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E-commerce: Getting your business off the ground

Launching an online business couldn’t be simpler. Find some products to sell, buy a website in a box, add your logo and the revenue will start to roll in

 

Well, it’s not quite that simple. What you have is an e-commerce website. An e-commerce business requires much more planning.

“Your website must be fit for purpose, and you need to invest in good web hosting,” says Chloë Thomas, author of ‘eCommerce MasterPlan’. “Customers won’t buy from a website that doesn’t work or is too slow, and site speed will also affect how much search engine traffic you get.”

E-entrepreneurs need a USP (unique selling point) that is clear to their customers, and should avoid trying to sell too many things on day one. The most successful e-commerce firms have a carefully selected product range, so focus is key, as is a well-planned marketing strategy.

“Don’t assume that just because you have a website you’ll get customers,” adds Thomas. “It’s not the same as opening a shop, where you have passing trade. You don’t get that online.”

E-commerce sites

There are several ways of creating an e-commerce site. But as Adam Banister, founder of web design business Curly Kale, points out, the website has to be done properly.

“It must look professional and instill confidence in your customers. For new brands, that can be hard to do, but you can’t get away with an amateur effort,” he says.

A bespoke piece of online software, comprising a shopping cart and system, tailored to a company’s specific needs, and integrated into a customised design, could cost in the region of £10,000 or more.

 

A site must look professional and instill confidence in your customers

A more cost-effective solution is to use a shopping cart system, which is based on pre-built shopping cart software, usually open-source, and supported by a community of developers and designers. A website theme, customised or premade, is then applied to the software.

Shopping cart platforms include OpenCart, which is lightweight, flexible and easy to manipulate to meet your business requirements. The work could be handled by someone with average technical skills, or managed by a design agency, at a cost of around £2,500.

Possibly the easiest e-commerce option is a cloud-based platform that is essentially an online shop builder, such as shopify.com. This can handle web hosting and payment integration, and will provide a decent-looking shop quickly and easily, for a monthly fee of around £20.

 

A more cost-effective solution is to use a shopping cart system

And don’t forget about mobile e-commerce, adds Banister. “It is sky rocketing, so whichever e-commerce route you take, make sure it’s fully functional and good to look at on mobile,” he says.

An important thing to consider when setting up an e-commerce business is how easily customers can find your website.

Douglas Radburn, technical lead at consultancy Branded3, highlights the importance of SEO. “Don’t underestimate the value of a decent search to your customers. Monitor search criteria once you launch and try to adapt it in line with their guidance,” he says. “Use customer focus groups to ensure that customers can quickly and easily find your products in the fewest clicks possible.”

Don't forget about mobile e-commerce

E-commerce Dos and Don’ts

Do include an email sign-up form on your website.

Do capture customer data. You might not be planning to use postcards to drive sales now, but you might do at a later date; so start collecting addresses and the required permissions to use them.

Don’t just rely on one marketing method. You will need to use a minimum of three, with options including email, PR, blogging, video and direct mail.

Don’t forget to install Google Analytics software on your website, including the e-commerce conversion tracking, which will provide the crucial data you’ll need to plan year two.

This page contains general interest information only but does not constitute legal advice.
Articles are written by independent journalists and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of O2.

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