11 things to consider when developing an E-commerce site

E-commerce. It’s been a buzz-word of the retail industry for the last decade or so. It seems so easy to get an online store and start making money. Customers come to you, via your website. What’s not to like? Every retailers dream, right?

In reality it’s not so simple as all that, of course. And who gets the blame when the website finally goes online and fails to attract the hordes of buyers? The developer, of course. So here are some tips to consider before embarking on the e-commerce journey:

1. Is your business the right business for an e-commerce site?

This is the most important point I want to get across, for the client, the developer and everyone’s peice of mind.

Not every business will benefit from an e-commerce web presence.

This point is, unfortunately, the most difficult to get across. Especially when the client has been reading about the (seemingly) instantaneous wonder stories of other online businesses, or their partner/family/friends have succeeded. An e-commerce presence just doesn’t guarantee success on its own. Make sure you understand the background work needed to attract people to your website – and I don’t just mean SEO and high Google ranking either. Customers only buy from vendors they trust and this can take time to build a rapport and reputation online.

Some good questions to ask yourself before engaging a web design company:

  • Does your business already have a strong mail-order identity – state, national or international?
  • Are the products easily transportable and is shipping simple?
  • Where do your customers come from already?
  • How much time are you prepared to put in promoting your e-commerce site? For example:

So, presuming you are still keen to go ahead with the web site and you understand that it’s not a licence to print money, the next most important step – and sadly, one that many people don’t grasp– is:

2. Have clearly defined boundaries, or price points, with your web designer.

E-Commerce is complicated, mighty complicated so get everything in writing, understand what’s included in your fixed contract and understand what isn’t. Remember the more customisation you want, the more you’ll be paying for your website. Often building features and functions at the beginning of the web design process will save money in the long term so understanding what you want right from the start is vital. I would suggest writing a wish list that includes everything you could possible include if money was no object, then a realistic list and finally a bare bones must have list to give your web designer. In this way you have stated your ideal situation so you can negotiate with your developer what you really need and what you don’t. Often some jobs that look difficult take 15 minutes and functions that look easy take 5 hours so its always worth checking.

3. Does your website appeal to the customer?

Does the style, layout and imagery project your companies image correctly?

  • Does it look professional?
    • A clunky or cheap looking site gives the idea of a less reputable business. A good guide is that if you notice the layout, it’s probably distracting from the business and products. Think about professional-looking colour palettes – the colour schemes used by large corporation sites have been carefully researched to provide the most trustworthy impression. It may seem silly but the point of layout is to feature the content, not the layout itself.
  • Is the logo prominent?
    • The logo is an identifier that customers, either consciously or subliminally, recognise as the symbol of the business as a professional entity. We want to remind customers that they are here to buy products, not just surfing the web, so the logo needs to be prominent without distracting from the business of the site. The logo also helps the customer trust the site as a genuine place to purchase items and not a scam.

4. Is the site easy to navigate?

That is, is it easy for clients to buy the product they want? A clear menu system is imperative, as is multiple places on the site where they can be linked to the products pages. Articles and featured posts are also good for this.

And once we get there, do the products have information that is easy to read? A good system lists thumbnails of products on an index page, then clicks through to an individual product with features and benefits in the product information. What is the difference between a feature and a benefit?

  • Features: clear, simple attributes of the product
  • Benefits: reasons why this product might be good for you

For example, a packet of Toffee Crunch biscuits might state:

  • Golden toffee surrounded by crisp oats, covered in pure milk chocolate (feature)
  • The sweet toffee combines with the smooth chocolate for a chewy, crunchy biscuit experience (feature)
  • In packets of 6, 12 or 24 (feature)
  • Great for morning tea with the ladies (benefit)
  • 98% fat free and only 150 KJ per crunch (benefit)

5. Is shipping clear and simple?

Shipping is the most complicated aspect of e-commerce. How do you manage shipping items of different sizes in the one shipment? What about areas that you can’t ship certain items to, like fruit? Do you use a courier or the postal service, and do you give customers the choice? And even though most customers are used to the idea of shipping at an additional cost, how do you compete with the big boys offering free shipping?

