For entrepreneurs contemplating entering the e-commerce arena, a word of caution: it's a different ball game than a brick-and-mortar business. Whether you're just starting out or reworking an existing online shopping cart, your attention to the small details is critical.
How to Design an E-commerce Page: Getting Started
Before you start imagining the orders pouring in and the sweet ka-ching of a virtual register, you need to take a moment to assess how your product or service will fare in the marketplace—in other words, take a moment for a reality check. E-commerce equals consumers having 24/7 access to your product and service and you need to have the right infrastructure in place to accommodate that. Check out your competitors. What's the volume of business they do? What's their price structure? What does their e-commerce site look like? Also, do a self evaluation of your business. Do you have sufficient inventory? How many products do you want to feature -- all or only some?
If you decide you're ready to jump into the fray, you need to work out a way to distribute your product. Do you want to utilize a drop-shipping company to ship the order directly to the customer? Planning on warehousing your inventory? Today, most e-commerce carts will query the shipping tables from the U.S. Postal Service or logistics companies such as FedEx or UPS to incorporate shipping costs into the price.
You'll next want to register a domain name. Choose wisely. You'll want one that is easy to remember and helps to clearly identify what it is you're offering. Check out sites such as Network Solutions or GoDaddy.com where registration is available for a nominal fee.
Dig Deeper: If You Build It, They Will Shop
How to Design an E-commerce Page: Hiring a Professional
After choosing and registering your domain name, you'll need to find a home for your site by picking a Web host and/or design firm. Drew Barton, president and founder of Southern Web Group, an award-winning Web design firm in Atlanta, cautions against relying solely on testimonials and referrals. He strongly recommends testing the companies sample sites to check out the site's flow and shopping cart; after all, the bulk of the cost to build the site will be from labor. Do you want a wish list or gift registry? Remember, you want your site to have a professional look that creates trust and offers the consumer convenience, so make sure the site is easy to navigate. You should also be prepared to provide the following:
• Products shots and any other artwork, including your logo—Merchants should stay away from stock photography if possible. You want to offer the customer as accurate a depiction of your product or service as possible. If you have multiple shots of your product from different angles, or can show multiple uses, that helps to enhance the user experience and offers a realistic view of your product. Also, the site should look uniform throughout.
• Marketing copy—"Great sites have great copy," says Southern Web Group's Barton. And using search engine optimization, or SEO, will enhance the chance of your site being found by major search engines. Also, don't forget to register with local search listings for the major sites as well as signing up for Web services that promote local business, such as CitySearch, Yelp, and the like. Analytics programs can assist in determining what words serve your site best in driving traffic. You'll also want to include an About Us page, contact information, material relating to your company's policies and procedures, including returns and shipping.
• A merchant account and payment gateway to accept online payments—Merchant accounts allows businesses to accept payments by debit or credit cards. A payment gateway, the equivalent of a physical point of sale, is a service that authorizes payments for e-businesses and online retailers. It is a virtual terminal that connects the site's shopping cart to the gateway to allow for real-time processing from the merchant's website.
• Social media links—Blogs, newsletters, and social media options provide opportunities for you to share with the customer as well as keeping content fresh on your site. These tools are good for alerting customers to sale promotions, industry news, new product information, growing brand awareness, buzz creation, and driving targeted traffic to your site. And, blogs generally rank well with search engines. Incorporating social media tools such as Twitter feeds, Facebook group pages, and YouTube videos, help to enhance the user experience and allow for greater interaction and feedback.
Peter Fougerousse, vice president of marketing for RosenberryRooms.com, an online retailer for children's high-end furniture, décor, and baby gifts, says the best method for creating an effective site design and one that will encourage maximum sales in the least amount of clicks is by incorporating user behavioral data into the sorting of products and product categories on the site. "Products should be ranked not purely by popularity, but by sales and conversion rate data, as well as profit margins," says Fougerousse. "We want to ensure that customers are seeing a) what they are most likely to buy b) and what yields the highest margin." Fougerousse adds that tools such as Google Analytics or Yahoo Analytics, can aid in the implementation of this strategy.
Dig Deeper: How to Make the Most of Your Public Relations Firm
How to Design an E-commerce Page: Customer Feedback
To build trust with your customers, you need to be transparent about your policies. Don't force customers to search high and low for this info. Position it prominently on your site; otherwise it may appear that you have something to hide and turn customers away.
You'll want to include:
• an about us page
• contact info including who to call for what and hours of business operation.
• company's policies and procedures on:
Shipping: Your shipping policy should include information on the available shipping options complete with estimated costs as well as a delivery timetable, taxes and other fees. Also, be sure to communicate with customers by e-mailing confirmations after accounts are created and purchases are completed.
Exchanges, Returns, Refunds, and Cancellations: Who pays for shipping? Is there a time limit or other restrictions to the exchange, return, or cancellation of merchandise? Is there a restocking charge if customers cancel or return the order? Do you offer a store credit, or fully refund charges to a customer's credit card?
Reviews, Ratings, and Complaints: Don't overlook the importance of allowing your current and potential customers the opportunity to speak directly to you–whether they want to sing your praises or gripe about an error or poor experience. Their feedback is an opportunity for you to make adjustments or improvements to your product or service and/or change their experience. Clearly state how complaints should be submitted (snail mail, e-mail, toll-free number, etc.), and how'll they'll be handled. Reviews will also help customers make more informed decisions about their purchases.
Dig Deeper: How to Make the Most of Customer Feedback
How to Design an E-commerce Page: Protecting Your Data
Julie Smith David, also an associate professors of information systems at W.P. Carey School of Business and director of the Center for Advancing Business through IT (CABIT), advocates for merchants to incorporate the seven foundational privacy principles to aid in devising an incident response plan. This emergency preparedness plan would consider what steps should be taken to protect against data breaches and ensure business continuity. You need to ask yourself the what, who, and how of dealing with a privacy issue. While many hosting sites offer SSL certificates, The American Institute for Certified public Accountants, or AICPA, offers a free checklist to help businesses, big or small, assess their risk level.
• Consider membership from programs such as TRUSTe, VeriSign, or BBBonline, seal-of-approval programs that sets voluntary guidelines for privacy-related practices.
If you're still a little wary, prepackaged options such as Amazon Services or EBay Stores may benefit you better. These services offer you peace of mind and the ability to test the market with a relatively small investment. You upload your product inventory, and your product is available to the millions of online shoppers that frequent Amazon.com or Ebay. You're notified by e-mail when an order has been placed and you're tasked with packing and shipping your items to the customer—unless you let Fulfillment by Amazon do the work. Amazon deposits payment into your bank account, and notifies you by e-mail that your payment has been sent.
Dig Deeper: Are You Defending Your Transaction Data?