5 best practices for starting an eCommerce business
If you’re considering starting a new eCommerce business, or expanding your existing brick and mortar business online, you’re going to have a lot of big decisions to make. How you set things up now will have a major impact on the success of your business down the road. So it’s important to understand the likely outcomes of every decision you make along the way.
Regardless of what you sell or how you sell it, there are several key elements of an eCommerce business that deserve extra attention and consideration. Let’s dive in and take a look at five pressing aspects of your eCommerce business that should be a priority.
1. Invest in your website
Your website is your storefront on the web. And like a brick and mortar operation, a customer’s first impression of your store can determine whether or not they even enter.
A cluttered, outdated, slow, or confusing website will instantly have visitors clicking the back button to look for better options. So spend the time and resources it takes to get it right and ensure you put your best foot forward when visitors find your site.
A good website is a combination of pleasing aesthetics and technology optimizations. Meaning, it should be visually appealing, easy to read, and simple to navigate. If you don’t know much about what makes websites user friendly and attractive, it’s important to work with someone who does. Whether you’re choosing from preconfigured design templates, fonts, and functions in a hosted eCommerce solution or building a site from scratch with an open-source platform, it’s a good idea to get help.
- Visually pleasing, uncluttered design layout
- Complimentary colors and readable fonts
- Intuitive navigation structure
- Responsive design for mobile browsing
- Site search features for easy access to products, policies, and more
- Contact information with clear terms and conditions
- Customer product/service reviews
You can learn more about eCommerce platforms and websites here.
2. Optimize your shopping cart
The next most important aspect of your eCommerce business is your shopping cart. It has the most potential to leave a lasting impression on your customers and determine their likelihood of becoming a loyal customer. You can have the most beautiful, easy-to-use website on the internet, but if the customer has a bad experience during checkout, your website won’t matter. You might lose the sale and the repeat business that customer might have offered if they had a pleasant checkout experience.
Shopping carts have several potential customer experience pitfalls that are important to avoid. And several of the principles you want to apply to your website are applicable here as well, including a clean look, easy-to-read fonts, intuitive functionality, and mobile device compatibility.
Shopping cart tips
- Design your cart to match the look and feel of your website
- Limit the number of required form fields and autopopulate where possible
- Avoid rigid formatting rules for entering data (ie. dashes vs. slashes)
- Limit the number of steps in the checkout process
- Offer a guest checkout option to speed up the checkout process
- Offer incentives for creating a customer account
- Provide a status bar, cookie crumb, or other indicator of progress to completion
You can learn more about shopping cart best practices here.
3. Accept alternative payments
Customers are more likely to complete a purchase when they are able to choose their preferred payment form. Restricting payment options to certain debit and credit cards is not ideal for all customers and can cause you to lose sales.
In 2014, a Javelin Strategy & Research study about payment methods used in eCommerce channels revealed that over 80 percent of online shoppers had used some form of payment other than a credit or debit card for an online purchase in the past 12 months. And alternative payments have become even more popular in the years since.
When it comes to ways to pay, the more the merrier. International customers in particular are less likely to complete purchases without alternative payment choices. If you intend to sell across borders, it’s crucial to offer a popular international payment method like Alibaba. In general, it’s a good idea to give your customers as many choices for payments as you can.
Alternative payment options
- Mobile/digital wallets like Apple Pay and Android Pay
- Amazon Payments
- Rewards cards
You can learn more about alternative payments for eCommerce here.
4. Maintain PCI compliance
In order to avoid the hefty fines and loss of customer trust that come with a data breach, it’s important to treat PCI compliance as a priority. PCI compliance is something every business that handles credit cards must adhere to, as laid out by the card brands. Compliance is an ongoing activity that requires constant vigilance.
The way that your eCommerce business is set up with regards to technology and the steps you take during the normal course of business will all impact your ability to maintain PCI compliance. It’s a good idea to become familiar with the requirements up front and to identify a partner who can help you with your compliance efforts.
Luckily, there are programs and services available in the industry that focus specifically on compliance efforts to help you meet the quarterly assessments that may be required for compliance.
Potential partners offering PCI compliance assistance
- Payment processors
- Payment gateway providers
- Technology vendors
- Payment security specialists
You can learn more about PCI compliance for eCommerce operations here.
5. Implement customer-friendly shipping policies
Shipping is a notorious problem in the eCommerce channel. Big box retailers that can afford to offset the costs of shipping with membership programs and vendor agreements have set a strong expectation among consumers for affordable—if not free shipping—on retail orders.
A higher than expected shipping cost is the number one reason for shopping cart abandonment, as revealed in a 2017 Vantiv and Socratic Technologies eCommerce study. In fact, 74 percent of respondents cited shipping costs as the most likely reason they’ll leave during the checkout process without making a purchase.
Though smaller retailers may not have the volume to offer free shipping on every sale, there are ways to limit the cost of shipping for your business to help pass on the savings to your customers.
Shipping strategies to help lower cost
- Choose the smallest, most affordable packaging that offers satisfactory durability
- Join a retail association that offers discounts on packaging materials and shipping costs
- Determine the average cost for shipping under a certain price/size threshold and make that figure your flat rate cost
- Offer free shipping for purchases over a set dollar amount
- Offer an annual membership with a fee that covers free shipping for the year
- Offer free shipping for repeat customers within a set timeframe
You can learn more about shipping strategies for eCommerce here.
Now that you know more about the key areas of consideration for eCommerce businesses, you can apply that knowledge as you develop your site and choose your technology partners. For even more tips and a deeper dive into all things eCommerce, download our Everything eCommerce Cookbook. It’s free and packed with insightful tips about building the best eCommerce business possible.