How to Set Up a Successful e-Commerce Website

Businesses often waste their time and money setting up e-commerce websites that are doomed to fail! Most small business people think it is just enough to put together a site, stick it on the web and the sales will come pouring in. They give no thought (or budget) to marketing it, the work involved with getting noticed by Google, ensuring the site appears trustworthy and credible to its potential customers, whether the site meets current distance selling regulations, or even how they will grow the business or guarantee repeat business. The failure rate for e-Commerce websites is daunting – 65% of online businesses fail in the first 18 months and 90% in the first 5 years!

Before you throw your money away, here are just a few points to consider.

Can You Compete?

I have lost count of the number of business I have spoken to that believe their website will be competing with enterprises such as Homebase, Argos, Currys and even Liberty – oh, and they want to spend as little as possible on the website to achieve this ambition.

I suspect this is due them having no idea what the time and skills involved are in developing a first class website. They cannot see the hundreds of thousands of lines of code that makes their site work, or the thought that has gone into user experience. Neither have they considered the teams of people employed by these successful online businesses in marketing, sales, customer support and distribution.

These are often retailers who see no need to devote extra resources to running such a business. There might be a dozen staff working in their retail business but the website is normally left to some part-time youngster who will have moved on in a month or two.  No dedication to writing readable and optimised product descriptions, no professional product photography, no staff training in dealing with this new aspect of the business, no dedicated and trained customer support staff, no way to track Internet orders or even how well the website is performing, no integrated stock control, no plan of how they will build brand trust and authority…

I totally understand that SMEs would rather spend their time focusing on running their traditional businesses. In many cases they lack the time, skills or desire to do otherwise. However, they cannot then complain that the website business has not taken off. The answer is you either need to pay others for the time and skills you lack, or you need to take a serious re-look at your online business model. For example, it may well be possible for a website to add value to your existing business as opposed to providing a separate revenue stream.

To be successful you must be able to compete on one or more of the following:

  • Price – it can be hard for small startups to be able to compete on price – however, remember that people are willing to pay more for a better shopping experience or customer service.
  • Unique Products or Services – ask yourself why would a customer buy your goods or services as opposed to going to the competition? What makes your product or service unique?
  • Better customer service – this should be your advantage over big competitors. Make sure you provide a personal service.
  • Better shopping experience – the average online shopping cart abandonment rate is 67.44%. Your ordering and payment process needs to be both intuitive and trustworthy. This is where using an experienced web designer can pay dividends.

Minimum Requirements

To have any chance of being successful you will have to achieve the following with your site:

  • Your website design should reflect the quality of your products and service, and it should certainly be as good or better than your competitors. Remember this is your shop window.
  • Ensure your site is user friendly. It is not just enough to have a good design, it is crucial that your visitors understand how to access information at a glance.
  • The payment process must give a sense of trust. Highlight the security of your payment gateway. Specify their payment and personal information safe. Include details of your returns policy.
  • Make sure that after sales is 100%. That there is a customer service telephone number and staff are trained and have instant access to sales and customer information.
  • Offer some unique feature(s) that improve customer experience and makes you stand out from the competition.
  • Make sure you have the time to devote to the site. It will require constant updating and major attention to marketing and performing well on search engines and social media.

Working Out Your Budget

  • Take into account estimated sales and ROI.
  • Make sure you include a budget for marketing the site in its first years.
  • You also need to allow for further development of the website. The Web is fast changing. It is likely that some aspects of your site may require developing, or new areas may need adding.
  • If you can’t afford it, put off the project until you can or start off with e-Bay or similar to test the water.