How to start an ecommerce site – a retailers guide

Starting an eCommerce site is a must for retailers in 2022. In the following guide we take a look at how you can get started with an eCommerce store so you can reach a bigger audience, future proof your business, and make more sales. We'll cover everything from the start so you can get going in no time.

Sell online

“Get online,” they say. As if it’s a “push-a-button-and-boom!-You’re-Amazon” type deal!

It’s not. But the good news is that it no longer takes a long time, a high level of technical expertise or a huge amount of investment to get your retail business online.

As a retailer, you’ll already know that e-commerce isn’t going away and even the most die-hard of customer experience focused shops have doubled down on their digital strategy in recent years.

In fact, this year marks a significant crossover point for fashion retail. It is predicted that in 2022, more apparel will be purchased online than in physical stores in the UK.

This day was always coming but the pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of society with some retail surveys showing that 73% of UK shoppers said COVID-19 inspired them to try new ways of shopping that they are likely to stick with in the future.

Retailers need to move quickly to establish their business beyond bricks and mortar if they want to secure their long-term future.

In this article, we’ll lay out an easy to use guide to creating a new eCommerce store with expert tips and some suggested further reading to help steer you to success.

Creating an eCommerce strategy: planning

The first step in any business venture should always be to research the market and plan ahead.

Some points to consider and questions to ask yourself are:

  • Who are your core customers? Do they shop online? Can you sell the product they buy on your website?
  • Do your customers buy online from your competitors? What do they like about that experience – price, the convenience of delivery, click and collect, easy returns? How can you match or improve upon that offer?
  • How will you resource running your e-commerce business? Who will write product descriptions and manage enquiries?
  • Who will look after the despatch of your sold items and process returns?
  • How many products will you sell online and is there enough profit margin in those products to cover costs such as returns and free or discounted delivery?

Take your time to ask around, compare prices and get to grips with the actual work of running a successful e-commerce business.

Find the right platform

There are so many e-commerce platforms to choose from. Some of the most popular for retailers wanting to launch online are Wix, Woocommerce (a WordPress plugin), Squarespace, Shopify and Magento.

There are pros and cons to each of these e-commerce platforms and much will depend on how technical you are if you’re doing this yourself or your budget if paying for a professional set-up.

To go in-depth, we’ve created this article comparing the most popular eCommerce platforms, including prices and pros and cons of each.

TLDR? Our recommendation is Shopify. It’s the perfect balance of simplicity, functionality and price and for that reason, it is the most popular eCommerce platform in the world for retailers.

And that’s why it was our first choice when creating a bespoke free eCommerce & epos integration for retailers.

choose a domain

Pick a memorable domain

Your domain is essentially your web address – the bit that comes after the www.

You’ll need to select the top-level domain (TLD) that is right for you. That’s the .com, .co.uk, .ie or .biz that you’ll see at the end of a web address.

There are hundreds of TLDs and Google says they don’t favour one over the other apart from on geographic searches. If a shopper in London searches for ‘brown cords Hackney’ they’re more likely to see a result from a UK based site and this is even more likely if they have a .co.uk TLD.

If you’re a UK-based brand and are likely to remain so, a .co.uk web address is best. If you sell into more than one country, .com is the best bet. TLDs such as .net, .biz and .io are fine but most shoppers still think of everything as .com and .co.uk so if you can get these TLDs they are the best.

Your main domain should make it easy to find you, so your shop name is always the best choice. Online real estate is in short supply, so a company with a similar name to yours may have already booked your desired URL.

This is where many businesses resort to a .biz or .net address but we’d caution new e-commerce retailers to avoid this tactic. It is more likely to confuse shoppers for both businesses and send potential customers to the wrong web address.

If your ideal URL is already booked, try adding a product descriptor to your name, your location if relevant or simply a term such as ‘online.’ For example, Jaspers.com and Jaspers.co.uk might be taken. But JaspersFashion.com, JaspersWomenswear.com, JaspersofNorwich.com or Jaspersonline.com might all be available.

