In last week’s introductory article, Can Your Business Afford Not To Sell Online?, we highlighted that online retail is growing faster than any other retail sector in the world, however, many traditional retailers find the online world vast and daunting. There is so much to consider, making it difficult for new e-commerce entrepreneurs to know where to start online – this is where an experienced e-commerce provider can help.
Colin Graham, Technical Director at The Web Bureau in Belfast has met many online entrepreneurs in this situation and offers some guidance to those new to e-commerce.
Where Do You Start?
The first step is a full consultation with an e-commerce provider who will offer guidance on the fundamentals of starting your ecommerce business. By listening to your business plans and understanding the products or services you will offer, an e-commerce specialist will be able to advise you on what is required in terms of functions and features to make your e-commerce website work for both you as its manager and for your potential customers.
The following are a few examples of aspects you may need to consider at the outset to get your e-commerce model right.
Ecommerce websites have the ability to sell products on an international scale. If you plan to sell outside of the UK, it’s worth considering language barriers and different currencies. For example, one of our custom build ecommerce websites, www.eakin.co.uk offers the option of selecting a current country or language. For global ecommerce it’s also essential to automatically change local taxes and currencies as part of the check out process.
Your ecommerce website needs to be linked up to your stock control system so that you can keep track of what stock has sold online and when you need to reorder more. Have you ever tried to purchase a product online to be alerted that the product is not in stock? This can irritate customers. Stock availability should be made clear to a customer before they reach the purchase stage. For example, www.yankee.co.uk, a UK supplier of the popular Yankee Candles highlights which products are out of stock as soon as you land on the product category page. A good stock control feature will manage this for you and avoid disappointed customers. If not, then an automatic email should be sent to the customer making it clear that their order has been processed and it will be delivered within a set time period.
In the case of e-commerce sites which are selling services, rather than products such as hotels, a booking system may need to be provided. An example of this is www.an-creagan.co.uk, a bespoke ecommerce website built by The Web Bureau team. This includes a calendar based booking system for the provision of self-catering cottages close to the Sperrin Mountains. The booking system allows customers to determine if there is availability on the dates they want and enabled them to proceed through the booking process.
Regardless of whether you are selling products or services, locally or worldwide, your e-commerce website needs to be supported by a flexible and robust Content Management System.
Through experience, we advocate that an ecommerce solution that includes a bespoke web design and web development programme often works best, giving you much more flexibility than template based systems.
Your website’s content management systems (CMS) is your steering wheel that puts you in control of taking your website where it needs to go. The content management system should be built in such a way that it is easy for your in-house website manager to navigate and use, with options to change content, prices, stock and shipping costs with ease. Having this control will avoid the costs of paying someone else to do it for you.
Another vital consideration is to ensure that your content management system has search engine optimisation features built in. This is essential for the ongoing marketing of your ecommerce website once it goes live in order to drive traffic and increase sales.
10 Ecommerce Websites From The Web Bureau
Overall, the secret to ecommerce success is usability, bespoke development and the ability to make changes with ease. This is a selection of bespoke ecommerce websites designed and developed by The Web Bureau. More are available on our portfolio.
3. Donard Wines
5. Harry Corry
7. Donaghy Bros
8. Maggy Kay
10. Ratio Vending
For a more in-depth overview of the many factors you need to consider when building your e-commerce website, join us at our e-Commerce Belfast Workshop at the Northern Ireland Small Business Marketing Conference 2012, hosted by Business First.