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Starting an Ecommerce Website

Things to Decide

  • What type of & how items many are you selling?
  • Who are you selling it to?
  • Which shopping cart functionality do you need to offer?
  • How should you take payments?
  • How & where will you deliver items?
  • What website fuctionality will be required?
  • Where should you host your website?


What are you going to sell?
The first thing you need to decide is what kind of items are you selling.
Do you plan to sell physical goods, or electronic downloadable products, or both?

The type of ecommerce website that you will need, if you are selling just a few basic items, may be very different to your requirements for an online clothing website. If you wish to sell software or e-learning courses or other downloadable items then your requirements are going to be very different again.

The first thing to do is use Google. From this moment on Google is going to be your best freind, your business advisor, and your road to business success. So get a notepad and a pen, and start searching. Make a note of what you like about your competitors websites. Also make a note of what you really dont like, what irritates you, how you think it could be improved. Take note of the way they present items, the descriptions they use for them, the size & quality of the images they use etc. All this is invaluable information that you will use to your advantage on your own website.

Now you have a feeling for what is out there, you need to start thinking about what you wish to offer on your website. Do you want to offer 3 products, 300 products, or 3 thousand products. Do you need to offer multiple versions of products such as different colours or sizes, or will a more simple system be possible? Remember you can always start slowly and build up, providing you choose a system that can be expanded or built on at a later date.

If you do plan to sell downloadable products, make sure that the system that you use is secure. Far too many websites selling electronically downloadable items have this major flaw. If you know what you are doing you can bypass the payment system altogether and jump straight to the download page. Im not going to reveal exactly how to do it here, but if you do a search in Google it will list all the pages that it has indexed for that website. This will tell you a lot about how the system is built, and if it has security loopholes or not.

It is important that a visitor can not view a download page without having paid to download the item first. If the download page can be viewed, it should check to see if the user is logged in to the system, and redirect them away if they are not. If they pass that test, it should next check to see if they have actually paid for that specific item. If they have, no problem they will be allowed to download it, if not they should be told that they haven't bought the item and be directed away to first buy it. This is the system that is employed for electronic download websites by

Next you need to think about how many products you want to sell, and are you likely to expand your product range in the future? This is an important consideration, many shopping cart systems are limited in the number of products or categories that they support. If the answer is that you just need to offer 3 products or less and you will never need to update the descriptions or prices for those products, maybe you could use something like the free Paypal cart system that can be hard coded in to your website.

It is free, which is always good, but it does take people away from your website to a cart on Paypal's own website which looks rather ugly and basic. If that doesnt matter to you then this is a very cheap option, and possibly even one you can manage yourself.

If on the other hand you have 500 or more items that you want to sell, and the cart that you were going to use is limited in the number of items it supports, it would be wise to have a rethink. The chances are that even if your products can just about all fit in the system, it is going to perform poorly when you have a large number of items on the website, and it is also likely that you will reach a point where your product range has expanded and your website can no longer handle all the products. Then you will face the mammoth task of migrating everything to a new ecommerce system. This will mean possible down time for your website, and a real headache. Far better to select a system that is unlimited in the first place, as it will expand with you.


Who are you going to sell it to?

The second thing you need to consider is who your target market are. Firstly, are you selling to trade or to the public, or both? If the answer is that it is going to be a website to sell products or services to the public then, the next question is are your target market male or female or both, the ways of advertising and the design of the website can differ greatly when designed to appeal to the male or female markets.

If you wish to sell to the trade, how are you going to ensure that your customers are trade customers, and are you going to display your prices for all to see? Are you going to require that your customers create and log in to an account on the website before they can view your prices? Are you going to require an approval system for new accounts, so that you can check out the customers before you allow them to place an order?

If you wish to sell both to trade and public, are you going to have separate sites for each, or are you going to have a bespoke system built that will allow you to specify public and wholesale prices, and display the appropriate price depending on which kind of customer in logged in? Are you going to offer a percentage based reduction for trade, or do you want to control the exact prices for each product? All these things are possible, but it is best to think about how you would like it to work before you start.

Where will your customers be from? Are you targeting customers in the United Kingdom, or even from a more specific area in the UK such as London, or Manchester, or Glasgow? Or do you perhaps intend to sell to specific countries in Europe, Asia, or to America also? If so will you need to offer multiple currencies or are you happy for your Payment gateway (such as Paypal, WorldPay, Multicards etc...) to automatically convert it for them when they checkout?


What functionality or features will you need?
The third thing you need to think about is what you will need the website to do, and what you dont need. The reason for this is that far too many people go for a basic ecommerce system or have a shopping cart system added to their website, only to discover that they had assumed it would have some feature built in and it doesnt.

Do you require on site search engine optimisation to be built in or not? If you would like it to be built in do you want to also be able to control the optimisation settings for each category and even each individual product if you wish to?

Do you require an image zoom system to allow customers to look at your products in detail, or will a static image suffice for your market? Even if all the others just use a flat static image, would having a nice image zoom system give you the edge and make you more popular than your competitors?

Do you need to think about marketing? Email marketing can be a very expensive business, should you perhaps have an email marketing system built in to your website to save you paying for the service elsewhere? If so how are you going to capture the email addresses of your clients? It is a legal requirement that you give people the choice, you cant just grab their email address and contact them on it without their permission. An opt in system is good, and you can also sign people up at the point of purchase, or even at the point of account creation if you have the option to opt out if they wish to.

What about product search, what features will you need here? Depending on the type and variety of products that you are offering, there may need to be a refinement option. Allowing customers to tick to show only the green products or the large and not the small or medium products, then you may wish to allow them to refine their search even further with a price slider. Selecting to view products between 2 price points. All these sort of little touches can make your website stand out from the competition.

Other popular features to consider are should you include a Live Chat system, to help customers and generate more sales? What about having a Send to Friend email system? we have found that people often use this to email a link back to themselves, so that they can find your website again when they get to the office or when they get home, this feature can also help to drive up sales.

If possible you will want to ensure the ecommerce website allows you to add Unlimited Categories, Unlimited Sub categories, and Unlimited Products. This will allow you to expand the business and add these extra areas and products yourself whenever you need to through your backend admin area, without having to email a web developer and ask them to do it for you.

A related products system will also help you to upsell items, and a product review system for feedback from your customers will also make the website more dynamic and provide the valuable data that Google is looking for when it evaluates if a website is useful to people or not. Another feature to consider is a product filtering system to allow customers to narrow down their search easily. Price sliders to make the website interactive and easy to use. Will you need to offer Voucher Discount Codes?
An image zoom system to allow your products to sell themselves. Another useful feature is a Mini Cart - with cart total, and quick link to check out, How are you going to manage your stock levels, having a built in stock control management system will prevent you from selling items you dont have, and will also allow you to easily keep an eye on your stock levels.

Next thing to consider is Processing Payments - Click to read on.