaged. If your products are new, a blog post product review is an excellent way to introduce customers to a product, and a short embedded video is even better. WordPress makes blogging very simple, and larger Ecommerce platforms such as Magento allow seamless WordPress blog integration . Ideally as much content as possible will be created prior to the site launch. This content will also do wonders for your Search Engine Optimization (SEO), giving your site a boost right out of the gate.
Mailing Lists to Engage Customers
As great as an Ecommerce site may be, it requires your customers to actively browse to the site. Good SEO will help, but nothing beats mailing lists to directly inform your customers. Introducing a new product? Having a weekend sale? A well-crafted newsletter will alert your customers and keep them coming back for more. Major Ecommerce platforms offer some sort of newsletter integration, and the better ones allow for newsletter signup upon checkout to make it easy for your customers. One of the most popular newsletter platforms available today is MailChimp as it is easy to use and integrates very well into most Ecommerce sites.
Social Media is another way to keep customers engaged, and it has the added benefit of allowing a conversation about the topic to happen real-time. However, social media still requires customers to be proactive in their engagement, so it will not completely usurp email newsletters as the optimal delivery method in most cases.
Questions and Returns
Unfortunately not everything goes perfectly in the world of Ecommerce and it is inevitable that a customer will wish to return an item, or would like to ask a question about an order. These contingencies should be considered well in advance of site launch, as it is far easier to integrate and test in the development phase vs trying to jam something in after the fact. At a minimum the site should clearly state the return policy, and a contact form should be set up for general inquiries and inquiries pertaining to particular orders. Even better, if staffing allows live chat is an excellent tool to connect with customers real-time, alleviating the potential frustration of time gaps for email communication.
Creating an Ecommerce site is a large endeavor, and prior planning will make it much smoother. Be sure to take the time to consider the items above prior to the development process, it will save a great deal of time and money in the long run.