The Internet provides a mature, global platform for businesses to trade with their customer base with many advantages over a traditional shop front: low costs, 24/7 availability and immediate ordering being just three obvious ones. However there are common pitfalls that business owners fall into when setting up their e-commerce site - here's the top 5 tips to avoid these mistakes from my own experience from working with clients over the last 10 years.

1- Consider all the costs

The number one biggest issue faced with businesses setting up and running an e-commerce website is that of profitability - take into account both costs and profit. Some examples of costs:

  • One-off costs – website design/build
  • Regular costs – hosting, domain names, support, maintenance
  • Per-transaction costs
    • Costs from paypal or other payment gateway
    • Shipping, wrapping, packaging, insurance
  • Marketing and Promotion
  • Returns and Refunds processing
  • Staff or Time costs

This last point is often missed - the amount of staff time to run an e-commerce website is not taken into account. Someone has to pack and wrap an order, drop it off at the post office and handle email enquiries – and that often takes up more time than first imagined.

2 - Understand shipping costs

When discussing e-commerce websites with our customers, this is the single biggest obstacle to overcome. Some points:

  • Whatever you charge, you do not make a loss on shipping
  • Awareness of costs for international shipping and rural UK areas
  • Being up front with shipping costs – don't hide them from customers
  • The mechanics of shipping – couriers, different rates, packing requirements
  • Make sure your site can handle shipping in a way which matches your business model

3 - Promote the new site

Whatever the budget is for your online shop, make sure you have some spare for the promotion and marketing of your website, unless you have an absolutely guaranteed source of traffic. This is the single biggest course of online shop failure – all the eggs are placed in one basket and nothing is left to actually bring business in.

Market to your existing customer base; extend your reach using social media, advertising, PR and SEO. Don't forget the obvious too – does your signage, packaging and stationary mention your website?

4 - Test the user experience

This is often taken for granted – that your new shiny e-commerce website works perfectly. Often they are technically sound but that isn't the same as being easy to place an order on. Here are some things to check to reduce your abandon rate:

  • It's easy to navigate around categories and products – you don't get 'stuck' in a dead-end
  • Useful tools such as search, customers also bought, related products, reviews, ask a question
  • Up-front pricing and shipping costs
  • Offer and promote familiar payment methods – credit/debit card, paypal etc.
  • Make the customer feel safe and secure – it may be the first time they've bought online
  • As few steps as possible to make an order – ideally have a one-page checkout, and don't force users to register

5 - Use the data you collect

When your e-commerce website starts to take orders, you will also start accruing lots of data. Do something with it! Market to customers via email offering discounts or special deals, look at your website statistics to see how effective your website is, spot trends and react to them. Keep customers aware of your offers and they will be more likely to return.

Bonus Tip: Consider M-Commerce.

M-Commerce – the ability to take orders via your website on a mobile platform – is already a huge proportion of the market. Judge for yourself how much extra business you would win with this and if the sums add up, make it part of your website.

Article by Colin Harris of Colin Harris Website Development.

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