If you’re a retail store owner that hasn’t made the leap into eCommerce yet, it might be considerably more straightforward than you think. The barriers to entry for starting an online store have become considerably lower in recent years, especially with powerful platforms like Shopify.
As you probably know, the retail industry has been rapidly changing over the past decade due to online shopping, big box stores, and mobile technology. So if you’ve been thinking about bringing your business online, now is as good a time as any to take the plunge.
To help you get started, we’ve compiled some helpful tips to help first-time eCommerce store owners.
Do Some Market Research
Before you start building your store, it’s good to do a little market research. Look closely at what the top online retailers in your space are doing. Focus on how they are organizing their websites, what the websites look like, and any areas where you feel you may have a competitive advantage.
You should also spend some time researching different eCommerce platforms, digital marketing platforms, and digital marketing case studies in your industry. The eCommerce platform you choose must work well with the third-party services you intend to utilize once your site is live.
One of the reasons that so many website owners choose Shopify as their eCommerce platform is because of how easily it integrates with services like Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, and eBay, to name a few.
Once you better understand the eCommerce landscape, the next thing you’ll want to do is pick an eCommerce platform.
Pick An eCommerce Platform
There are a few popular eCommerce platforms available today. The top 4 platforms are Shopify, BigCommerce, Magento, and WooCommerce. However, when it comes to launching your first website, the Shopify platform is one of the easiest to get up and running quickly.
When choosing a platform, you should consider your need for product organization, eCommerce capabilities, and any special features you may need on your website. Read reviews on the platforms, watch review videos on YouTube, and schedule platform demos.
If you’re unsure of the right platform for your needs, you can also reach out to a few website design companies to discuss your project. Typically, web designers offer free consultations and can make helpful suggestions for your project planning.
While you may not realize it, changing between eCommerce platforms is no easy task. Make sure that the platform you choose meets your long-term needs and will be capable of growing with your business.
Create A Website Hierarchy
Once you’ve decided on the eCommerce platform you’ll be using, the next thing you should do is develop your website hierarchy. Plan out a category structure that logically breaks down your product catalog.
You can use programs like Microsoft Excel, Mac Numbers, or even Google Sheets to make your category planning a little easier. It also helps to use industry-leading websites as inspiration for organizing your site.
Depending on the size of your catalog, you may want to have one or even two levels of sub-categories beneath your top-level categories. It’s good to segment out categories with more than 100 products to ensure that no products get buried too deep within any category group.
Once you’ve finished establishing your category structure, you can start building your product content and data feed.
Compile Product Content
No matter what kind of products you’re selling, it’s important to provide your potential customers with plenty of product information to help them make purchasing decisions. This means that at a bare minimum, you should have well-written product descriptions, product features, product specs (when applicable), and excellent product photos.
Write Website Content
The first thing you should do is create all of the content you will need for your website. This includes any text content you’ll need for your home page, about page, category pages, and product pages.
Whether you realize it or not, having all of your website content written ahead of time will streamline the website creation and product creation process. When writing the text for pages like your home page or about page, it’s good to aim for about 400 – 500 words minimum. Product descriptions and category descriptions can be shorter but should still be at least 250 to 300 words.
Compile Product Photos
You’ll also want to make sure you have all of your product photos shot, edited, and optimized before getting too far into the web design process. Great product photos are integral to eCommerce success, so it’s important to have this piece of the puzzle figured out ahead of time.
If you have the budget for it, it’s always best to hire a professional photographer to shoot your photos. This will save you time and ensure you end up with a great final product. However, if a professional photographer doesn’t fit into your budget, here’s an article to help you shoot quality photos yourself.
Create Product Spreadsheet
Now that you’ve compiled your product details, photos, and other relevant information, it’s time to build your product data feed.
No matter what eCommerce platform you end up moving forward with, it’s a good idea to build out a product data feed in a spreadsheet. Most modern eCommerce platforms have easy-to-use import and export features and will provide you with a spreadsheet template to make things easy.
Here are import templates for a few of the more popular eCommerce platforms.
Your product data feed should include data points like product title, product description, product price, page title, page description, product image file name references, product inventory, and any other relevant product information.
After completing your initial import, it’s good practice to create a new export file from within your eCommerce platform any time you plan to do a new product import. This will ensure that no product details or inventory counts are overwritten with incorrect information.
It’s also a good idea to use product information management tools and catalog-management tools to better control your products. These types of applications will also allow you to synchronize your product data across multiple channels, saving you time as your online business expands.
Build Your Website
So by now, you’ve done your market research, sourced your website content, and created your product data feed. Now it’s time to get down to business and build your website.
Like with your product photos, it’s always best to hire a professional to build your website if you have the budget. However, if you’re looking for a low-cost way to get up and running, plenty of excellent commercial theme options are available.
Choosing A Theme
No matter what eCommerce platform you choose to build your site on, there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of commercial themes available for you to choose from. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a theme is a pre-built website layout that you can populate with your products and information.
You’ll have the ability to set custom images, your branding, custom navigation items, and display all of your products; however, further customization can sometimes be tricky. When choosing a theme, it’s best to pick something as close to “perfect” as possible so that you don’t spend too much time or money on website customization.
There are several great places to find themes for an eCommerce website. Here are a few of the more popular options.
Setting up a theme is usually pretty straightforward. Still, if you’re not very tech-savvy or just want some professional assistance, you can typically have the theme professionally set up for a low, flat fee.
