Every year, surveys and studies suggest that an overwhelming majority of users check for solutions online before actually buying a product. An online presence for your store is no longer an option, but a business compulsion. Taking the first step is never easy. When you start your journey in ecommerce, it might seem like a daunting task, but like any work, breaking it down into simple steps can make it easier than you imagine. In fact, if you do good groundwork, your ecommerce store can be up in less than an hour!
Just like any business, there are certain protocols and processes you must follow to start and run an ecommerce store.
Find your purpose and objective
While the overall idea behind any business is to turn a profit, it helps if you have a well-defined purpose to drive your business. This is the fundamental idea that keeps you going and the seed for the basis of your entire initiative. Why do you want to run this particular business and what drives you to work towards it? Answering this question will help you keep your business goals aligned with a larger purpose.
Market mantra: City Greens is the largest privately owned urban research center in India for hydroponic urban farming. Watch this video to learn how a strong sense of purpose helped its founder, Gaurav Narang, build a successful business.
Define your business goals
Business goals help you outline your priorities when you set out to work. These can be general, giving you an idea about the overall direction in which you need to move, or specific, something adhering to a framework like SMART. Your goals should be:
The SMART framework will help you measure your success and keep it realistic. To learn more about how to work around these factors, check out this story by Forbes.
Let's get one thing clear: You cannot please everyone. There is definitely a specific segment of the population you are catering to. This segment needs your product more than the others. This will make up your target audience. You can define them by several demographic factors like location, age, gender, employment, and income. Additionally, you can include more factors like purchase intention, subculture, and interests. Segmenting them will help you sharpen your focus with respect to the product offering and marketing campaigns.
Market mantra: E-Powersport was started by John Reagan as an online store selling e-bikes, e-scooters, and e-motorcycles, with the idea to provide people with efficient, reliable electric transportation. Reagan talks about finding the target audience for his business by narrowing it down to a speicific demographic.
Set aside your budget
Most big businesses you see today have had humble beginnings. So, if you only have a shoestring budget to start with, an online business might be the right way to go. However, you need to have a clear understanding of your finances and how much you are willing to invest. It might take a while for you to see revenue flowing in so you need sound cash flow to keep going until then.
Plan your ecommerce website
A good plan is the foundation of any business. This is the stage where you get a few fundamentals in place so you know you have a framework established. Having clarity at the planning stage also helps you decide which direction you want to take your business—online, offline, or hybrid. This is the stage where you need to gather your materials and know what you are setting out to do.
Plan your product mix
To start with, you need a good product mix strategy. If you already have a retail store and want to start selling online to expand your business, then this is an easy step. However, if you are new to commerce altogether, the first step is to choose the products you want to sell. Have a clear picture of the total number of product lines and individual products you want to offer via your business. Of course, this list can change as your business grows, but you need a starting point. To make things easy, you can start simple and scale up as the demand for your product grows.
Carving a niche for yourself and defining products according to that niche will help establish a brand for your business.
Register your business
Each country has their own registration process. Do the necessary research and register your store to get all the tax benefits that come along with it.
Domain name and hosting service
You need a domain name for your store; it's better if you can easily get it right from your ecommerce platform. That makes the store management easy, too. Check to see if the platform comes with easy and reliable hosting services with ample scope for business expansion in the future. If you opt for an open source platform, like WooCommerce and Magento, you will have more control over the website, but you also will be taking care of its security, web hosting, analytics, and other integrations.
Another option you have is to go for a SaaS-based ecommerce solution, where you rent a platform and outsource the maintenance, security, and hosting to the service provider. You also can pace up your go-to-market time with such a solution.
You can purchase a domain through Zoho Commerce or through any domain hosting service like Blue Host, GoDaddy, or HostGator.
Select your ecommerce platform
As an online business, you should weigh this factor heavily since a good platform can make your work easier. In fact, choosing a good ecommerce platform can take several everyday operational worries such as maintenance, design, security, inventory management, etc off your plate. A good user experience on your website will also help customer growth. Here are some factors you should keep in mind while selecting an ecommerce platform for your business.
