How to build an online store for long-term success?
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated development of online commerce. This is encouraging more and more entrepreneurs to try their hand at eBusiness. But how to do it to avoid mistakes? What investments does this involve? And what are the key things to remember? We answer these questions in the article below – enjoyable reading!
Online store – how to set it up?
If you already know what you want to sell online, you need to do the following:
1. Choose your sales channels.
Consider where you will run your business: in your own online store or in existing marketplaces, such as Amazon or eBay? Or maybe you want to run stationary sales at the same time? Of course, you can combine different sales channels, but be realistic about your financial and logistic resources. Perhaps a good place to start would be a marketplace, and once your eBusiness gains momentum, transferring it to your own online store.
2. Take care of the necessary paperwork related to your business.
To be able to sell online you need to set up a registered company. Of course, in some countries you are allowed to run an unregistered business, but then your monthly income cannot exceed a certain low amount. And this is not what you mean, is it? Before setting up your own company, decide whether it will be a sole proprietorship, a private limited company, or something else. Choose the optimal form of taxation and research other administrative matters, e.g. setting up a corporate bank account and selecting your accounting service.
3. Estimate the expected sales volume.
Next, estimate the size of the assortment you will sell and whether you are targeting your domestic market only, or if you want to conquer foreign markets as well. Also, estimate the scale of operation – will you be processing 30 or 30 thousand orders per month? Choosing the best sales platform depends on the answers to these questions. You will know if it's best for you to set up a Magento online store, which is extremely flexible and offers a wide range of features, or if you only need a WooCommerce-based store – a perfect tool for a small, beginner business.
4. Choose the operating model for your online store.
Here you have two options: an on-premise store, built and maintained on the server you've purchased, and a ready-made store offered in a comprehensive Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model.
What is the difference between them?
A SaaS store does not require IT knowledge, so you can create it quickly and start selling immediately, without investing a lot of money. By paying a fixed monthly subscription, you get hosting, a domain, store software and IT support, which means that in the event of a technical problem you have someone to turn to for help. However, you can't fully decide on the appearance or features of your eStore, and some of them may only be available for the most expensive packages.
On-premise solution, on the other hand, allows you to choose features for your store, but to set it up, you need advanced IT knowledge or help from an interactive agency. Not only will you incur a higher cost for implementing the project, but also you will pay more for hardware and software maintenance and for work on expanding your platform.
However, if you are ambitious and you don't have the necessary IT knowledge, hire an interactive agency that specializes in eCommerce. If you don't want to be tied up with a long-term contract, you can order only the implementation of the store itself. Which takes us to the next question:
How to choose an interactive agency for building an online store that will serve you for years?
1. Define short-term and long-term goals.
You will choose a different agency for the graphic design of your online store, and a different one when looking for a comprehensive service. Compare several offers to see if they match your needs. Pay attention to how the communication with a given company is going and whether they are genuinely interested in you. If there are any problems in this area, you can expect them to be even more intense once you start to work with them. And remember that, as a rule, working with one agency gives better results – and costs less – than hiring several of them for each aspect of your eBusiness separately. It's much easier to coordinate work within different departments of the same agency, than between several different ones.
2. Check the agency's experience with similar projects.
However, the offer and communication are not everything. The agency must still have relevant experience, diverse enough to cope with your unique project, and at the same time specializing in activities that your planned eBusiness needs. Read case studies on each agency's website to get an idea of what they are really good at.
3. Consider what influenced the quote for your project.
The prices for IT services differ, and cheaper doesn't always mean worse, just like more expensive isn't always better. If an agency offers you a service for much lower price than the competition, then yes, it may be due to their poor know-how. However, it may as well be caused by a special, seasonal offer. Similarly, consider why the agency is demanding a very high price for its services. This may be due to the fact that it's simply in-demand or... it just pretends to be. Read the opinions on the industry portals, such as Clutch. As a rule, they are reliable and allow you to make sure that you're dealing with professionals who will be able to handle your project.
4. Establish a communication flow between you and the agency.
Find out in advance what the communication with the agency will look like during the project implementation – whether you will have regular meetings, or if the agency will send you periodic progress reports, and you will send them all your inquiries via email.
5. Familiarize yourself with the terms of the cooperation agreement.
Before you make the final decision to cooperate with a given interactive agency, ask for the draft of the cooperation agreement. Make sure that its provisions suit you – and if they're not, try to negotiate them.
Things to consider when choosing software for an online store
When choosing software for your online store, think long-term. You need a solution that can handle not only increased customer and sales numbers, but also periods of heavy traffic, such as Christmas shopping. Remember that if your chosen system will not be able to handle it, you will need to migrate it to other software – and this involves additional costs and changes in the customer experience. When choosing a solution for your online store, consider the following factors:
Scalability – if your eStore becomes unexpectedly successful, you need to be able to expand it without interruption.
Readiness to handle increased traffic during seasonal sales, Black Friday or lockdowns.
Acceptance of various payment methods and readiness to introduce new ones – customers have different habits, and the wider the range of payment options, the lower the risk that someone will abandon their cart.
Multilanguage and multicurrency support – have this option ready in case you need to expand your eStore to other countries.
SEO support – you need to attract traffic to your online store, which requires both marketing campaigns and SEO optimization. You need features that can automatically support such activities.
Availability of various features – if you don't want to be restricted with these, Magento will be a better choice than PrestaShop, because despite the higher initial cost of implementation, you will have many more features at your disposal at no additional charge. PrestaShop is cheaper to implement, but you will have to pay extra for additional features, and the more plugins you install on it, the greater the risk of technical issues.
Setting up and running an online store that will serve you for years requires a lot of reflection, analysis and decisions that are not always easy to make. If you're just entering the eCommerce world, it can be difficult for you to be 100% sure which solutions will be useful for you. Therefore, it's best to look for an experienced interactive agency specializing in the eCommerce industry at the very beginning of your endeavor.