The coronavirus pandemic has shut down most industries but not the e-commerce sector. The sector has continued to boom. As more people are forced to stay at home, online retail platforms have continued to blossom.
E-commerce spending for the first seven months in 2020 generated $434.5 billion for stores, which was a 55% increase compared with the same period in 2019. But, it’s not that simple. The online retail sector is fraught with competition.
In fact, the Small Business Association reported that 78 percent of ecommerce businesses fail in their first year. Big names like Amazon and Alibaba are guzzling up more market share, and the small guys are also competing for the little share left.
Why eCommerce Businesses Fail
The e-commerce market is diverse and complex. Success can come quickly, but so can failure.
With the competition in today’s e-commerce market, having a basic store isn’t enough. You need to consider everything, from security and product photography to site performance and even post-purchase support.
That’s why you’re here. We will show you how to set up your ecommerce store and optimize it for success. This guide includes the essentials for a site and how to use them to your advantage.
Before we begin, we’re assuming that you’ve already created your e-commerce site. If you haven’t, we recommend Shopify for its intuitive design and numerous features.
Now, let’s get down into the ecommerce checklist for new store owners.
1. Check Technical Functions
The first thing you need to do is ensure that your site is technically sound. This is critical before you welcome your first website visitor. Let’s look at some of the essential technical details that could disrupt the user’s sales journey if not put in check.
Web Hosting and Site Security
Your hosting package needs to match your e-commerce site and its needs. Your store also needs a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate. It’s a web protocol that encrypts and safeguards data transfers between the shopper’s browsers and your servers. Besides security, SSL certificates also improve search engine positioning, and they increase your credibility level to the buyer.
A website sitemap is a directory that provides information about your site and what it contains. A sitemap mainly improves your store’s navigation capabilities. It also enhances the store’s user-friendliness. It brings a more cohesive theme and allows users to view the site’s sections on one page.
Test the Site Speed
Every e-commerce site owner has to test their site to confirm that it’s fast enough. The site’s speed has to do with the loading time. The average website visitor expects a website to load in less than two seconds, according to Kissmetrics. For mega-sites like Amazon, the delay could result in billions in losses.
Customers value speed when they shop. You’ll lose conversion and sales if your site is too slow. To test this, you can use the following tools:
Some key performance metrics you should prioritize are:
- Remove broken links to help with SEO
- Add filtering and category pages to the site
- Optimize product images to improve loading pages
- Multilingual support, to attract foreign customers
- Display any promotions and specials
- Make search fields clear
- Minimalist design, to help navigation
2. Improve Mobile Visual Experience
Too far often, new store owners create a well designed online store that ignores mobile shoppers.
There are over 230 million mobile phone users in the United States alone. 82 percent of those users used their mobile devices to make purchases in 2019. If your site isn’t mobile-optimized, you’re missing a significant market and a chance to scale your business.
Here are some critical steps you need to take to ensure an optimal mobile viewing experience:
Make your logo clear and attractive. Adjust the color pigmentation and aesthetics on mobile.
The pictures on mobile should weigh less and easier to load. Remember the significance of load time to your conversion purposes. Customers don’t want to see the product details on their devices and have to wait for the picture to load.
The font size should be easy to see and read. Consider the visually-impaired customers who would like to purchase from your store.
Product names should be in a readable font, as should be the product information and every other critical detail about it — ingredient warnings (if applicable), prices, disclaimers, and others.
3. Test Core Customer Functions
Your site’s entire purpose is to make it easy for buyers to order. So, there are specific areas that these customers will check, regardless of what they’re buying. To ensure smooth customer experience, you need to verify that these pages are functioning well.
Optimize Product Pages
If your product page isn’t optimized, customers will merely see what you’re offering and leave the store. You need to add in-depth information about the product and make it visible to customers.
Don’t leave anything out. Be clear about the product’s price, payment prices, and shipping fees. In general, ensure that they have a holistic view of what they’re paying for. If there are any policies that customers should be made aware of before ordering, this is the section to provide such detail.
Customers want seamless and reliable payments. So, add as many payment options as possible. Statistics from Finances Online show that 30 percent of Americans pay for things online with their debit card, while 28 percent pay with their eWallets and 22 percent pay with their credit cards. So, make sure that you have these three payment options available.
Concerning shipping, the two most critical components are speed and reliability. In 2018, a Customer Report from Narvar revealed that 53 percent of American e-commerce customers wouldn’t purchase if the product would be late. So, look out for the shipping packages that your provider offers.
If the shipping partner offers any discounts or additional fees for expedited shipping, let the customers know. They might be willing to pay more for faster shipping.
Your shipping partner should also provide a tracking link that customers can use to monitor their orders. Keep them in the loop if there will be any delays and watch out for any challenges that could arise.
4. Content & SEO
While no one wants them, there’s a significant chance that customers will have challenges with your business at some point. It could be a shipping delay, damaged goods or misplaced goods. You need to have several dedicated support pages where customers can relay their questions and complaints. The most popular support options include phone number, email, live chat and social media channels.
You should also ensure that your support staffs are efficient at their job. Create an orderly information route that prioritizes answering customer complaints and treating them. When you resolve issues or pass them to the appropriate quarters, relay the information to the customers and keep them in the loop.
The blog section is a critical marketing tool for your business. You can share blog posts on social media and in marketing emails to drive traffic organically. You could also ask for contributions from your community members, or additional sellers (if you allow third-party sellers).
