If you have an existing offline business, then you already have a huge advantage in that you have working processes that are bringing you revenue. You could own a hair salon and have customers coming in just to buy that haircare product they cannot find anywhere else or a retail store filled with products and are looking for ways to add new revenue streams to your business. If this sounds like you, then eCommerce could be the answer.
Let’s face it; everyone is online these days, we virtually live on our smartphones and tablets. Whether you decide to embrace digital marketing to get more customers to your bricks and mortar business or you want to transact online, the goal is the same, more customers into your business.
For anyone looking to get started in eCommerce, there are six pillars to my ultimate eCommerce domination plan, these are: People, Product, Platform, Place, Promotion and Process. When all six of these pillars are strong, you will dominate your niche and your business will grow and scale.
Business owners looking to utilise eComm to add an extra string to their bow have the product covered; they have their hair care supplies on a shelf in their salon or retail stock on the shelves and relationships with distributors and manufacturers to ensure a continuous supply. If this is not you, and you do not have the products to sell, don’t worry, there are options we can explore, and I will address this in another post. One of the first logical steps is to consider the platform we will use to sell online.
Which eCommerce Platform is Right For My Business?
When it comes to deciding which platform is right for your eComm business, there are many factors at play; an often quite overlooked one when starting out is scalability. It is so easy to pick a platform, and we could sit down together right now with any one of a great many eComm platforms and have you set up and selling online in a very short space of time.
However, once you have invested into a platform, it can be quite a job to migrate all of your customer and product data away, so it is worth spending some time at the planning stage to ensure the platform you choose is right for your business.
Now you might be thinking you could just tack an eComm plugin onto your current WordPress website and call it a day, right? Well, this might work if you only have a small number of products and don’t anticipate processing thousands of orders each week at any stage in the future.
You may not be thinking that far ahead but believe me, I have bootstrapped an eComm business from nothing to £4m turnover a year and it is not long before shared hosting just doesn’t cut the mustard. It can be a false economy because the slow page loading speeds and limited bandwidth can hold your business back.
The answer? Even if you only anticipate a handful of orders each week, make sure you are on the best hosting plan you can afford, then opt for the platform that can grow with your business.
Broadly speaking there are three main recommended ways to sell online:
1. Put a shopping cart onto your existing website
- Least expensive option (free).
- Leverage what you already have (website, hosting).
- Start selling quickly.
- Woocommerce has a great interface and feature set.
- Shared hosting has limitations both regarding bandwidth and dedicated SSL (Secure Socket Layer – the padlock for your checkout pages to keep customer info safe), so if you are on a shared plan, consider an early upgrade to negate this issue.
- Additional fees for proper payment integration (to prevent customer info being passed between servers) for example, SagePay Direct requires additional investment. Having a link to Paypal or Stripe is fine for a few orders, but when you are doing hundreds each day this kind of back and forth with customer data inevitably leads to some orders disappearing into the ether and causing no end of headaches, you can also reduce transaction fees by having an internet merchant account. When you start paying to play, believe me, you will kick yourself that you never invested in a dedicated eComm platform in the first place and saved yourself a headache (in my humble opinion).
2. Opt for software designed specifically for eCommerce
- Fast to set up.
- Inexpensive (for smaller stores).
- Impressive feature set.
- Designed specifically for eCommerce.
- Homogenous (can look a bit samey).
- Customisation and add-ons for multi-channel integration (eBay, Amazon) and bulk order processing and inventory management can get expensive.
- Monthly fees are expensive for larger stores.
3. Opt for a dedicated, custom eComm setup
You can go the whole hog and build your eCommerce platform around Magento on dedicated hosting and compete with the big boys.
- Bespoke functionality and set up exactly to your requirements.
- Craft a customer journey to maximise conversions and profits.
- Order processing can be tailored to your specific requirements.
- Infinitely scalable.
- Very expensive.
- You cannot bootstrap this unless you are a coder, you will need support from professionals.
- PCI Compliance can be a headache.
If you are just starting out here, then it is unlikely that you will jump straight into option three until this whole eComm stuff starts paying the bills and justifies itself, so I would strongly suggest you evaluate each of the platforms and decide which is going to serve your business better. There are options that lie somewhere in the middle too, such as Prestashop and OpenCart that also offer robust options, providing you are willing to invest in hosting, SSL and some customisation.
What I found from experience, having used all of these options is you think ‘this will do’ then you quickly think ‘oh no’ when you have to migrate because the platform limits you and loses you sales.
Remember to play the long game; my Mother-in-Law used to say “if you buy cheap, you buy twice” that is true. Get the best you can afford, and it will pay dividends in the long run.