eCommerce guide for small business owners
In a world dominated by Amazon, eBay, and other online retail juggernauts, surviving as a small business is no small feat. There’s no shortage of competition, both from these giant companies and other small businesses alike. However, with many small companies still lacking an e-commerce store, budding entrepreneurs find themselves with a golden opportunity to expand their business into the online world and gain a competitive edge.
With retail e-commerce sales amounting to around $5 trillion worldwide in 2021, there’s no question that small businesses need to hop on the bandwagon and go digital as soon as possible.
With the increasing dominance of e-commerce in the retail industry, having an online store is no longer negotiable. Consumers want to complete purchases without leaving the comfort of their homes, and should you fail to meet this demand, you’ll be put at an immediate disadvantage.
7 things to consider when choosing an eCommerce solution for your business.
Simply deciding to start an online store is not enough to actually run one successfully. E-commerce websites don’t come from a one-size-fits-all mold. Instead, there’s an overarching selection of software in all shapes and sizes.
Before you dive headfirst into creating your new e-commerce website, take your time looking through the available options.
From partnerships with key industry players to DIY template websites, e-commerce platforms are a diverse bunch. Using a website builder like Shopify may work for one brand, while another may wish to hire some of the top NYC web developers.
The point is that an approach that works for one small business may not work for another, so we’ve outlined the most crucial factors to keep in mind when selecting a platform for your e-commerce store.
1. Total cost including maintenance and other fees.
If you’re running a small business, chances are you don’t have an unlimited pool of resources to tap into and “throw money” at every problem. That means the overall cost of building and running an e-commerce platform will be a significant factor in the decision-making process. Unfortunately, things are not as simple as choosing what looks like the cheapest solution.
Some options may appear extremely cheap, with a low upfront cost, or even low monthly rates, but end up costing you dearly over the long run. Stay vigilant and keep an eye out for the following hidden fees:
- Credit card processing.
- Add-ons and plug-ins.
- PCI compliance and other security measures.
- Maintenance fees.
- Domain names.
Thankfully, many e-commerce website builders offer free trials, providing an excellent opportunity for small business owners to explore all of the platform’s features and test drive the website. Just be sure to understand precisely which features are included in the listed price. When it comes to “extra” features, think about which ones you need and how much the luxury will cost you.
This is the first step to deciding which e-commerce website solution works best for your specific business goals.
An online store is much more difficult to protect from malicious activity than a simple business website. This is because, on an e-commerce site, you’ll have to deal with sensitive customer data, such as names, addresses, and most importantly, payment information, including credit card numbers. Handling this information with utmost care and diligence is crucial.
Unfortunately, some website development agencies and e-commerce web-building platforms only provide the bare minimum protection. Most offer HTTPS certification, but this may not be enough, as proper protection sometimes calls for additional in-house server infrastructure or costly third-party software.
Your store must be PCI compliant before accepting any form of online payment. Otherwise, you are risking fines and other financial consequences, such as a ban on accepting payments for an extended period. Even more importantly, however, you are risking the loss of consumer trust, affecting not only your e-commerce website but your brand as a whole.
3. Transaction fees.
Payment via credit cards may be a staple in e-commerce, but accepting these payments on your website isn’t free. This is why many e-commerce platforms charge hidden transaction fees on credit card purchases.
One example of this practice is seen on Shopify, which has its proprietary payment service and charges merchants who decide to go with a third-party provider a fee of up to 2% on each sale.
When deciding on your e-commerce platform, look for a solution that offers flexibility in its payment option, charging minimal or no transaction fees.
4. Custom themes.
If you’re just getting an e-commerce store off the ground, you’re perfectly fine starting with a free, generic-looking theme. However, you’ll want to start incorporating more brand elements into your online store over time, so you’ll need a customized composition and website design.
Of course, having a custom theme means paying extra. Most platforms offer a few generic themes but charge upwards of $100 for a more advanced one. Custom interfaces may also be hidden behind a premium account paywall, so the costs add up.
To help avoid these additional costs, often, your best bet is to theme up with a web design company or look for a platform that offers a broader range of free themes. Both of these options will enable you to design your site with complete creative freedom without breaking the bank.
5. Stock management.
As a customer, you’ve probably had the experience of finding a product you love at an online store only to learn that it is currently out of stock. If your store sells physical products, your stock or inventory is your business, so your inventory management system needs to be effective.
As the name suggests, an inventory management system tracks the products and goods a store has in stock, including forecasting, restocking, ordering, and storing operations.
As your store grows and builds a more extensive customer base, you’ll also likely want to add more products to the catalog, making inventory management all the more challenging. This is why you need to ensure that you are working with the most optimal tools from the get-go and that you can keep your warehouse stocked at all times.
6. Customer analytics.
Any small business looking to thrive in the e-commerce sphere needs the best tools to measure customer preferences and behaviors. Understanding what your customers and prospects want is crucial to meeting their needs and improving your overall marketing initiative.
The only way to do this is with proper customer analytics.
Some e-commerce platforms provide access to a broad palette of analytics tools, while others offer a limited selection or even nothing at all. Suppose you’re not provided with the necessary tools to learn more about your audience. In that case, you’ll either fall behind quickly or be forced to spend additional resources to collect this crucial data.
Look for full-stack marketing agencies or web development companies that offer customer analytics tracking as part of their plan. Tracking consumer activity such as website visits, time spent per session, bounce rate, etc., will help you identify which products perform better/worse than others.
The more insight you have into what is impacting your business, one way or the other, will help you better serve your customers and ultimately lead to more conversions and generated revenue.
7. Advanced features.
There’s more to being successful in e-commerce than simply putting your products up for sale in an online store. In fact, offering advanced features on your website can play a massive role in the kind of results you get.
From things like the comprehensive analytics we discussed above to automated discounts and promotions, the advanced features of an e-commerce site can be crucial to your success. They should factor massively in your decision-making process.
The advanced features most likely to help you achieve your e-commerce goals include the following:
- App integration — You can enhance your user’s mobile shopping experience by creating standalone Android and iOS apps for your store.
- Payment management — Collaborating with a vast network of partners in the payment-processing industry, including services like Apple Pay, Stripe, and PayPal, you’ll give your users the freedom to choose the way they like to pay for your products.
- Search engine optimization — Working with top-notch SEO professionals on optimizing your Google ranking will help you reach more customers and generate more leads.
- Personalization — High-quality web development companies and subscription-based solutions allow you to personalize the UI and design of your website to fit each customer individually, increasing your conversion rate.
Anyone who has worked with small business owners knows that small business success requires some big decisions. Building an online store is one of those big decisions that can scale and transform your business beyond recognition.
Creating an e-commerce store is a surefire way to get your business to stand out in any industry, allowing you to increase your online visibility, drive more sales, and achieve your goals more quickly and effectively.
Ultimately, it is all about knowing your business’s specific needs and reaching a solution that aligns best with your vision for the future. Choosing a dependable web development company can be an investment into the future, finally helping you take that next step, bringing your business fully into the digital era.