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21 Apr

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eCommerce

Top 5 tips for setting up your business to sell online

'Roundup' is the collection of key stuff we've either been reading, discussing or working on during the month at Avenue.

The need to get your business selling online has quickly become even more important than it was before. But where do you start? Here's our Top 5 Tips we think you need to be across for setting your business up to sell online.

1. Work out your budget

Wix is a simple website builder (think brochure websites) but it also includes extensions to allow you to sell products online as opposed to being a dedicated eCommerce platform.

It's probably the most economical option on the market, and whilst it's able to sell products online, just keep in mind its features aren't as extensive as the other options listed below.

Depending on your needs though, with its eCommerce packages starting from just USD$18 per month, it's compelling if you're just looking for a simple system that's easy to setup.

Wix

Wix is a simple website builder (think brochure websites) but it also includes extensions to allow you to sell products online as opposed to being a dedicated eCommerce platform.

It's probably the most economical option on the market, and whilst it's able to sell products online, just keep in mind its features aren't as extensive as the other options listed below.

Depending on your needs though, with its eCommerce packages starting from just USD$18 per month, it's compelling if you're just looking for a simple system that's easy to setup.

Shopify

When it comes to "bang for your buck" Shopify is really hard to go past. It's one of the world's most widely used eCommerce platforms due to its economical pricing and amazing feature set.

It has a wide range of design templates to choose from, and as it's a dedicated eCommerce platform, you can start small and it will grow with you.

Its other huge advantage is it allows you move away from its standard subscription hosted model to your own dedicated, self-hosted website. This approach is known as "headless commerce" where you can use the back-end functionality of an eCommerce platform with your own front-end design (see our article on What eCommerce system do I choose for my business? for more info on this).

Shopify has three different tiered options, with it's initial Basic offering starting at just USD$29 per month. There's a more featured mid-tier level at USD$79 per month, with the fully featured advanced version costing USD$299 per month.

If you wanted to take more control of the platform and head down the headless commerce path, you're going to need web developer assistance and deeper pockets, but the sky is the limit then, in regards to what you can develop.

Squarespace

Squarespace falls between Wix and Shopify. It's similar to Wix in being a website builder that allows you to sell online, and its features aren't as extensive as Shopify's, yet it still packs a decent punch.

It's gained huge traction in the creative industry due to its ease of use and design focused template offerings.

It also has a handy "Appointment Booking" feature for companies wanting to sell consultation services through booking customer appointments as opposed to products, so if you're in the service game, this is definitely worth checking out.

(Note: Shopify has an app store where you can purchase plugins to sell consultation services through its platform as well).

If you're an artist, designer or a consultation service provider that wants to get online and sell products easily, its starting price of AUD$25 per month for product sales is definitely worth looking into.

BigCommerce

As a direct competitor to Shopify, BigCommerce is another widely used, feature rich solution that is excellent for companies wanting a higher level solution.

As with Shopify, you can start small and scale up as you need, and it allows headless commerce development for firms with either in-house web teams or that have the resources to hire specialist web studios to develop it for them.

There's 3 different pricing levels, starting at AUD$30 per month rising up to AUD$300 per month for the full feature advanced option.

WordPress

WordPress itself isn't an eCommerce platform, yet allows you to install additional functionality to provide this feature.

So if you have an existing WordPress based site and want to look at ways of selling products, check out the excellent WooCommerce application.

The app itself is free, with both additional free and paid functionality extension options available. Keep in mind however you'll need developer assistance to properly set this option up, yet with its extensive features and ability to run off your current WordPress site, it's a great option.

I've got a bit more to spend

If your budget's higher, you should definitely look into a headless commerce solution, as this will provide greater control and flexibility to build a solution tailored to your needs.

Head over to our article What eCommerce system do I choose for my business? to read more about headless commerce, its benefits, and the suggested platform options.

2. Determine your 'time to market' need

If you want to start selling online really quickly, the subscription offerings of Shopify, BigCommerce, Squarespace and Wix are the way to go, as these platforms are easily setup online. All you need to do is pay for a subscription and then set it up through their online control panels. If you're only selling a few products, you could in theory be up and running within a day.