High up time
Your website is an online store that remains open 24/7. For this to be feasible, your website needs to have a high up time (availability), which is indicative of the time when its servers remain operational. You cannot afford to miss out on customers who visit your online store only to find it down and leave.
As your business picks up, you'll want to have more solutions at hand that will make work more efficient. For example, it can help to have tools that automate several day-to-day operational aspects of your business. It's even better if these solutions related to customer engagement, inventory management, accounting, analytics, and promotion are integrated seamlessly in the back-end, as can be done with Zoho.
A good dashboard should give you a complete snapshot of the KPIs and other metrics about your business on a real-time basis. You will be able to get an idea about revenue, transactions, number of users, and more at any given point of time. You will also get an idea about peaks and troughs in your business cycle and manage your stocks accordingly.
Mobile optimized site
Ecommerce growth worldwide has been made possible because of high mobile penetration and internet usage. Since people are placing orders on the go, your store should be easy to use from any device, not just a desktop. Choose a site builder that gives your website a responsive design so it can adapt easily to a variety of devices. Responsive design not only ensures seamless customer experiences across devices, but also enables easy link sharing on social media.
Learn more about why it is important to ace the mobile commerce game.
Market mantra: Vivapura Superfoods, which began as a local business in the farmers' market community in Arizona, has now emerged into a boutique superfood company in Tucson, AZ. Jason Uccetta, art director of Vivapura Superfoods, talks about the importance of mobile traffic for an ecommerce site and how a responsive website made all the difference for Vivapura's customers.
Sales channels integrations
Being in the right place is vital for a business to reach its target audience. Today's online retailers like to be present on multiple channels to gain visibility for their online store. It helps if your ecommerce website enables sales channels integrations, which will help you promote your products across platforms.
Market mantra: Automation Werks is a family-run business based out of Illinois, USA. They are into distribution and integration of automation components for industries. Its founder, Jeff Rietschel, talks about how inegration of his online store with Google Shopping gave them a lot more visibility and business.
Design your website
Have you noticed how retailers go to great lengths to display their products in the store so you can easily navigate through the space and get what you want? They also highlight new arrivals and products that are on sale with banners and special displays. On a website, you need to do something similar with a design that fits with your brand image and also leads people towards the actions you want them to take with ease. A well-designed website also plays an important role in instilling trust in a buyer.
Most ecommerce platforms today come with a predesigned template that makes designing the site relatively easy.
Themes and templates
A good website builder should provide an array of free templates to use from a cross section of business categories, from clothing, food, health, and more. They should also, ideally, come with a live demo option like you see in the example below.
You can check out the wide range of responsive designs and templates on the ecommerce site builder for Zoho Commerce.
Good pictures are no longer optional for a website. Product shots from multiple angles are essential for buyers to get a fair idea about what they are buying. It is advisable to spend some time getting your product portfolio shots in place and to hire an expert if necessary. Today, you can also produce decent pictures for your website at home. Ecommerce platforms, like Zoho Commerce, give you access to some generic, free images you can use while designing your website, too.
First impressions are real and a good homepage helps you create a good first impression on your customers. Having a clean homepage with easy navigation gives a good snapshot of your business to the visitor. Check out this article to get a better idea about the elements that go a long way in creating a wonderful homepage.
While ecommerce definitely is the way of the future, it comes with its own share of security threats. Data security and privacy are important for users and a good online platform should make it easy for you to comply with high security standards. Ensure that the platform you choose comes with SSL certification (Secure Socket Layer certification), a digital file that contains essential data designed to establish trust between browsers and web servers. It assures your customers that their information will remain safe with you and will not fall into the wrong hands. Platforms like Zoho Commerce ensure all requisite security measures are in place for your online store.
Market mantra: KuKClean is a Bangalore-based vegan business store. Its co-founder, Aakar Misra, talks about the importance of security in an ecommerce platform.
The store is only the front-end of your business. Several vital integrations in the backend add operational efficiency to your online store. From payments and shipping, to inventory management and marketing, you will need several tools to manage your store as your business scales up. Many ecommerce store builders promise you integrations, but end up charging you extra for every plugin and integration you add to your store.