The logistics of shipping are so varied and specific to different businesses that I can’t help much right here – the best advice I can offer is to ask your customers what they want. Customers love being asked their opinion…

The other best advice I can offer is FREE SHIPPING. How do you do that? Work out your average shipping costs and simply factor that in to the price of your items. Free shipping not only makes the customers feel like they are getting a bargain, it completely simplifies the calculation of the total shipment price.

Complicated extra prices are a real turn-off to customers – there’s nothing more depressing than watching your customers get to the final checkout only to find they don’t go through with the sale once they see the final figure.

Factoring shipping into the product price actually gives the customer a clear picture of how much things will cost. Clear and simple.

6. Make sales taxes clear to understand

Whether it’s Sales Tax, GST, VAT or whatever the tax on the purchase price is, customers like simplicity and clarity. Include the sales tax on the product price listed on your site rather than slug the customer with the extra tax % at the checkout. You’ll need to show the tax amount on the invoice – most e-commerce systems will allow you to so this, or check with your country’s tax office for instructions how to make the calculation in reverse.

7. Adding and editing products

You need a system that allows the client to easily add, remove and edit products and information. Thankfully there are some great systems out there that are user-friendly for anyone with a good grasp of how general business works. Most Content Management Systems like WordPress and Joomla have e-commerce plugins that interact directly with the CMS framework to treat products just like other content you might manage with those systems. Don’t get stuck developing a beautiful, customer-focused site that forces you to continually manage the content because the client can’t get their head around it!

If you’d like some more detail about what E-Commerce platforms we recommend in what situations click here.

8. Inventory management

Inventory management is a must for any e-commerce websites. Most mail-order warehouses are plain boxes on shelves – a large store will have a warehouse manager who might be able to tell at a glance how stock levels are, but an e-commerce website might not be so simple. You will need to know when stock levels are getting low in the warehouse by a reminder on the screen, not when they process a paid order to find there’s none left in the box left on the shelf.

This is especially important for clients who manage a retail shop in addition to their e-commerce site, which brings me to the next important point to consider:

9. The e-commerce site as a Point of Sale

Let’s take the common example of a client who has a good retail presence, and is planning to expand into web-based ecommerce. They have a simple numerical cash register with buttons for product types – they enter the type and price of a product at the register, then print a report at the end of the day of the sales. This then gets manually reconciled to their accounting package weekly and new stock ordered. Monthly sales reports are generated and reconciled to the register reports.

Then the client sees how efficient the e-commerce site does all that for online transactions and thinks, ‘surely that could work in my shop instead of my register’… And it can! Well, some do it better than others. But it’s definitely possible and something to talk to your web designer about.

10. Adding customers to your mailing list

It might seem a bit cheeky but your getting your customers’ information at the checkout – so why not offer them, there and then, the chance to be added to your mailing list?  They can be updated with special offers, discounts, advance notice of new products, that sort of thing… And many systems can integrate with your favourite mail client so it’s as easy ticking a box.

11. Research, Research & Research

There are so many competing platforms & software that run E-Commerce websites that it is a minefield that is as bamboozling as anything online. Each platform has their own special benefits but they also in all likelihood have their own negatives. Some handle shipping well, others handle inventory well, others are cheap, others are scalable, some can have product ranges the size of a department store but no one platform is perfect for everyone so make sure you do your homework.

If you would like some advice about whether an E-Commerce website is right for you why not get in touch?


Small Business Ideas - 9 Jun 2013 - by Rob Jennings

About Rob Jennings

When he found himself embroiled in a conversation with someone talking about their ‘customer-centric core competencies’ he realised it was time to create a Web Design Agency that was less about self promoting buzz-words and more about people and giving them the tools to understand the web.

The idea behind We Push Buttons was to create an environment where business owners can learn about building their organisation, whether it be with an outstanding website, SEO or any other marketing ideas. Coming from the art industry and online retail background he knows first hand the needs of growing a business in a tough environment.