It’s always good to set up your theme using demo data or demo product information when you’re just getting started. This will make it a bit more efficient to get all of the theme settings and options configured how you’d like them to be without spending too much time worrying about importing your data.
Importing Product Content
Once you’ve finished setting up your theme with the demo data, it’s time to get your actual product data imported into the website. Before getting started, it’s usually a good idea to delete all of the demo product content first, so you’re starting with a fresh slate.
Depending on the size of your catalog, the process can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 30 minutes. After you do your initial import, take some time to browse through the front and backend of the website.
Ensure that all category assignments are correct, the images assigned to the products are accurate, and there are no strange characters or formatting in your product descriptions. It may take trial and error to ensure your import file is perfect, but it’s crucial to ensure your product information is correct before launching your website.
Once you’ve finished importing and verifying your product content, you’re almost ready to launch your eCommerce store. Before you open your digital doors to the world, it’s essential to do some testing first.
The first thing you should do is go through every step of the customer journey yourself. Search for products, filter through your categories, add products to the cart, and go through checkout.
Try to identify bugs, bottlenecks, or anything else that may make it complicated for everyday customers to find and check out what they’re looking for. If you’re using a commercial theme, it’s less likely that there will be any significant bugs, but it’s always a good idea to test anyways.
Once you’ve finished doing some testing on your own, you should bring in a few other people to perform some testing. Having friends, family, and colleagues perform their testing will help uncover any user experience pain points, bottlenecks, and website bugs you may have missed in your testing.
Build Brand Visibility
Once you’ve finished testing your website, it’s time to push your website live! Unlike physical retail businesses, opening your doors does not mean that anyone will come to your website. You’ll need to build some brand visibility online to get people on your site.
Be Active On Social Media
The first thing you should do is create profiles on the top social media channels if you haven’t already. This includes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. Depending on your specific customer base, there may also be a few industry-specific social media channels worth signing up for.
Getting attention on social media takes more work than simply setting up a profile, though. Do a little research into the content your competitors and industry leaders are publishing. Think about ways to promote your products while still keeping the content engaging.
It’s also important to stay consistent with your posts. You don’t need to post something new every single day, but it’s essential to set a reasonable schedule for yourself and stick to it. If it’s easier for you to create a bunch of content at once, several tools are available like Hubspot, Hootsuite, and SocialHP that will help you schedule posts in advance.
As you grow your audience on social media, give your audience a mix of different content. In addition to sharing your products and promotions, share relevant articles, videos, and other content that they may find interesting or valuable.
Reach Out To Industry Influencers
Another great way to bring attention to your online store is to have industry influencers talk about your products or brand.
Start by identifying bloggers, Instagram personalities, and video content creators with an audience similar to your ideal customer. For example, if you sell jewelry and accessories, reaching out to content creators in the fashion and beauty space would make sense.
It’s usually a good idea to do your influencer outreach in a few steps. Start by building a spreadsheet of ‘target’ influencers. Make sure to include things like the influencer’s name, website or social media profile address, the size of their audience, and any other relevant metrics that you may have.
Once you’ve finished building your outreach list, the next thing you’ll want to do is write a couple of email variations to use for your outreach. Include a little information about your brand, products, and what you’re expecting from the influencer. If you’re willing to send out free products or samples, include that in your email.
Now it’s time to start reaching out to influencers. Remember, influencer outreach is a numbers game, so reach out to plenty of content creators. If you send out 100 emails and get 10-20 responses, you’re ahead of the curve.
Keep in mind that depending on the influencer and the size of their audience, they may ask you to pay sponsorship fees or advertising fees and send them a free product. It’s a good idea to have a mix of influencers with small, medium, and large audiences to ensure many feasible opportunities.
Invest In Digital Marketing
In addition to being active on social media and reaching out to industry influencers, you may also want to invest in digital marketing for your website. Digital marketing is a term that encompasses a wide range of strategies and tactics.
When developing a digital marketing strategy, it’s good to diversify as much as your budget allows.
First and foremost, spend a little time optimizing your website for search engines. Ranking well in Google and other search engines is an excellent way to keep a steady stream of qualified traffic coming to your website. There are also no direct costs associated with ranking in Google, making SEO one of the most profitable and cost-effective ways to build an eCommerce store.
Even when you’ve done everything right, it can take anywhere from 6 months to a year to start ranking for your target keywords. If you don’t want to wait for your site to start ranking, there are several other ways to get qualified customers on your website more quickly.
One of the more popular ways to drive new customers to an eCommerce store is Facebook and Instagram advertising. Facebook and Instagram offer a relatively low-cost way to share your content and product advertising with a broader audience you may not be able to reach with your organic social media posts.
It’s important to solidify your sales pitch before you start paying for ads. Figure out your competitive advantage: low prices, fast shipping, exclusive products, or some other angle.
Ensure that your ads are clear and concise when communicating the message with your audience. The typical attention span of someone scrolling through a Facebook or Instagram feed is pretty minimal. Hence, it’s important to put the offer in front of them as quickly as possible to maximize your ad spend.
The Benefits Of Launching An eCommerce Store
Launching an eCommerce website can transform a traditional retail business. Doing business online allows you to promote your products to customers well outside your geographical location, operate with lower overhead, and move a lot more of your inventory if all goes according to plan.
If you’re thinking about bringing your retail store online, you should consider content marketing as part of your overall marketing strategy. If you’re interested in learning more about how we can attract thousands of new customers to your website every month with content, click here to contact us today.