eCommerce guide – part 2: Planning
This is part two of our free guide to starting an eCommerce business. Now you’ve done your market research, it’s time to decide how you’ll approach and run your new business. (Guide homepage and part 1)
- Only part of the cost of your site is the initial build so bear in mind you will need a budget for ongoing marketing and maintenance of your ecommerce site.
- Based on sales volumes discovered in your market research, how much can you afford to spend on the shop as an up front or monthly cost?
- What is your break even point each week or month after expenses, salaries etc?
- How many products on average will you need to sell to achieve this?
- Decide in advance how things are going to work and how everything fits together
- Run a few test orders through your ecommerce site with a very low value product to see how it works from start to finish
- Tie your ecommerce site into your back office software such as Sage accounts (if you have it and it’s possible to connect them). Even a basic spreadsheet upload/download will save you hours of boring duplication of product and customer information. Cloud services exist that can connect your site to your accounting software for a monthly fee.
- Know the legal points that apply to your business – for example do you understand the Distance Selling regulations and the Sale of Goods act?
- Are there any laws specific to your product range?
- Make sure your terms and conditions are clear, relevant and are actually agreed to when a customer makes a purchase. A copied and pasted set from a different country that you don’t really understand is not going to protect you. Investing in a bespoke set of Ts & Cs is money well spent.
- Where are you selling your products to? Do you need to be aware of VAT MOSS?
Legal entity/business address
- Who is the owner of the shop?
- Are you a sole trader, limited company or partnership?
- What is the business address? This needs to be shown on every page of your shop.
- Have you got a memorable, short name?
- Have you got a professional looking logo and colour scheme?
- Have you got stationery documents that use your name and logo?
- What domain name(s) will you use?
- Will they be the name of your company or contain product related keywords instead?
- Who will provide your website hosting?
- Will your chosen shop system work on their hosting?
- What support do they offer?
- Are you relying on what it says on their website or can you verify it – for example has a friend got an account with that company?
- What sort of software will you use for your shop?
- Will it be a bolt-on to a normal website taking payments through PayPal, or a complete system with order management, customer logins and payment processing that puts money straight into your bank account?
- Who is going to do the graphic design for your shop?
- Who will you turn to if you need technical help?
- Are you going to take regular backups of your database and shop files? Your web host’s backups are not sufficient, so make sure your database and files are backed up by you, are well organised and available at all times. If a disaster strikes, you don’t want to lose your orders and product database after spending days entering it all.
- What happens when you need to add new features or upgrade your shop software?
- Email enquiries will be sent to which address(es)?
- Do you have separate departments or one overall email address?
- Emails need to be answered same day, or at least acknowledged if an answer needs to be obtained from somewhere else.
- What telephone number(s) will be used for sales enquiries?
- Who will answer sales queries?
- Have you looked at setting up freephone or local rate numbers?
- Will someone be available to answer calls? If not, have facilities to take a message and return their call ASAP.
- If you are planning on having a “day job” as well as your eCommerce site, think about how this will affect your web business.
Search engine research and optimisation
- Who is going to do your keyword research, and using what tools?
- Who is going to optimise your website text and code to use these keywords?
- What analytics data will you be using?
- Who will monitor and optimise the site on an ongoing basis?
- Are you going to monitor conversion rates?
- How will you promote your ecommerce website?
- Good search engine results rely on lots of quality incoming links to your site. Have you got ideas of how to get these links?
- Will you be running a pay per click (PPC) campaign such as Google Adwords?
- Who will run this?
- Are they experienced enough to ensure you are not wasting your money?
- What is your PPC budget per month?
- Who is going to enter your product text and images initially? This can be a very time consuming process!
- Who is going to maintain your product text and images?
- Will the content come from suppliers or will you have to take photos and write the descriptions yourself?
- How often will you update the pricing on your site? Will this be automated?
- Will stock be held by you or will items be sent directly from the supplier?
- If stock is sent to you first before you send it the customer, are you going to charge the customer for that delivery cost or absorb it?
- How will you take payments over the internet?
- What fees will you be charged for this by your payment service provider?
- Who will check daily for orders and process them?
- Who will communicate with customers
- Who will despatch the goods or order from supplier?
- How fast will orders be delivered?
- Can you guarantee delivery times from manufacturers?
- What postage rates will you use?
- You may have to go to the Post Office daily or get a courier company to come to you so allow time for this.
- What is the returns process for customers?
- Who will deal with that and where do the goods go on return – can you send them back to the supplier or will you have to resell them?
- Is a refund or credit note given to the customer?
- Are there any restocking fees for your customers, or for you if you send them back to the supplier?
- Are there any bespoke products that you sell that cannot be returned? Are you clear about that when a customer orders them?
Why are we asking so many questions?
The answers to many of these questions will affect what you need to ask your web designer to include when they quote for your website. Unless you specifically ask for services, they are unlikely to be included for free.
If you ask a web company to build your website but don’t pay for product entry, search engine optimization or post launch marketing then you will need to make alternative arrangements. This is a common cause of misunderstanding between clients and web companies and can leave you with a great site but no traffic or sales once it is launched!
Once all these things have been considered and you have a viable plan, you can make a start on the ecommerce website itself.