With the continued explosion of ecommerce sales, you may be itching to launch your local retail shop online. Last year, online sales in the U.S. topped $341 billion, an increase of nearly 15 percent over 2014. If you’re eager to join the ranks of retailers making money with an online store but you’re not sure where to start, check out our quick overview of how to build a retail website and what you’ll need to do to successfully compete in the ecommerce world.
Decide on your website infrastructure.
First, get the technical aspects of your ecommerce site worked out. Now’s the time to decide whether to build your website infrastructure yourself (open source) or choose a web hosting provider. If you’ve got the technical expertise and the time it takes to build and implement your site from the ground up, open source may be the best option. It gives you maximum control and flexibility.
Many go the hosted route, which is usually more affordable, quicker to launch and reliably secure thanks to automatic host updates. When your site is hosted by someone else, you have less control, but you’ll still enjoy many options and features. A few popular hosting options to look at include GoDaddy, Bluehost and HostMonster.
Purchase your domain name.
Assuming you already have your established business name and brand identity, you’ll need to purchase your domain name, which essentially is your store’s place in the ecommerce universe. Make sure to select a domain name that clearly identifies with your business and is highly searchable so your customers can find you. Come up with several acceptable names, though, because your first choice may already be taken. Often, if you’re hiring a website host, their fee covers your domain name, too.
Design an eye-catching website.
No matter how you set up your infrastructure, a professional and attractive store front that promotes your brand and draws in your customers is critical for success. So, if you can afford it, invest in a web designer experienced in creating retail sites. Hosted sites usually offer design help, as well, and many have high-quality templates that look professional. You can also look into retail business loans if you are in need of additional funding for your business.
Make it easy for your customers to pay online.
When it comes to inviting your customers to purchase online, your goal should be to make your site’s user experience as seamless and as simple as possible. No run-around. No confusion. If customers bump up against even the smallest challenge during the check-out process, they may abandon the purchase and buy from someone else (where it’s easier).
You can choose from a wide variety of online payment processors, such as PayPal. Your website host probably has options for you, too. A few other widely-used choices to consider include Google Wallet, WePay, Dwolla and Authorize.Net. No matter what processor you choose, always read the fine print and know the fees for using these options.
Establish your payment policies.
Make sure to establish your return and refund policies, too. Know the laws regarding returns and refunds, and consider the impact these policies can have on your ecommerce site – you don’t want to jeopardize customer relationships and good will over rigid policies that drive customers away.
Choose efficient, reliable shipping methods and fee strategies.
Shipping – how you pack their item, what you pack it in, how long it takes to get to your customer and in what condition it’s in when it finally arrives – is an important part of your customers’ experience with your online business. All these factors can make or break your customers’ experience and may determine repeat purchasing – or not.
It’s essential that you and your customers can rely on your shipping methods. Because who you choose to ship your products depends on many different variables (domestic versus international shipments, size, weight, industry), you’ll need to do some research. To get you started, here are links to the main players in the U.S.:
- USPS Mailing and Shipping Guidelines
- UPS – Shipping Guide
- FedEx – Service Guide
Establish shipping fee strategies.
Decide on your shipping charges. Some options include offering free shipping on minimum orders; charging a flat fee; sharing the cost with the customer by slightly increasing your prices and charging the customer the remainder; or simply passing on the full, “real time” shipping charge to the customer.
Market your new site through a variety of channels.
Now that everything is in place, it’s time to get the word out about your new site. You can do this in numerous ways, but the key is to choose the marketing channels that best suit your business and execute them consistently. Here are some suggestions that will draw customers to your site:
- Optimize your site to make it easy for your customers to use and to ensure it is search engine friendly.
- Use email campaigns along with your other marketing efforts to build customer relationships.
- Consider a pay-per-click campaign that has the potential to drive significant traffic to your site.
- Create an ongoing content marketing program; you can share compelling, helpful information with customers and prospects through your website, social media channels, other partner sites, review sites and more.
For more help in learning how to build a retail website and launch your online retail business, check out a recap of this webinar full of more advice about starting a successful online store.
Have you added ecommerce to your brick-and-mortar retail business? Share the details of your experience with us in the comments below.