You don’t need to share blog posts every day, or even every week. However, make them relevant to your core audience and as exhaustive as possible. Remember to conduct a basic SEO setup on each blog post, so it ranks for the right search keywords on Google.
In the rare occasion that a customer feels the need to return their order, they will visit your platform’s return policy to know where they stand. If returns are possible, let them know the conditions and steps that they have to take to process them.
You could also put each product’s return policy on its page — if you’re a large-scale store that will want to sell products from other retailers.
For your convenience, try to have a separate contact line and email address for returns. This way, customers can access you quickly, and you know why they’re contacting you.
Your contact page lets customers know when and how they can reach you. For questions or complaints, this is how they get in touch.
We already covered the support pages you should have. Remember to let customers know when you will be available.
Ideally, every product should have its dedicated FAQs page. You could hold off on this until the product starts getting some traction and pick questions from interested users, or you could merely anticipate their needs and place a few questions there.
Whatever you decide, ensure the questions are relevant and keep your answers concise.
Optimize Your Pages
You have to optimize every page for SEO. Research the relevant keywords and other page optimization factors when you’re writing product descriptions and your blog posts and support pages.
Make your links short and clear. This step will help with your ranking, as Google prioritizes shorter, easier-to-read links when ranking pages. It might not be so easy to do this when you run an e-commerce site. Ideally, the more products you have, the more challenging it becomes to keep links short.
You should also keep the following in mind:
- Use alt text in images
- Create unique content
- Allow customer reviews
- Make product descriptions readable and interesting
Trust badges and seals help instill confidence in online shoppers, make sure you include them in your footers and around the cart / checkout areas of the site to increase conversions.
5. Marketing – Pre-and Post-Purchase
This is where you decide how you want to push your products and attract the right customers that are likely to buy from you.
Generally, you can do this through two methods.
Social media is arguably the most effective marketing and affordable method for attracting buyers to your online business. There were 3.725 billion social media users in the world as of December 2019, according to data from SlideShare. This sheer reach of social media means that it can help you get to more people than any other marketing method.
Social media also influences purchasing decisions. The Q3 2016 Sprout Social Index showed that 75 percent of people bought products because they saw them on social media. Statistics also show that 43 percent of global shoppers research products that they see online via social media before going back to buy them.
As an online store, having a presence on social media is non-negotiable. You might not be available everywhere, but at least have a presence on the big three — Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can add more online (Pinterest, YouTube, and others) as you grow.
Here are some top social media tips for e-commerce sites
- Post lots of pictures on social media
- Find the optimal time for your audience
- Post with engagement in mind. Ask questions, encourage feedback
- Engage with your audience, reply to comments and DMs
- Let your posts be relevant
- Measure the essential metrics on your social media platforms
- Link to your website and blog posts in social media posts — and vice versa
6. Digital Marketing
Digital marketing works for online stores and should be an integral part of your marketing strategy. Digital marketing includes Pay-Per-Click advertising (PPC) like Google Search and Bing Ads, Influencer Marketing through popular channels like YouTube, Email Marketing, Affiliate Marketing and even local-based marketing.
As your business grows, you’ll find it easier to build a list. An email list is great for promotion, but it can do so much more. You can use it as a long term play to build a loyal following by showing followers never-seen-before footage of your business.
What is the best e-commerce solution for a new site?
There are many ecommerce platforms out there, but we recommend Shopify for beginners and small scale businesses. It’s also affordable and suitable for popular verticals like food, consumer products, fashion and home furnishing. Shopify’s platform offers inventory tracking, community and online help centers, unlimited product listings, numerous free store themes, and others. It’s refreshingly easy to use thanks to its intuitive interface and the pre-existing design themes. You can learn more about Shopify by reading our comprehensive review here.
What payment method is indispensable to my e-commerce business?
To succeed as an online store, you need to get paid. Your entire business revolves around offering value and getting paid. As an online store, the easiest way of getting paid is by integrating with a payment processor. We recommend Square for its swift payment processes, straightforward pricing and fraud prevention features. Square is also suitable for online shops mulling over the possibility of opening retail locations in the future. Square charges merchants 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction, which is similar to Stripe and Paypal’s pricing. Beyond Square, Stripe is another top payment method worth considering for its versatility.
How long does it take to get my first sale?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this. Ideally, the steps we’ve outlined below should get you a sale in less than 30 days. However, some factors could also derail that. Most online stores face either one of two problems once they launch—a pricing issue or a conversion issue. The pricing issue has to do with charging too high or too low for your audience. A luxury watch that’s retailing for $60 on your site screams “fake.” On the other hand, a rubber phone case with a price tag of $250 could put people off. Conversion problem has to do with optimizing your site enough that it becomes easy for the buyer to move through your sales funnel. This includes poor navigation, ignoring mobile shoppers, poor product images, boring copy and others.
Do I need Facebook ads to generate sales?
Facebook is the world’s largest social media platform, with billions of users daily. The service has also managed to become an advertising behemoth, thanks to its targeted marketing algorithm and cheap ad services. If you want to make it big with e-commerce, you need a Facebook marketing strategy. Facebook offers online store owners an easy way to target specific audiences and drive them to the site. You can use a carousel ad, video ad, target past visitors to your site and much more.
The complexity of the e-commerce market has made it necessary to go beyond just what everyone else is doing. You need to focus on ensuring a seamless customer experience for your buyers, and this requires having the right setup on your store.
While none of these is a guarantee that you’ll start making millions out of the gate, they place your store in prime position to attract the right consumers. In addition to world-class service delivery, shoppers will invariably return to your store along with friends and family.