*started in 2007, updated in 2012, then 2015
This is going to be a growing guide. Ever evolving as it is written and as the industry changes it mind. In this guide everything is going to be explained and nothing assumed. I shall cover from choosing an e-commerce platform, a little on marketplaces all the way to making sure your marketing and optimisation is tight. It might take a while to write this.
A little about me:
Before you read this guide I had better make sure you want to read it. I am a 35 year old woman who has run an e-commerce business since 2000 and an eBay business since 2001. I am a serial entrepreneur with a chemistry degree. I did a career U-turn and started work as an eBay consultant, that then progressed into training small and medium sized businesses in e-commerce and eBay. Now I am an e-commerce consultant. Well thats what it says on my job description! So I have no formal qualifications (apart from being a certified eBay consultant) but I have tons of hands on experience of the SME market and training individuals from the beauty of the right click to setting up their e-commerce store.
You can always contact me personally:
What you will find you have to get to grips with:
I started at nothing. This is a list of what you find you will need to grasp in your journey:
1. Your business plan and purpose. You will need to know the processes and product you want to sell before you find your e-commerce platform.
2. Simple code ‘EDITING’ skills. You will find out what to edit and what not to edit, as well as how to back up in case it all going wrong. And it will.
3. The jargon in the e-world.
4. How to copy and paste at the speed of light.
5. Inventory management and excel. If you don’t know how to use excel, many colleges have excellent excel courses and the simple basics of excel will be assumed. Any functions used in inventory management will be fully explained.
6. Basic image editing and creation skills.
7. The world of ‘marketplaces’ – eBay, Amazon, Shopzilla….you need all of these tools to be a kick ass small eTailer.
8. Using FTP, about hosting and emails.
9. How to get to sleep after a hard night in front of the computer screen.
10. How to slow down. You don’t have to have an e-commerce store tomorrow. Slowly, Slowly, Catchy, Monkey.
Choosing a starting point – Your e-commerce platform.
In general there are three options:
1. A site hosted and created by a company for example Shopify and Amazon Webstores
2. A site created for you but it is hosted on your own server space for example Cubecart
3. An Open Source Shopping Cart such as Magento
Pro’s and Cons:
1. For option one, you don’t have to worry about updates, support is probably available and you never have to worry about complex code, and for most of the time any code. They do have you over a barrel though, so you need to make sure it is a company you can trust and get data out of if you need to leave. They hold your sales information, customer details, design, images etc and they can shut you down. This option is best for the new e-commerce business if you are running it from a non technical point of view.
2. Hosting your own Webstore. Unless you pay said company to do so you will be responsible for security updates and any downtime will be up to your hosting. This option is my favourite for the adventurous. Its all your, the data, the site, but you will come up against it sometimes. There is paid and community support with most systems. You will pay less in subscriptions etc, but all the data is yours and you are in full control.
3. Open source. Its free, usually heavily supported by a community, you have full freedom with your store. The downside is the code editing. Unless you want to pay (and you might as well choose one of the other options if you are going to do that) you will have to edit the code yourself and learn a lot on the way. It can be a heartache as support is not guaranteed and totally voluntary, but it is also FREE!
Next to consider is the functionality and features you NEED:
Inventory management – Import, export and sort inventory (bulk uploads and updating methods for inventory crucial for large catalogue) You will need to be able to sort, search and filter your inventory.
Image Hosting ( option 1)
Manageable sales data and order processing– Sales and various stages of orders. You will need to also be able to export sales for accounting purposes.
Inventory based shipping AND flat rate shipping – the most basic of shipping methods which can be used to fit a variety of models
Space for Meta Data – somewhere for you to edit your site html title, keywords and description for search engines
Basic statistics – either space for Google Analytics integration or home grown basic statistics
Customer Data – ability to send a newsletter and export customer data
Secure Payments – SSL and a secure payment method for credit cards for example paypal payments pro or cybersource integration. make sure 3D secure is enabled.
Paypal – its too big to ignore. make sure you can accept paypal standard transactions with your secure credit card processing.
Multi tier Category Management – you will need sub categories to manage your user experience.
SEF URLs – Text based URLs for your products.
Currency Conversion – a website need to be international so Dollars, Euro’s and Pound Sterling at least.
Inventory Quantity by Attributes – you want drop down attributes on your products for the various options, for example shoes in their various sizes and colour combinations, with quantity attached.
Ability to cname if not hosted on your servers (option 1) – you need to be able to make sure the site ‘seems’ hosted and you have better urls for example http://www.yourdomain.com/redshoes and not http://www.randomcompany.com/yourcompanyname/redshoes or http://yourcompanyname.randomcompany.com/redshoes
Newsletter Function – to send basic marketing emails.
Functions you will WANT but you don’t necessarily need to survive:
Promotion Functionality – Everyone wants a bargain and in this new recession and vouchers/promotional codes will be what your customers want.
Drop downs – Options and attributes for your products reduce the database space you need and make shopping easier for your buyer.
*I started this in 2007, but now even in 2012 it is still relevant, but I will carry this on adding in updates for e-commerce now!*
Social media – Facebook and twitter accounts to generate a fan base and the ability to ‘like products’
Rich Media – fancy term that means videos or detailed shots of the product with the ability to rotate and zoom.
Filtered Navigation – ability to hide/show products based on attributes and filters like colour, size and material.
Mobile Support – depending on what your business entails, support for mobile browsers or a full blown app.