Getting Started Selling Online

It’s finally time to launch that eCommerce business that you’ve been thinking about for years. Setting up your website can feel like a daunting endeavor, but this process can be broken down into small manageable steps. This guide will support you in building your website and have you well on your way to your first online sale!

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • Choosing a Platform
  • Theme & Brand
  • Adding Products
  • Shipping & Taxes
  • Email Marketing
  • Conversion tips

Already have a website and want to add an online store? If your website is built with WordPress, Squarespace, Weebly, or Wix they can pretty easily add that component. If not, you would have to set up an online store & link to it from your existing site. Questions? Ask us.

Choosing a Platform

The first part of this journey is choosing the appropriate platform to host your eCommerce website. There are a multitude of options! Among the most popular are BigCommerce, Shopify, WooCommerce (WordPress), Squarespace, and Wix.

Pricing

One of the first things to consider when choosing a platform is pricing. Most companies charge a monthly fee to host your website. In order to accommodate the needs of diverse business, many platforms offer a tiered system of pricing. There is a base product that’s offered and then the price increases when additional features are added. When researching different tiers it is good to maintain a clear vision of your company’s needs. Often first and second-tier options fit the needs of an online store beginner as it covers the basic functions while you navigate online business.

Plugins

The next thing to consider are the plugins that are offered by each platform. A plugin is a software component that adds a specific function to a computer program. For example, there is a plugin I like called smile.io that allows you to set up your own branded rewards program and use that on your website. There are also plugins that help with marketing, fulfillment, data transfer, and other services for your website. Websites ordinarily offer a list of plugins that are compatible with their software. Here you’ll find an example of this type of list for the company BigCommerce. Not all plugins will be right for your brand, so, again it is important to be mindful of your companies specific online goals. 

Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a process to help increase the quality and quantity of traffic to your website. Building a strong SEO for your website can be a complex and ever-evolving process. The most important things to consider when you are starting out are a platform that allows you to have a custom domain name, captions/descriptions of photos, and a platform that allows you to convert SEO URL structures. If you’re new to SEO there are applications and plugins that will help you start out. We suggest checking out Yoast SEO if you are using WordPress.

Customer Service

Finally, implementing a customer service function will be instrumental early on in case any issues arise for shoppers. Issues with online shopping could range from photos not loading to the homepage to customers not being able to submit payment when checking out. Whatever the issue is, we recommend finding a platform that offers 24/7 customer support. For more information on choosing the best-fitting platform, check out our article here. 

Theme & Brand

Once you have chosen a platform, it’s time to move onto the theme and overall brand of your business. Themes are used to make your website aesthetically pleasing while also providing an organized design for you and your customers. Themes help to set up your store quickly and avoid fees associated with web design. Many of the eCommerce platforms we mentioned above offer both free and paid themes to choose from. 

Choosing a theme is similar to choosing a platform. Themes are meant to serve your company’s unique needs! We listed below aspects that are important to consider when choosing a websites theme:

  • Themes that are mobile friendly 
  • Support SEO
  • Menu Navigation
  • Allows you to customize 
  • Has technical support 
  • A theme that your targeted customers will enjoy

Below we’ve provided an example of theme options through the themes at BigCommerce. You’ll notice, there are filters you can set for your specific requirements in order to sift the large selection and find the best fit.

Branding is the process of creating a strong and positive perception of the company. Your theme and website layout will be a reflection of your brand. When building your website consider your target demographic and how you want to present your company. Make sure to fill your website and theme with photos and styles that you would associate with your brand. Consult a few friends or fellow entrepreneurs to see if they agree with your branding before you publish and go public. 

Another consideration when creating your brand is the importance of consistency. Maintaining similar brand strategies for your website, social media channels, and advertisements makes you memorable. Developing your brand will continue as long as the company does, so you can expect evolution over time. However, creating a solid baseline strategy before you launch the website will be highly beneficial.

Adding Products

Once you have started building your website, it’s time to add product photos to your website. Customers are going to want to see what they are purchasing before they spend their money. Effective use of photos can help to increase sales and draw attention to the products.

