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I was being driven home via taxi recently, and after being prompted as to what I do for a living (i.e. build websites), the driver opined that he was looking to start up an e-commerce website.

He wanted to specialise in white goods and related products, but otherwise he didn’t have much of an idea as to go about setting up his hypothetical website.

E-commerce websites, to be certain, are more involved than a ‘standard’ website; you’re looking to attract potential customers that will buy the products you’re offering. Underlying that is the need to offer a hassle-free customer experience that requires the end user to jump through as little hoops as possible to make a purchase. And even beyond that, you need to position yourself to actually deliver the product you’re selling.



Below is a list of items you’ll need to tick off to ensure that you’re ready to step into the world of e-commerce.

  • What are you selling?

    Are you selling an individual product, a range thereof, or a service? Specificity is key here.

  • What is your business model?

    Do you know which item will generate the largest profit margin? Do you offer a money-back guarantee, warranty or express shipping? Decide on this ahead of time.

  • Who is your target market?

    Is there a demand for your product(s) or service(s)? You need to position yourself and your site as a solution to your potential customer’s demands, and thus fulfil their needs.

  • Have you decided on a business name?

    Again, nail this down ahead of time, and research if your planned business name is not being used by another company. Trademark conflicts can arise if due diligence is not carried out, and once you’re satisfied that your chosen business name is unique, you’re in a position to set your business up as a professional, legal company. A separate business banking account is also recommended.

Once the above items have been ticked off, you’ll need to lay the foundation of your planned e-commerce website. If your planned business name is available to you without problem, you’ll need to register the domain for your website. Additionally, you’ll need to find hosting for the website, and possibly decide on who will be designing your website in terms of look and feel.

Part of any e-commerce site design will entail providing legal pages (terms and conditions, privacy policy, et al), which will include your store policies. Do you ship overseas, or just locally? Do you accept returns? Decide on the relevant points to include in your store policies and ensure those are included. A FAQ page may also be a good idea.

Next is deciding on the ‘engine’ of the website – the content management system that will facilitate both your listing of the products you intended to sell, and the customer to buy same. Make sure that said content management system is mobile responsive, as over 50% of purchases made online are done via a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet. If your site is being designed by somebody else, they can help you decide which CMS will be best suited to your needs, but some independent online research is also recommended.

While the site is being designed, work out a marketing plan. Make sure your product descriptions are SEO-friendly, and that the site as a whole is underpinned by a strong SEO framework. PPC advertising (such as Google AdWords) may also be worth considering if you are a new business startup looking to gain a foothold in the marketplace.

E-commerce essentials such as SSL certificates and payment gateways are what differentiate them from regular websites. An SSL certificate is used to encrypt parts of your website that collect personal information from your website users, which prevents third-party websites being able to take advantage of your customers’ sensitive information, particularly credit card details. Payment gateways such as PayPal or Stripe are necessary for your customers to purchase your products – once again, research what works best for your business model.

Once your site is live and underway, you’ll need to track customer behaviour beyond simply making purchases. Google Analytics is excellent for seeing how long customers stay on your website, and which pages they view. Google Analytics can be especially tailored for e-commerce, and any designer worth their salt will be able to set it up to track customer behaviour once the ‘go live’ switch is turned on.

It’s been said that “if you build it, they will come”, but in 2016, that’s rarely the case in the online shopping market. Having an e-commerce website with products to sell is more than just developing a site and hoping for the best – it will require research, some technical know-how and more than a passing knowledge of legal requirements. If you have the fundamentals outlined above in place, however, than your site should be easy to find and problem-free to navigate. The customers you hope for may not necessarily beat a path to your door, but they will come – and if you do your job right, they’ll keep coming back.

Ready to step into e-commerce?

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