Getting Started in E-commerce
Creating a successful e-commerce business is uniquely challenging. It has all the same considerations of a brick-and-mortar business but with the added nuances of the technology world tacked on for good measure. It’s no wonder there are so many options out there that purport to offer an easy-to-use solution.
Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as some of these platforms make it seem. There’s a lot more to consider than throwing a product on a website and watching the money to roll in.
That said, running a successful e-commerce business can be incredibly rewarding—and not just financially. A good online shop can give business owners the freedom, flexibility, and opportunity that a traditional business simply can’t match. There aren’t many businesses that you can run with a laptop and an internet connection.
So, how do you get started?
1. Research and Planning
The first step to any business endeavour is research and planning. Were you starting a traditional store, for example, you’d want to find a great location, determine your target customer, and sell the kinds of products those customers want. E-commerce is no different. You need to do your homework on what you intend to sell and who’s going to buy it.
Choosing Your Product
The most important step in this process is deciding on your product. E-commerce runs the gamut in terms of what you can sell, and your products can be physical, digital, services, and everything in between. You’ll also need to figure out how you’re sourcing your product. In other words, are you selling something you’ve created or are you going to be reselling someone else’s creation?
Along the same lines, you’ll want to determine what kind of business model you’ll want to utilize. Most e-commerce sites go with a basic model: A customer visits their site, selects the product they want, pays for it, and that’s that. But there are other models that work too. Collections of products in a bundle package and product subscriptions that customers receive at regular intervals are a few examples.
Lastly, you need to think about how well your product line can scale. One of the biggest benefits of e-commerce is that you can serve many more customers than you can with a traditional brick-and-mortar business. Figuring out how well your business can scale and determining the best path to get there is an integral part of the planning process.
Looking at the Competition
Once you’ve determined the product you want to offer and your business model, you need to see how it holds up against the competition. It’s important you’re thorough in this phase of your research—you may indeed have a great product, but if someone already has the market cornered with something similar, you’ll need to think more about your approach.
Of course, e-commerce competition is fierce, and there’s a good chance there are other businesses already offering what you have in mind. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to go back to the drawing board. Instead, come up with ways you can differentiate your business. This can be anything from improving your product, offering it at a lower price, or choosing a different business model. Or all of the above.
2. Name and Structure
You have a product and you’re itching to start selling, but first you need a name. Choosing an e-commerce business name is no different from choosing one for a typical business: It should be unique, memorable, simple, and flexible. If possible, try to come up with something that represents your product offering.
It’s a good idea to brainstorm a few different possibilities. In addition to registering your business by traditional means, you’ll also need to register a domain name. This widens the name pool considerably, increasing the chances that someone has come up with a similar name. You can use a service like namecheap to see if the domain is available. You’ll want to register the .dot variant of your domain and, if possible, the other variants too, such as .net and .org.
Once you’ve found a name that works, you’ll need to register your business and choose a business structure. In Canada, you can choose from a sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and cooperative. Each structure provides different advantages and disadvantages, and which one you choose will depend on your business goals and structure, so be sure to do your homework.
3. Brand Your Business
At this point, you have a great, thoroughly researched product and a catchy business name with accompanying domains. The next step is to determine how your business will present itself to your potential customers—in other words, your brand.
Your brand is how your customers perceive your business as a whole. It’s everything from your products and website to your prices and customer service. And while branding applies to every kind of business, it’s especially important for an e-commerce shop.
Most of the interaction between you and your customers happens on your website, so you can’t really give a good impression with smiles and attentive listening. Instead, you need to communicate these things through your website’s design and tone.
Logo and Visual Identity
One of the most important aspects of an online business’s brand is its logo. It’s the face of your business—as such, it’s smart to invest in a good face. A good designer will make it their goal to understand your business’s core philosophies, such as how you value product design, your approach to customer service, and so forth. With these principles, they’ll craft a logo and visual identity that communicates these ideas in a unique and memorable way.
This visual communication doesn’t only apply to your logo, however. You’ll also want to work with a designer or agency to create a design that solidifies and reinforces these ideas throughout your website and even your product packaging.