Before you add the photos, you first have to take them. There are a few options when considering what camera to use. The first is using a smartphone camera and the second is a digital single-lens reflex camera (DSLR). DSLR cameras are high performing, quality camera. DSLR cameras have multiple lens options that allow you to customize photos for specific product photos. These cameras are great, but they aren’t necessary for taking product photos. While smartphones may not have the same capacity as a DSLR, they have come a long way. We recommend exploring what settings and capabilities your smartphone has to produce excellent photos. It will save money to start there.

Once you have the camera, it is time to take the photo. Background is an important aspect that is sometimes overlooked. There are two types that we are going to cover the first are white backgrounds, and the second are lifestyle backgrounds.

  1. White backgrounds

White backgrounds are exactly like they sound, they show the product and the entire background is white. This is used to highlight the product from multiple angles. Setting up white backgrounds has become increasingly easier over the years. If you have smaller products you can purchase a portable studio box that has a white background. It is essentially an enclosed box with one opening for you to place products on the inside. It has its own lighting and makes the photo-taking process quite easy. If you have larger products, we suggest getting a roll of deli paper using this as a background. Below is an example of a jacket with a white background. 

  1. Lifestyle backgrounds

Lifestyle backgrounds are used to help highlight the intended use of the product. For example, if you’re shopping for a sleeping bag to use when camping, the company might have a photo of an individual using the sleeping bag in the wilderness. This attaches an image of use to the consumer’s mind, while showing off the product’s capabilities. The photo below shows a lifestyle photo of a sleeping bag from Sierra Designs. 

Finally, lighting can affect the final outcome of the product photo. Natural light often looks great but can be inconsistent and hard to come by. Using natural light requires the photographer to have flexible availability as the weather won’t always corporate. As mentioned above, you can use a lighting box if you have smaller products. If you are shooting photos for larger products we recommend that you use strong 5000k bulbs, and make sure that all of the bulbs are the same color! Avoid lighting in a way that casts shadows on the surface of the product. Placing the light source behind the camera should minimize most shadows. Additional photo advice can be found here.

Shipping & Taxes

SHIPPING

Shipping is an interesting aspect of the eCommerce world. It is the one aspect that you, as a business owner, do not have 100% control of as you are not physically there to deliver the product. So, you’ll want to make the process as seamless as possible. A bad delivery could be the difference between a customer reordering or recommending your business or deciding not to. 

The first steps that we recommend here at Uptown Cow is to decide what type of shipping you want to offer to your customers. There are three basic types of shipping that we recommend considering. 

  1. Free Shipping

This is exactly what it sounds like. For this first shipping type, you offer free shipping to your customers. This is important to consider if you will be competing with a tech giant like Amazon. They are notorious for free 2-day shipping for certain customers, and others are starting to follow along. Consider the costs that you will incur by offering free shipping to your customers. Another consideration for free shipping is to have a minimum order value to qualify for free shipping. Having this order value encourages customers to spend more on your website.

  1. Flat Rate Shipping 

Flat rate shipping is a simple way to offer shipping to customers. You can set up one or two rates that are available. You can have a cheaper option with a longer deliver time, and a more expensive option with a quicker deliver. This allows the consumer to choose the shipping method that works best with their timeline. Flat rate shipping is an affordable approach for businesses providing shipping.

  1. Real Time Shipping Rates (Carrier Calculated)

Plugins and applications can provide a great deal of support in shipping There are specific shipping applications that are capable of calculating shipping rates in real-time. After the customer has entered the shipping location, the application will consider the distance the package must be shipped, the desired delivery speed, and the weight of the items. Using these variables together the program will compute a shipping price for the customers. From there the customer is able to adjust the variables to end up at a price that they are happy with. 

These programs will also give the customer an estimated delivery date for their package. This gives the customer a better idea of when to expect the package and to adjust the shipping if they need it any earlier. 

Packaging

Luckily packaging is much easier than setting up shipping. This, like many other parts of eCommerce, depends on the types of products that you’re selling. Hypothetically when your product is packaged it should be able to survive a drop of a few feet, just in case this happens on the journey to its final destination. 

There are multiple ways to package your items. Some companies wrap their products in a single box, and surround the item with packing peanuts or a similar protective product. Some companies use air filled plastic bags or bubble wrap. For more fragile items, you should consider a two box packing solution. This is essentially a box inside of a box, to offer additional protection to the product during shipping. When considering the two box solution you should note that the package will be heavier and it will be more expensive to ship.