Pro tip: Since Zoho comes with a complete suite of business solutions, the online store you set up with Zoho Commerce is seamlessly integrated with other Zoho solutions in the backend. Check out the integrations you get with Zoho Commerce.
Market mantra: Caple Industrial Solutions is a machine tool business based out of India. Here is how seamless integrations in the backend with inventory management and accounting solutions made work easy for Caple.
Depending on your product mix, you will have a specific number of products to list on your ecommerce store. Here are a few factors you need to keep in mind when listing products:
Product description: A good product description not only helps your customers get to know your product better, but descriptions written with the selection of the right keywords also help SEO for your ecommerce website. Search engines will position your website favorably over a period of time with proper SEO.
Pricing: People like to compare prices while shopping. Ensure your prices are prominently displayed so buyers don't have to spend a lot of time searching for them. If you are offering a special discount, or if your store has a sale going on, ensure you mention those details prominently.
Categorization: Spend time separating your products into categories and subcategories. Categorizing products is important in an ecommerce store because it makes shopping easy for customers who can filter your products according to shape, size, color, and more.
Market mantra: Pets Oasis is a petcare brand based out of the UAE. Listen to its owner, Dr Elizabeth Thomas, talk about setting up her online store and categorizing her products.
Product images: We have already covered this aspect under design but it helps to have several images of the same product taken from different angles as well as an image that gives a fair idea of aspect ratio. These days, product videos are also common on ecommerce websites since people sometimes understand a product better with a video.
Ensure your page reflects inventory in real time. Your page cannot offer a product on sale if the store is out of stock. It helps to have a good inventory system in the backend which will ensure your store, inventory, and books of accounts are updated automatically.
Set up a payment gateway
This is a decisive link in the buying experience of a shopper. A payment gateway is a third-party interface between your online store and the customer. Often, people abandon a transaction when they face a payment-related glitch repeatedly on a website. Customers today also look for multiple payment options from net banking and cards, to digital wallets and even cash. The ecommerce platform you choose should provide options to set up a payment gateway integrated with your online store.
Set up shipping partners
Efficient and fast delivery is an essential component of an ecommerce business. On-time delivery is a way to encourage repeat purchases on your website. Simultaneously, the products have to be delivered safely without any damage. A shipping partner can make or break your business. This has to be an automated process, whereby the logistics work around the clock without any manual intervention from your side. Choose ecommerce platforms where shipping integrations are provided through the backend to make this process seamless.
Test and launch
Before you launch your website, it's important to take a final glance at the complete design. There are some basic checks you can carry out related to the content, the integrations, links, responsiveness, and other aspects. Enlist the help of a wider team to check if all the proper features are fully functional. Report any bugs that come up to the ecommerce platform and work with them to fix the pending issues.
Market the store
Once you set your business in motion, start marketing your store through the right channels. Draw up a digital marketing plan for your store. Find automation tools that can make your work simpler. Zoho Commerce provides marketing automation in the backend with other Zoho products like Campaigns, Sales IQ, Survey, and Google Shopping. While you can run paid campaigns on social media, in the long run, you need to enable organic growth for your ecommerce store. The following marketing techniques can help bring more people to your online store:
Build an engaging social presence.
Promote the business at local events.
Write engaging blogs.
Run social campaigns.
Engage your audience in forums and social media groups.
When you start, you might end up being a jack of all trades. You will be involved in all the activities of your business. Your initial customers might even be personally known to you. But as the business grows, you will have to find ways to manage your business efficiently. Choose ecommerce platforms that provide solutions that offer meaningful engagement with your existing customers and also efficiently reach out to new customers.
Analyze and improve your site
Once you start selling online, you will get plenty of feedback on ways to improve your website. Go through all those suggestions and see which are feasible. Constantly work with your ecommerce platform provider to improve the website and get custom-built features wherever needed. This regular fine-tuning will be a long-term process and will ensure your website is up to date and in line with the best on the market.
If you are an offline brand going online, go through this blog, which can help you take the right steps to start an ecommerce store for your business.
Looking to take your business online? Build your ecommerce store in just a few days using Zoho Commerce. Sign up now and get a free trial to see if it’s the right fit for you.