Copywriting and Voice
Your brand and identity doesn’t stop at your logo and website design. Good copy can make a massive impact on potential customers. Not only should it be great writing, but the voice and tone should be in line with your brand. If you’re selling surfboards, for example, you probably want your copy to be lively and fun. On the flip side, if you’re selling a finance product, you may want to tone it down a bit.
4. Build Your Website
With your brand guidelines and visual identity in hand, it’s time to start building your virtual store. Your site is the place your visitors will go to browse your products and services, find out information about your business, and contact you for questions and support. With this in mind, it may come as no surprise that your website will be one of the most important and critical aspects of starting your e-commerce business.
Your website needs to have a considerable amount of functionality. Not only does it need to handle the things listed above, but you also need to be able to manage your inventory, take and receive orders, and process payments. There are endless platforms on the web that offer many of these features, but there are a few that shine above all the rest.
WooCommerce and WordPress
WordPress is a popular open-source content management system that allows you to spin up a website, choose a theme, and start publishing content to the web. It’s no slouch in terms of its popularity—nearly one out of every three websites runs WordPress in some form or another.
WooCommerce is a plugin made for WordPress that offers a feature-complete e-commerce solution, allowing you to create your store, add products, set up shipping and payments, and more. The combination of WordPress and WooCommerce provides you with everything you’ll ever need to start selling online, and since it’s open-source software, it has the capability to grow with your business.
That said, while WordPress is one of the best options available, it also takes some technical know-how to get running. If you aren’t tech-savvy, you’ll probably need a reliable website design agency or freelancer to help get everything squared away.
Shopify is another solution that aims to be an all-in-one package. In fact, it’s made specifically for e-commerce sites, so you’ll get everything you need to get up and running and start selling.
Shopify does have some limitations in terms of design, styling, and functionality. It’s a closed source application, so you don’t have as much freedom as you do with WordPress, but the platform does offer perks, like the ability to publish a smartphone app for your store.
Squarespace was originally a website builder, but they’ve since expanded into the e-commerce business. The platform is known for having a plethora of snazzy templates to choose from, and it’s pretty user-friendly. That said, out of the three options here, it has the fewest features and customizations available, so if you need anything other than a basic e-commerce solution, you may be better off choosing Shopify or WooCommerce.
You’ll want to do your due diligence when choosing your e-commerce platform as it can be quite a burden to switch once you’re already established. Each one has its strengths and weaknesses, so you’ll need to weigh them carefully with what you want to accomplish both in the short and long term.
You’re almost ready to launch your site and start selling products. But first, you need to make sure people know about it. You need to do some marketing. After all, people can’t buy your products if they don’t know they exist.
Digital marketing is a job all its own, and there are a variety of strategies to choose from. Google Ads, Facebook Ads, SEO, and good old-fashioned word-of-mouth are just a few of the tools you have at your disposal. At the very minimum, you’ll want to make sure you fully optimize your website for search engines.
Regardless of the marketing strategies you choose, you’ll want to pay close attention to the ones that work. The e-commerce platforms listed above offer detailed analytics that can help you determine who’s purchasing your products and where they come from, which can, in turn, tell you which strategies are working. With this knowledge, you can tweak and refine the good strategies and get rid of the bad ones.
With your online shop in place and your marketing doing its job, you’re ready to launch your brand-new business. Of course, the work doesn’t end here—running an e-commerce site requires a lot of work after the launch too. You’ll need to manage inventory, shipping, customer service and more. But with a little luck, you may find you need to start hiring employees to help with the workload, which means you’re doing something right.
And as with any other business, you’ll need to continually refine your products and marketing. At some point, you may need to revisit your website or branding. These are all par for the course in terms of keeping and running a business, regardless of whether it’s physical or online.
The Bottom Line on Starting an E-Commerce Business
Every one of the topics listed here aren’t approached in a vacuum—each one affects the other. As such, you may find that you need to revisit different parts of it as you go. This is perfectly normal. It’s important to understand that these aren’t hard and fast rules by any means, they’re simply the blueprints. As you learn more and grow your business, you’ll create a process that works for you.
If you’re ready to take the plunge and spin up your e-commerce shop, we offer comprehensive digital services that can help you make the process easier and give you a better chance of success. Whether it’s designing your site, crafting a digital marketing campaign, or managing your WordPress site after launching, we can help give you an edge.