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How to start an online store?

Planning a new web site or update
By Mike Mills

Building a web site today is harder than ever due to the number of firms competing for your business.
Printers, internet service providers, graphic designers and developers all want a piece of the action. Some offer a great deal on the price of web pages and graphics, maybe even search engine registration and DIY (Do-It-Yourself). However, this doesn’t help you to get started.

Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the scout movement, has inspired milions of boys and girls around the world with the motto, ‘Be Prepared’.

A detailed plan for what to include in your web site is essential. If you are in business, then you should have a marketing plan – you may use this as a starting point.

Add these 3 elements to your plan:

  • Specify what you want your site to achieve.
  • Draw a map on paper and divide your site into 7-8 groups of information.
  • Create 2-3 key phrases to centre your copy around.

You will save time, expense, and will get a much more effective site.

Are you selling your products and services online or offering detailed brochures to support your offline sales effort?

Answering the questions below is critical if you want to know how to start an online store. Understanding your customers journey is also important in planning your content, this article explains how to focus your site for better results in search engines.

 

What type of products will you be selling online?

The type of product that you sell online will determine how the information is structured as well as the way it will be delivered. E.g Downloadable product needs to be provided digitally once payment has been received.

Physical items may be shipped or picked up from a depot or drop zone.

 

Roughly how many different products or services will you be selling online?

The quantity of products will affect the time it takes to build your store. It will also be dependant on the complexity of the information such as specifications, descriptions and extra information such as video. Brave encourages more detail because this will keep your potential customer at your store longer and less likely to go somewhere else to get the information.

 

Are the products to be separated into different categories or subcategories?

Subdividing product can help you manage your range as well as making it easier for your customer to find what they want. The complexity of this will determine the structure of your web store as well as the navigation (web site menu) system. Planning the architecture of your web site is crucial to ensuring that you provide a great user experience on your web site.

 

Will products have “attributes” (e.g. a single ‘t-shirt’ in red, blue, or green, and small, medium, or large)?

This is also known as variations. Providing consumers with a choice can extend your range as well as giving customers exactly what they want. This can substantially increase the number of products and must be carefully considered how it affects your offline offerings. For example, you will have to allocate an SKU (unique product identifier or code), if you have an existing product range with SKUs this should match up.   

 

Do you have existing photography for your products?

This is often overlooked or not considered until the store is being built. Good professional shots with high resolution and multiple angles will always have an advantage over competitors with few images or poor photography. File names usually should match products using the SKUs.

 

Are you shipping product?

One of the most important elements of any ecommerce web store. The shipping process needs to be as seamless as possible for the consumer with no hidden costs. It’s best to be upfront, i.e. while the customer is looking at the product it’s best to give them the option to see the freight costs rather than leaving it until the checkout stage (the number one reason for cart abandonment).

 

  1. Is shipping a separate or additional cost to that of your product?
  2. What shipping methods best suit the delivery of your products?  (multiple options are possible)

For example, international vs domestic, flat fee or weight / percentage based.

  1. Should you provide shipping details (via tracking number) to your client automatically?

Certain shipping carriers offer this as part of their service. It may be possible to offer this to your customers once they have made the purchase.

  1. Are there any special shipping cut off dates and/or times?

As important as the cost of shipping, delivery times are important for customers, so they know when to expect their goods to arrive.

  1. Will you be restricting shipping to specific countries or states?

Trans-continent to substantially increase the cost of moving goods, especially if the dimensions are extraordinary.

 

Do you have an existing online payment gateway or merchant facility / account?

Some ecommerce platforms such as Shopify can provide your web store with low cost or no cost transactions, however, there is always a bank handling fee which will depend on the volume of business. The more options for purchase, the more likely you will make a sale. Brave has seen increase of up to 40% in stores which included both payment options Paypal and Credit Card. In addition to these, you should also consider buy now, pay later schemes such as AfterPay or zipPay.

 

Will you need to present certain products, prices, discounts, or content to specific visitors, such as customers, wholesalers, retailers, or distributors?

Most ecommerce software provides a username / password secure area for existing customers. Although we encourage removing the sign-up process on first time buyers, this may not suit all businesses. If your customer is a repeat buyer, these will need to be identified prior to the store setup in order to issue passwords.

 

Does your ecommerce store have to integrate with any other existing systems? and if so, which ones?

This can be a complicated process, but may save you hours of work every week. Many of the ecommerce platforms that we use support accounting software as well as logistic management systems. The costs can be prohibitive especially for stores with low cost items / margins or low volumes.

 

Do you want to allow customer reviews and social sharing?

A good customer review can do wonders for getting the sale across the line.
Brave encourages the sale process to include follow ups, so that happy customers can leave a good comment.

Asking customers to do online reviews is important for your business.
It’s obvious in terms of generating credibility for your brand, but here are 2 more reasons;

  • improves your social media profile
  • increases click-through rate by up to 5-10% on Google search and ads

Google reviews are an easy way to encourage your customers to make an online review.
and they will be shown in your Google My Business listing.

Learn more ecommerce tips by downloading a free PDF guide, click on the red Top 10 eTips button.

How do you plan to attract customers?

If you are generating a good flow of web site traffic, then your store may be successful from the get go. However, there are many ways to drive more traffic to your web store including paid advertising such as Google Adwords or social media campaigns in Facebook. Often online stores overlook offline efforts, print / tv / radio media and outdoor advertising should be used in combination with online activities.

 

How will you handle returns?

In Australia, the law states that every store has to deal with returned items. Payment gateway providers such as banks will want to view your terms and conditions which should be readily available to your customer. Additional software can help you quickly and easily replace merchandise or refund purchase prices, restock your inventory and send emails to customers about the status of their return.

 

How to improve search rankings in Google? Focus Your Site.
A focused web site does better on search engines. Your site will be easier to classify, providing that your content is concise and follows the key phrases you set in your plan. Keep your message simple and that it meets your customer needs.

Many web sites are not well planned which means these must be redeveloped for better results. A good web site developer will help this process by building web pages with efficient code that is search engine friendly. Your plan will assist the developer in this part of the project.

The home page should clearly tell visitors what your site is about. You only have 4-5 seconds to grab their attention. Create content that evokes the visitors emotions, senses, ego or desire.

Your site must demonstrate credibility and trust. Highlight the most important benefit you provide. A headline and a related graphic can give users an instant image of what your site and organization can do for them. Turnbulls specialise in several businesses, minibus hire and car sales, the home page opens with graphics of cars, and a headline outlining their business focus. Readers can immediately identify what the site has to offer. Most sites include pages “about us” and “contact us” which help build customer trust. Consumers trust you when they feel like they know you. A few ideas for the “about us” page can include staff photos, your building, or anything that reinforces visual cues about who you are and build this into a memorable story.

How do you do business? What’s your company philsophy or mission? How did the business begin?
The “contact us” page should list your key personnel and several ways to contact them.
Tell people why they should contact you and what to expect when they do.

Inside pages support your sites focus
If you have a main product or service, highlight it on your homepage. Inside pages can contain more details or downloadable specifications. Divide your site into categories or sections if your site starts to build into more than a dozen pages. Introduce each category and link related pages with a short summary of what is contained in that section.

Simple and clear order forms
A shopping cart is not necessary for only a few products. Product pricing and information should be easy to understand. Hard to use sites or unclear procedures frustrate and confuse customers will lose you sales. Don’t skimp on important shipping info and make your privacy policy clear.

A few final ideas to help convert your visitors into customers.

  • Be consistent with your critical content
  • Create the best customer service page (help)[ FAQ format]
  • Encourage visitors to take action



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