There are many things worth considering when setting up your ecommerce store. I’ve shared some of the key technical considerations which I hope can save you time and money in the long run for your new venture.
Please note: Some of the options in this list specifically apply to South Africa.
1. Choosing Your Development Partner
Perhaps you are running a smaller store and opt to choose one of the many out of the box solutions that allow you to setup your store yourself. But in the majority of cases you will want a customised store catering for your specific needs, and will be outsourcing development of your store to a web development company.
This is of course a critical decision as an eCommerce store can be a costly exercise, and you need a partner committed to helping you in the long-run. Here are some considerations when deciding on a development partner:
2. The E-Commerce Platform
The choice of platform or system for your e-commerce store is an important one, and should be based around your site’s needs and your budget available. Hosted solutions like Shopify, BigCartel, Magento Go, are very inexpensive to setup but perhaps don’t offer all the functionality, scaleability, and customisation that you need for a professional online store. Sure, if you are a small Mom and Pop shop selling custom necklaces they may be more than enough for your needs!
I’ve included a couple of the best open-source systems currently available: (in my opinion)
Other eCommerce Solutions:
3. Payment Gateway Options
Your customers order is passed from your online store to the payment gateway for payment processing, and once completed a message is sent back to your store with a message to authorise the payment, or to not deliver the good dues to a payment error.
The selection of your payment gateway is an important one, and should be evaluated on monthly and transactional costs, levels of support, and compatibility with your bank. (Although most South African banks are now supported) Some processors require a merchant account to be setup with your bank – which can be a nightmare depending on who you bank with!
Some gateways also have additional functionality such as automatic EFT payments, call-backs to ensure an order is passed successfully back to your store, and manual transaction options such as customer credit notes, and debit orders.
4. ERP System Integration
For large eCommerce stores it is often necessary to integrate with an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system that can manage stock, and handle invoicing and orders for a company. It can potentially create quite a bit of admin if you have 2 separate systems running independent of each other and can lead to problems such as customers ordering out of stock items, or being invoiced incorrect prices etc.
Quite often an ERP system will have a component that allows integration and synchronisation for the stock levels, orders, and invoices. This can be done with a software bridge (such as an XML file) that passes data through to the system, and also extracts data on the other side to keep both systems in sync. These updates are run with an automated software script that runs hourly, daily, or weekly to run the updates on a regular basis without any human involvement.
eCommerce shipping is usually done using a flat rate for stores operating in a limited area, per region, or based on the weight or number of items ordered. Flat rate shipping is generally easier to setup as it is a single value added to the shopping cart on checkout. Shipping per region can be setup for unlimited locations (such as cities or provinces) or could be setup for grouped regions such as major cities (Say New York, San Francisco or Boston) or minor cities.
Many stores also offer free shipping options usually based on the spend of the customers shopping cart, which can often encourage a customer to try and hit the free shipping threshold!
6. Search Engine Optimisation and Social Media
Once a store is live the online marketing phase begins. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “If you build it, they will come” – this ain’t necessarily true for eCommerce! With the sheer quantity and variety of stores on the web today, proper marketing of your store with social media, search engine optimisation, affiliate marketing, as well as offline marketing is absolutely essential.
A content marketing strategy is as important as properly optimised pages for the search engines. Pick a topic related to your product or industry, and setup a blog or article resource around it. Users come to your site for the content, and hopefully while they are there purchase some products! Pay per click advertising in my opinion is not a long term strategy but is useful for driving traffic to your site initially, or for once-off competitions or promotions.
Social media marketing is great for getting hold of users in a place they frequent on a daily basis. Try to post around 80% useful content, and 20% purely marketing material to keep your fans interested. On Facebook you may also want to consider setting up a shop app, that allows users to complete part of the purchasing on Facebook.
In summary there are a number of considerations before diving into developing an online store. Putting proper thought into these can greatly benefit you in the long run, and prevent a re-development of your store down the line. Scalability of your store is important so think about where you want to be in 2 years, rather than trying an interim solution that will have a limited lifespan.
For any further questions on eCommerce please contact us here.