Avoid using hyphens in your domain name and NEVER use an underscore – people forget about these all the time and end up typing your URL into their browser incorrectly, getting frustrated and starting in a bad mood when they could be shopping with you instead!

All of the eCommerce platforms mentioned above will offer the option to buy a domain through them. This keeps things nice and clean and easy to manage. It is possible to buy a domain on other services such as names.co.uk or 123reg.co.uk but you’ll likely save very little and it is another set of logins to remember and things to potentially go wrong when launching your site.

If you’re new to eCommerce, the golden rule is to keep things simple.

Shopify theme examples

Build your site

All the previously mentioned eCommerce systems work slightly differently from each other but the core functionality will be the same (although Magento will require you to hire an expert). We’ll continue to use Shopify as our example to keep things easy.

Choose a theme

A theme is the visual style of your website and will essentially pre-load a template for multiple page types and set the image sizes, colours, fonts and buttons for your website. Squarespace and Shopify are both particularly well known for their beautifully designed templates.

You can browse through many different themes and even start editing them to include your logo, some of your imagery or words and then switch the theme in just a few clicks to experiment with the look of your website.

If you are doing this yourself we’d advise picking one of the core Shopify or Squarespace themes. We’ve put together guides on the best free and premium Shopify themes for retailers to save you time.

Create your site structure and navigation

For most retail businesses the structure of your site won’t follow the floorplan of your store. This is because the buyer journey for an online shopper is very different to someone who visits your bricks and mortar store.

In physical retail, your customer may come in to browse through your products when they have some time to spare, attracted perhaps by a beautiful window display. Your shop floor team can influence them towards a sale by directly engaging with them or merchandising products together to help them picture themselves wearing an item or displaying your product in their home.

There is a role for this sort of attraction and engagement through the use of your brand imagery on the site and you will have a good number of people on your site who are there to research, check prices and compare products with your competitors.

However, the online shoppers most likely to purchase are people who are looking for a specific product. They have seen an item somewhere, on your social media, on TV or in a magazine and they are coming to your site to look for that item or something similar.

It is your job to make that item as easy to find as possible.

We recommend having a maximum of 6 items in your navigation (you can have drop-down items underneath the main headers for even more filtering), the following basic pages would be useful in no particular order:

  • Top Sellers
  • New In
  • Shop (underneath this you could include some categories)
  • About Us
  • Contact
  • Cart (this might just be an icon so people can easily navigate to view items in cart)

You could also have categories if you sell different product types, just make sure it’s easy for users to get to the location they want quickly.

Create product categories and collections

Stick to broadly recognised words for your category names and don’t create too many categories.

Try to keep your categories to 8-10 maximum and if you are using sub-categories (which might be best avoided unless you have a very large online inventory), keep those to 5-8.

Remember users will be able to filter or use the site search function to find something if it is a very specific or unique product.

Your main categories should represent your most popular products.

If there is an argument that a product is both a shirt and a jacket, add it to both categories. That overshirt can sit within shirts AND sit within jackets and can even sit within a collection called “shackets.”

This is good practice for SEO (Search Engine Optimisation – the art and science of marketing your site to Google and other search engines) as it will create pages with quite specific and lesser-known terms as their dominant keywords.

However, these small trend-based collections don’t need to be linked from your main navigation – they can be hidden away in a ‘collections’ tab, linked through a gallery or they can be ‘free-floating’ – not linked to any navigation but still able to be picked up by Google if someone searches for ‘shacket.’

Just write your product descriptions clearly to tell your shopper what the item is and make sure your photography demonstrates that this item is heavier than a shirt but lighter than a jacket (in case you were wondering what a shacket is!).

A quick browse on a number of your competitors and big eCommerce websites in your sector will help you see what works best for your type of business.

A clear site structure is easier to use for your customers and is favoured by search engines such as Google which will improve your likelihood of showing up for valuable product-related searches.

How to make the perfect product page

Product pages are one of the most important pages on your site and a major focus for testing and optimising as you progress.

