How do I design and build my online store?
Businesses are now moving more and more towards building online stores rather than brick and mortar stores. It is becoming necessary for most businesses to have their own online store to avoid becoming irrelevant in the near future. Starting an eCommerce store is not complicated. Doing it right, however, is the hard part.
The problem is when people have unrealistic expectations when it comes to the cost, time, and work involved. While online presence is becoming absolutely required to stay competitive, it is important to make sure you take the time to fully analyze your requirements along with the limits and capabilities of the chosen system. An eCommerce store is complex in that it has a lot of options and will require a lot of tweaking to get it like you need.
There are many components to think about when building your online store, starting with deciding whether to go the Self-hosted route or using a Software as a Service.
Self-Hosted or Software as a service (SaaS)
Self-hosted means you are renting the server to a third-party for a monthly cost, like Amazon AWS or Digital Ocean (and many other independents). You can then run any software that is available to download such as Magento, WooCommerce or Prestashop. All of those options are free to run on your server but require to be maintained entirely by yourself. Self-hosted is good if you have a programmer in-house that understands devops or you have a consultant that can do it for you. The biggest challenge with self-hosted solutions is to keep the platform current to avoid security problems. This means regular updates on the server itself (for example, Linux) and the eCommerce software (for example, WordPress with WooCommerce). If you want to have more control over the software and options for customization, self-hosting is the way to go. A word of caution: although the software is free and the monthly running costs are probably lower than a SaaS solution, there are often “hidden fees” with self-hosted solutions, especially if outsourced to a consultant. Billable time for updates, customization, and other necessities, can add up very quickly and become much more expensive than the SaaS equivalent. Beware of prices that are “too good to be true” – It’s often that: too good to be true! Note that we generally do not recommend our customers to go with a self-hosted solutions, unless they have the resources to build a reliable and secured site.
SaaS services such as Shopify, BigCommerce and Volusion take care of the hosting for you – you don’t have to worry about server updates or failure anymore! However, it also means that you are using their platform as is. If there is something you don’t like about it, there is nothing you can do. Overall, we believe that those systems, while not perfect, are good enough for the majority of eCommerce needs. Pricing is also predictable with a fixed monthly fee and, unlike self-hosted solutions that require a DIY approach, they also provide free support if you have questions. It’s worth noting that FlagShip is supporting Shopify through a free app.
I chose my platform, what now?
You know what they say in construction? Measure twice, cut once. Same theory applies here! It’s extremely easy to get started and you can have a store running in a few hours. However doing it right for your needs require more time than most people expect.
There are many things to think about when deciding what exactly you are going to sell on your online store. Make sure you plan carefully what items you want to offer, the variations and how to manage them (for example, t-shirt sizes are a variation, not a different product), the categories in which your items fall into and what pictures you are going to show. Are you going to buy stock photos or are you going to have a professional photographer take pictures of your goods? Will you do it yourself? A good product name and description is critical so that search engines can find your products easily and have your store page pop up on the first pages of Google.
You’ll have to choose a payment processor for your customers to checkout. WooCommerce offers two built-in options – Paypal and Stripe. Paypal has an advantage for customers because a lot of people already have their credit card saved on Paypal. This will lead to less abandoned carts. Many other options are available through add-ons (such as Moneris), but they are likely not free. SaaS solutions offer credit card payment processors out of the box as well. If your site is B2B and has special use cases, you can still have the option of payment by check, wire transfer, or other business options.
Shipping is a particularly sensitive topic. A bad shipping strategy is one of the leading reasons why people abandon their cart without completing the purchase. It’s not to say that free shipping is the only alternative, but high shipping charges are definitely a turn off. With FlagShip’s Shopify, WooCommerce, Magento, OpenCart, and PrestaShop plugins, you have capabilities of getting the rates in real time – but there are other options as well. Consider offering a flat rate or free shipping – even if it means marginally increasing the price of your goods. Pricing of shipping is very dependent on the type of items that you’re selling but, as a general rule, the lower the shipping price the more conversion you’ll have at checkout. If there is one tip that we can give you, it is to make sure that you don’t outprice yourself when including the shipping component in your store. There are many ways to remain competitive when including the shipping price – just find the best one that works for you and your eStore!
If you do decide to do real-time quoting, make sure you calculate the dimensional weight of the items you are shipping instead of the inputting the actual weight. This will help limit any adjustments to the shipping price down the line. Click here for our “how-to” on calculating dimensional weight for your shipments.
As shown here, there is a lot that goes that into the decision making process of how and what kind of online store you open for your business. Do not hesitate to tweak pricing, descriptions, to see what works with your customer base. Staying on top of the performance of your eCommerce store is what will ensure its success.
Good luck designing and building your online store!
If you have any questions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-866-320-8383.