As online shopping steadily takes over the global retail market, nearly 15% of sales take place online. That number is steadily increasing, and if you want your small business to be a part of this coming wave, it’s absolutely crucial that you have a well-developed ecommerce website.
A well-developed ecommerce website doesn’t just look visually enticing. If executed properly, it will translate into real sales and profits for your small business by streamlining the order process for customers and building brand equity that can carry your business forward.
What does ecommerce website development involve?
A successful ecommerce website development process involves a number of steps varying in scope, from articulating your company’s identity in a digital context, to building the site itself.
- Establish your brand. Brand establishment in an ecommerce context involves making a number of determinations. First, is your online business a business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C) operation? You’ll want to determine your target audience and tailor your ecommerce project to meet their needs and tastes, from the style of photography to the level of detail in product descriptions. Finally, you’ll want to come up with a snappy business name—something memorable and unique that effectively translates your brand’s objectives.
- Purchase a domain name. You may also want to consider domain name availability when choosing your ecommerce business’s name. Buying a domain is an easy process, but in-demand domains can sometimes go fast—if the domain you want is available, try to get it while you can (you can opt for a short-term contract of a year or two, in case you’re not fully committed). An easy-to-remember and eye-catching URL can drive traffic to your ecommerce site, and increase brand awareness, so you may want to check to see what URLs are available before settling on a company name.
- Choose a hosting platform. Once you purchase your domain, you can get your website up and running by choosing a website host (preferably one with an ecommerce platform) to host your site as well. Some hosting services are barebones—you have to design and build the website yourself—and others offer pre-built website designs optimized for both desktop and mobile viewing.
- Design your site. Beyond a memorable logo and eye-catching color palette, your website design should effectively communicate your business’s goals. Pay special attention to designing a navigable online store, with easy search and filtering options, as this is your ecommerce site’s core functionality. A disorganized website design or a frustrating checkout experience can result in lost sales and a decline in brand reputation.
- Build and launch your website. You may wish to save on web development costs and use a platform like Shopify to build your own website in a prefab method—dropping pre-coded content blocks and image placeholders into a site-building interface. If you have a little more cash to spare, you can still utilize a hosting platform like Shopify, build your website with a developer separately, then migrate the site over.
- Determine how orders will be fulfilled. Which ecommerce fulfillment strategy will you opt for? In-house fulfillment, dropshipping (ordering items direct from suppliers on customers’ behalf), or third-party logistics (fully outsourced fulfillment processing)? These will inform your capacity for orders, and consequently, how you design your site. If you’re relying on a third-party logistics service, for example, and they have a standard delivery time window, you’ll want to be sure your ad copy adequately informs customers of when they can expect to receive their shipment.
- Maintain your site. Your ecommerce website will need to be regularly updated to reflect changes in your stock and product line and any promotions you’re running. You may find that your website’s design doesn’t have the functionality you or your customers need, or that aspects need to change based on customer feedback. Unlike brick-and-mortar shops, ecommerce sites can be changed with a click of a button.
Qualities of successful ecommerce sites
There are several key elements any successful ecommerce website should contain—from the back-end coding and security to its clickable features and checkout flow.
A successful ecommerce website will have an excellent user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design. Basic requirements of good UI/UX in an ecommerce context include filters that allow customers to identify their desired product or range of products efficiently, a search bar, clean design, and legible copy.
Good online security
The security of your ecommerce store and any data it processes and/or stores is paramount. You are handling customers’ sensitive financial information, including credit card numbers and mailing addresses. Best practices for ecommerce customer security include adequately password protecting your site and all other sensitive accounts (don’t use easy-to-guess passwords); employing “transport layer security” (TLS), “secure sockets layers” (SSL), and HTTPS authentication—programs that authenticate and encrypt links between customer computers and your site. You can also ensure all company devices are outfitted with antivirus and anti-malware software.
Great mobile experience
Internet users are spending more and more time on their phones. It follows that online shoppers are spending larger shares of their browsing time on mobile devices too. Forbes estimated that mobile sales accounted for up to 73% of online sales in 2021. Implementing responsive design is a great way to optimize your site’s mobile experience — automatically reformatting your desktop site for a mobile screen. Most do-it-yourself web design services, like Squarespace and Wix, offer responsive design by default; and any web designer you hire in 2022 should have the up-to-date skills to provide this design functionality at your request.
Search engine optimization (SEO) enhances your products’ visibility, and ultimately sales (known as conversion rate), by causing your site to rank higher in search engines. You can utilize different content strategies and techniques to achieve this, such as adding certain keywords to your site’s copy or product descriptions to get your site ranked higher than your competitors in search results related to your products.
Smooth checkout flow
A frustrating checkout experience can result in lost sales. If customers are forced to endure long, complicated sign-up processes before purchasing their items, they may give up on the purchase entirely. Consider adding a guest checkout feature, which allows customers to make purchases with minimal input on their end (and less data). For customers already signed up with your site, whose credit card data is already stored with you (securely!), you might consider adding a one-click checkout feature to further expedite the process, instead of going through the traditional loaded shopping cart method. You can also integrate third-party payment options, like Shop Pay or Apple Pay; or allow customers to quickly sign up by linking their Facebook or Google accounts.
Do you need a developer?
Although plenty of options exist for you to easily design and develop your own ecommerce site using web-building tools, if you have the cash on hand, you may consider hiring a developer to build you a world-class, entirely custom site. However, there are a number of questions you should consider before opting to hire a developer:
- How complex or simple will the project be? Are you working on tight deadlines for launch that would make a complex design less ideal?
- What’s your budget? More experienced developers often command higher rates.
- Do you need ongoing development support? If so, make sure your developer offers affordable consulting plans for continued work. You don’t want to encounter a technical problem down the road only to find that your contact is suddenly inaccessible, unavailable, or unwilling to continue working with you.
Developing a successful ecommerce website, one of the most integral aspects of developing your ecommerce business, is not a task to be taken lightly. It’s critical you evaluate all of your business’s needs and goals before sitting down to sketch out a design and launch plan—because virtually every decision you make, from your domain name, to whether or not you choose to hire a third-party developer, will depend on these benchmarks.