This page isn’t just about delivering information, this is your sales page. This is where you make your money.

So your product page needs to be easily found (see above) and then tick every box that your potential customer has. Removing every objection, so there is no reason why they shouldn’t add that item to their basket.

There are a few key elements:

  • Product images – clear imagery that realistically demonstrates the product but is still small enough in file size to allow the page to load quickly.
  • Product name & description – a clear and easy to understand description of the product. This is an art form in itself and if you want to become an expert in this we’ve developed a guide to writing the best product descriptions.
  • Product details – price, care instructions, size guide, customisation options, delivery options etc For thorough shoppers, this is an important section and doing a good job here can help reduce your returns rates.
  • Upsell opportunities – suggested products that might accompany this item should be displayed lower on this page so they don’t distract too much from the item your customer is actively in the process of buying.
  • Review, ratings or other social proof – a review or rating on your page can help overcome some of the uncertainty a new customer might have about your site or this product in particular. Your site in general (but especially your product page) needs to build trust and reinforce your reputation as an honest and professional business. While there are a few more steps before you take your customers’ money, one of the biggest hurdles is getting them to click the ‘add to basket’ button.
  • Help options – for customers who can’t find the information they require on your site it’s important to leave an option for them to find out more. Your site should have a FAQs section (frequently asked questions) and this is one place to link to it. You should also consider adding a chatbot or live chat facility if you can afford to. Failing that, add your shop’s telephone number prominently in the footer or header of the page.

payments partner

Choose the right payments partner

One of the trickiest parts of establishing an e-commerce store is choosing a payments provider. You might have a good relationship with the payments provider for your physical retail store and you might be lucky enough that they offer good rates for online sales but often that is not the case.

This is a complicated area and needs its own space, so click here to read our article on choosing the best online payment providers for your retail business.

Launch and promote your eCommerce store

How you promote your new eCommerce store will make the difference between success and failure. Few retailers are experts in digital marketing overnight but your natural retail instincts are a major boost to your chances of success on platforms such as social media and email marketing.

You know your customers intimately and that sort of intelligence is something the big e-commerce brands don’t have. Use it to your advantage.

We’ve compiled a detailed guide on how to market a new eCommerce website which you should read before you go live.

Connect your POS & Ecommerce

One of the major hurdles that many established retailers find when they first start to sell online is the extra workload, the added logistical complexity, the frequency of stock errors and the duplication of simple tasks that comes from running an online and offline store simultaneously.

But we have the solution.

AirPOS has evolved to become a proper multichannel selling tool that will integrate your online and offline shops into one retail business.

One inventory, one set of sales figures, one system to manage your business more efficiently.

A few EPOS providers offer integrations to Shopify but all charge a hefty premium or significant integration costs upfront. These costs typically run into thousands of pounds annually.

With AirPOS, it’s completely free and we’ll even guide you through set-up and installation at no extra charge.

You can’t say fairer than that.

Conclusion

Launching a new e-commerce site is no small undertaking but it has never been easier or cheaper to do so.

A host of options exist that have been designed to make it as easy as possible for independent retailers like you to launch your store online.

Take your time to do your research on your competitors’ websites, choose the platform that matches your level of technical expertise and budget, pick a clear and easy to remember domain name and get started on building your site.

Choose a template or theme that suits your retail brand, experiment with a few before you launch if you can. Then start constructing your categories, collections and product pages.

If you’re a store with a very large inventory, don’t try to replicate that experience online at least initially. Pick a small number of your most popular goods, a few high-profit margin items and review your progress monthly.

With AirPOS and Shopify taking something offline or adding a new product is a matter of just a few clicks in the AirPOS dashboard.

Analyse and optimise your website the way you would change your visual merchandising displays and in-store floor plan and review your progress regularly.

Managing an eCommerce site might be more time-efficient and less labour intensive than running a physical store but it requires the same commercial mindset and ongoing attention to detail that you apply to your physical store.

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