Business is always evolving, and the growth of eCommerce is no exception. Smart business owners know how important it is to go online.
Having a website is like placing a billboard on every street in the world. It can expose you to millions of potential customers you could never reach before. A website can boost your brand dramatically. More sales, recognition, and authority are within reach.
But that’s not the only reason to build a website. Today, customers expect businesses to have one. Facebook Business Pages are popular, but they shouldn’t be your only online presence. It’s more professional to have a site of your own.
Professionalism builds trust. Online shoppers worry about scams, and your website will increase their confidence. After all, it takes time, energy, and money to make a website. Customers will see that you’ve invested in your business. By extension, you’re invested in your customers, as well.
Launching a website might seem difficult. However, all you need is some foreknowledge and a plan.
Follow these steps and you’ll be online in no time.
Proper planning leads to success. This was true for starting your business, and it’s the same for building a website. Start your plan by answering a few questions.
Your answers to these questions will help you choose the best software to build your site.
Website development used to involve a lot of code writing. But today, it’s much more accessible. You no longer need to know HTML and CSS to build a site. (It will help if you have a basic understanding of HTML, but “basic” is usually good enough.)
Today, most websites are made with a CMS (Content Management System). This is a software platform that lets you build the site without touching the code. Code is handled on the back end by the software. You create pages for your site, and add content to them, through an interface.
There are many CMS platforms available. Some are made for eCommerce first, while others are more general website builders. Many of the more general ones have apps or plugins available to add eCommerce features.
The differences between platforms include:
It’s important to understand these factors when you pick your eCommerce software. We’ll go over them as we compare some popular platforms.
Since eCommerce is so popular, you have lots of options for choosing your software. Before we get into platform comparisons, here are a few terms you need to know. They relate to the “extra steps” that we mentioned above.
Each of these terms describes the basic type of eCommerce software. Each represents a different level of investment in time and money. Understanding them will help you choose a platform that works with your resources.
Here are some of the most popular eCommerce platforms.
Shopify, founded in 2006, is the most well-known SaaS eCommerce platform. It’s considered the most easy-to-use and well-rounded platform.
3dcart is one of the most established eCommerce platforms, going back to 1997. It’s evolved quite a bit since those early days, and frequently adds features to stay current. Today, it’s one of the most well-rounded platforms available.
BigCommerce is the only other SaaS platform to come close to 3dcart in number of features. Founded in 2009, it has become a strong competitor in eCommerce.
WordPress is one of the most popular website solutions ever created. Originally a blogging platform, WordPress can be used for almost all types of sites. The most popular eCommerce plugin for WordPress is WooCommerce.
We’ve gone over some of the most popular eCommerce platforms, but there are many more out there. We simply can’t compare them all in a single article. At least understanding the comparisons here will help you evaluate other software. Now you know what to look for!
Once you’ve chosen your eCommerce software, you’re ready to continue creating your website. The exact process will vary a bit depending on which platform you’re using. But the next steps are the same no matter what.
A domain name is your website’s address or URL. It might seem like a simple thing, but your domain name is crucial. A great domain name is readable, brandable, and memorable. A bad one is unprofessional, forgettable, or easily confused with another site.
Some website providers give you a free subdomain, like yourbusiness.myshopify.com. However, it’s better to buy your own domain name instead. Having your own domain name adds to your website’s professionalism and increases trust. Customers are wary of online scam websites that rely on free subdomains. With your own domain name, you can establish that your site is “real.”
Let’s take a closer look at the traits of a great domain name.
Of course, with millions of websites already online, choosing a domain name can be hard. You might not be able to get your exact business name, as it could already be taken. Just keep the traits of a good domain name in mind and you’ll figure out something that works.
If your business is already on social media, see if your handle is available for a domain name. If you have the same username on every platform, and the same domain, customers will find your site easily.
Ready to register your domain name? Check if your eCommerce platform prefers a certain registrar. If you’re using 3dcart, they’ll handle the registration for you at no charge.
Now it’s time to start building your website. It’s exciting, but it can also be overwhelming. Fortunately, eCommerce providers have made it much easier.
When using an eCommerce platform for your website, you’ll have access to pre-made templates. You can install one on your site to immediately apply a complete design. Website design will affect your conversion rate.
Premium themes often have more features for your website. These can include “sticky” menus, navigation that stays on screen when the customer scrolls. They can also include built-in Google map functionality to show your location. Social media feeds are popular too. Theme features can be almost anything.
Free themes can also be fine for your store. Depending on your platform, it’s possible to find a free theme with a premium look.
Example from 3dcart’s theme store. Both free and premium are included.