However if you're not as time critical and want more control of the end product, working with a developer to setup a more custom WooCommerce or headless commerce solution will realistically take anything from a week to a few months pending your specifications and amount of products for sale.

3. Define your brand and customer experience needs

It's imperative you consider your brand positioning, target audience, and customer user experience expectations.

There's nothing wrong with using a template from an online subscription platform, but keep in mind these templates are all designed to be as generic as possible so they can be suitable for a very broad range of businesses. Most platforms will allow some form of customisation of the templates, but there's always limitations to what you can do.

This invariably means you're going to be making brand and user experience compromises if you're using one of these templates. This may not be an issue at all for you, but if you have specific brand guidelines, or your target customers are expecting a truly unique experience, this approach may not be the right solution.

If you require a bespoke design and user experience, implementing a headless commerce solution (with Shopify or BigCommerce), or utilising an open-source platform (such as WooCommerce, Magento or OpenCart) is definitely the way to go.

4. Work out what resources you have to setup and support the site

Are you going to be the person setting up this online store, or are you hiring someone to do it for you? And how do you plan to maintain and update the site with sales communications and new products over time?

Skill set

The majority of the online subscription eCommerce platforms are easy to setup, with many having "drag and drop" features negating the need to be a web developer to get it up and running. So if it's just you setting up the site, and you don't have web development expertise, an online subscription model is your best bet.

If you're not overly tech savvy when it comes to all things computers, platforms such as Wix and Squarespace are where you need to start playing. If you're a bit more experienced though, Shopify and BigCommerce are great options due to their extensive features.

If you have web design and development expertise in your team, a headless commerce or open-source solution is where you should be looking.

Site information and content

The area that slows most people down in getting a website up and running is organising and entering their content. Never underestimate how long this actually takes.

You'll need product imagery (always aim for quality photographs) and written copy to cover product description, features/benefits and specifications.

You're probably going to want to resize images as well so they are are appropriately sized for the website, so consider both the time, expertise and software to achieve this.

For your site to be compelling and connect with your target audience it's going to need to tell your story and powerfully display your product range. So you're going to need to determine your key brand and marketing messages, and have the appropriate brand assets to communicate this.

And what structure is the website going to have? For the site to be clear to customers, it needs obvious navigation with resolved product categories if you're selling a range of items.

Ongoing maintenance

Setting up the site is one aspect, but then you need to maintain it. Don't underestimate the time this takes, and make sure you have a plan in place to achieve this, especially if you have a large product line that's constantly changing (e.g. fashion industry or FMCG).

Depending what you're selling, you'll want to regularly update the site to feature different products, promotions and any specials you may run. The platforms can help streamline this, but it still takes planning, preparation and implementation time.

5. Choose a platform that best aligns to your business

This one sounds like a no-brainer (and if you do the first 4 Tips you're half way there), but it can be easily overlooked.

It's easy to be taken by an option that has a sexy looking template, but if the functionality doesn't align to how you need to sell your product, it's never going to properly fulfil your business needs.

You need to carefully consider what it is you're selling, and thoroughly investigate the features of available platforms to determine which one best aligns to your business.

Does the selected platform showcase your products in the best possible light?

Does the platform allow you to position your brand properly?

Is the feature set similar to what your competitors have on their online stores?

Equally important is determining how you want to display and sell variations of a product (should they exist). For example, if you're selling clothing and have a t-shirt design available in both black and blue, do you consider it one t-shirt product that comes in 2 colour variations, or is it 2 separate products?

The handling of product variations is essential, and something you'll ideally want to get right from the outset to save time and costs making changes down the track. So make sure you know what options the platform you've chosen has, and if it's suitable.

Next steps

Once you've worked through the Top 5 Tips, it's time to review the eCommerce platform options that are available.

For advice on this, check out our other eCommerce articles:

Happy selling!

Brenton Cannizarro
Believing hair should be long and celebrated, Brenton was ironically bald at 28. A lover of the world game, he will never walk alone, and also has a deep passion for hard rock music.
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