Taxes

Taxes, one of our favorite parts of having an eCommerce business!! Just joking, but it is a very important aspect of selling products online. With newer laws & regulations, this is often overlooked. Luckily, many platforms offer automatic tax calculations based on where your customers are. The steps you take to include taxes are specific to your products so our main bit of advice is simply to not forget them!

Email Marketing

Your website is all set up, congrats! Now it’s time to start pushing conversions on your website. A reliable form of communication with your customers is through email marketing. Email is still one of the most used forms of online communication and can be a very profitable practice when done effectively. There are two helpful types of emails to use when you are launching a new website.

The first is welcome campaigns. Welcome campaigns are sent to a customer when they first acquire their email address. We suggest that the first email should have a short description of your company and a message of gratitude for subscribing to emails. After this, you should add labeled photos of products with short descriptions to draw the customer in. You may consider placing a few product reviews in the email as well. Welcome emails allow you to highlight some of the most popular products your unique brand has to offer.

The second campaign that you should set up are abandoned cart emails. These messages are sent to the consumers when they place a product in their cart and then exit the website. It is a message to remind them that they have a product waiting for them that is intended to convince them to complete their transaction. These messages can be sent in many different ways, knowing your customer demographic will help to find the best message. 

You will want to set up a timeframe for when the messages should be sent. Some companies do it a few hours after the customer leaves the website, others will wait a day or two. Adjust the time frame and see what works best for your company. Once you find the right timeline, the emails will be sent automatically. If you have multiple demographics visiting your site you can make multiple, more specific, abandoned cart campaigns. 

The hardest portion of abandoned cart emails is that you will already need the contact information of that customer prior to sending the email. This means that the customer will already have to be an existing customer, have an account on your website, or have subscribed to your newsletter. 

Conversion tips

We cannot emphasize enough the relevance of conversion. A conversion is more than just a customer checking out with a product in their cart. A conversion rate could be:

  • Product added to cart 
  • A completed transaction
  • Email signup 
  • Sharing a product on social media 
  • Many more statistics

It is important to know when starting out, that most conversions are quite small, around 1-2% for the average company. If you believe your conversions are quite low, don’t worry! The online marketplace is a very competitive place. If you’re wondering how to find and analyze conversion rates, we recommend using Google Analytics, we have more info on that here. It is also important to note that other companies will have their own analytic software to play around with as well, BigCommerce Analytics is a strong and reliable analytic program. 

Now we do have a few tips to help you get your conversion rates up on your website.

Email Pop Ups

If you’re looking to get more emails from your customers, an effective tool to use is email pop ups. These are pop ups that appear on the screen when a customer first enters a website, usually on the homepage. They are used to gather information by offering an incentive for filling out the appropriate information. For example, some companies will offer a code for free shipping or a percentage off of their first order. These pop ups take up a large portion and don’t disappear until the customer either click out or if they enter their information. This is a fantastic way to get individuals signed up for a newsletter. Take a look at your email and notice how many companies you get emails from that were likely the result of homepage pop ups!

Live Chat

This is a great tool that many eCommerce sites have started to use. Live Chat helps to increase multiple types of conversion. Live chat can be used to help shorten the entire sales process. It provides customers with a quick way to communicate with your brand and to get questions answered, it’s much quicker than email. 

Another great thing about Live Chat is that you can integrate artificial intelligence (AI) to work with your program. This will allow you to set up automated responses to customers when there isn’t an actual human to respond to the customers. The AI can collect information and schedule a specific time to speak with a representative from your company. A negative part of the bots is that they usually can’t recommend a specific product and don’t usually close a deal. If you don’t feel comfortable using AI you can always restrict the hours that customers are allowed to use the chat features on your website. Make sure the whichever chat system you choose integrates with your platform.

Listed below are a few live chat softwares that you should check out:

  • LiveChat
  • Tidio 
  • Facebook Live Chat
  • Zopim
  • Olark

Wrapping up

After all that hard work, you should have your website set up and ready to go! Your journey to eCommerce greatness has just begun, but hopefully now you’re feeling better about your website and your online business. We hope that this guide helped you and answered and potential questions that came up. If you’re looking for additional information on setting up an eCommerce website you can check out our articles here. If you have any additional questions, feel free to reach out to our team at any time.