Browse your platform’s theme store and find one with the layout and features you want. It’s all right if the colors don’t match your brand right out of the box. You can customize theme colors on almost every platform. All the software we’ve listed in this guide allows theme customization. You’ll also be able to add your store logo.
When evaluating themes, look for the following:
If you’d rather put off heavier design decisions, you can start with a free theme and upgrade later. You may also prefer to wait a bit to choose the theme. After you’ve set up more of your site, you can see how the theme affects more pages. You could wait until after you’ve added your products, or until the rest of the site is complete.
The procedure for adding products will vary based on your eCommerce platform. However, all eCommerce software is made for selling products. Since this is the main purpose of the software, it’s usually straightforward to add them.
All eCommerce software lets you add products one by one through an interface. Many also allow you to upload them in bulk with a CSV spreadsheet. You’ll be able to find the exact instructions for CSV uploads on your platform’s website.
When adding products, make sure you include:
Remember that the better your product pages are, the more likely a customer is to buy. It’s worth putting in the time to add useful information and images for each product.
Your website is more than just an online store. It’s also your presence on the internet. Customers will want information from your site whether or not they plan to buy online.
Some information is necessary for your site to function. Some is required by law in some areas. Other information can be optional but increases customer trust in your business.
Your eCommerce platform will have built-in tools to add the information you need. This includes both simple settings and detailed pages.
Online payments and shipping are a central part of eCommerce. Even if you only want customers to pick up their purchases in-store, you still need to set it up.
Choose payment providers based on your needs. You can probably get online credit card processing through your current provider. You may already know customers prefer certain alternate payments you accept in-store. Contactless payments like Apple Pay are very popular. You can add these to your website, too, so customers can pay the way they always have.
You’ll also need to add sales tax information. Most eCommerce platforms come with tax tools that let you define tax charges based on region. Make sure you’re up to date on how sales tax has changed for eCommerce retailers.
For shipping, add your shipping address if different from your business address. Choose how you want to ship out your orders. Many eCommerce platforms display real-time rates for your customers. The rates depend on the carrier you use.
If you want to provide delivery but keep your sales local, limit your shipping within your area. The tools for this are different depending on your platform. You can often enter an acceptable ZIP code range for delivery.
If you only want to allow in-store or curbside pickup, there are tools for this as well. Some eCommerce platforms have a dedicated module for in-store pickup. Others use different settings for this feature. Some software has both. For example, 3dcart includes an in-store pickup module on higher plans. It also lets you set it up in alternate ways within the base software.
Once everything is set up, it’s time to launch your website. Sometimes, it’s as easy as pressing a button. Other times it’s a little more complicated. Either way, before you go live, take some time to test your site.
Website testing involves going through each page and looking for problems. These can include broken links, typos, and other typical issues. If you’ve built the site yourself, get someone else to test it if possible. The more “fresh eyes” you can have on it, the better.
Some eCommerce providers will help test your site before you go live. They can even place test orders to ensure everything is working. Ask about this service when you sign up, and again when you’re preparing to launch.
When you’re sure everything is ready, launch your website. The exact process varies by platform but usually involves connecting your domain name. After purchasing a domain, it goes to a placeholder site that belongs to the registrar. When you’re ready to connect it to a site, you do this by editing some settings.
Sometimes you can contact your provider and tell them you’re ready to go live. 3dcart works like this, if you had them register your domain for you. You would call them and tell them to connect it, and they’d edit the relevant settings for you.
If you need to do it yourself, you’ll need some information from your web host. What you’re looking for are called nameservers. You can usually find these in the FAQ or on other knowledge base pages of a host. Since they’re needed so often, they’re almost always easy to find with a simple search.
When you have your nameservers, log into your domain registrar. Look for nameserver settings. Change the information in the fields to match the nameservers from your host.
It’s as simple as that. Just give your site a day or so to “propagate,” and then you’re officially live.
The benefits of building a website for your brick-and-mortar store are endless. All retailers have something to gain from increased visibility. Everyone from small businesses to wholesalers can benefit from an eCommerce website.
Sure, the process is time-consuming and can get technical. But by breaking it down into steps, it becomes much more manageable.
Building a website doesn’t have to be a vast, time-consuming project. It does depend on how many products you have, as bigger stores are naturally going to take longer. The software you’ve chosen also has an effect. Any job is going to be easier to do with the right tools.
But even a business with thousands of products can get online much faster than ever before. Businesses with smaller inventories can often go online in a week. There’s no reason to put it off.
So, start making your plans. The sooner you begin, the sooner the doors of the internet will open to you!