How to Start an eCommerce Business

[Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes, 10 seconds] It’s no secret that eCommerce websites are wildly popular, and marketing these sites is massively important for their success. Maybe this is part of your job. Or if you’re a freelance copywriter or designer, your website may be set up as eCommerce. 

So let’s talk about it. 

First, there are lots of things to consider:

  • Do you have a viable product to sell online? 
  • Are there competitors in your space or sites outside of your space that you want to emulate aspects of? 
  • How do you imagine (or know) your visitors will find their desired product on your website? 
  • Is content an important aspect of earning new customers and/or explaining your products? 
  • What’s your plan for managing website development?

Jeremy King, president of AMA Columbus, has launched and managed several iterations of eCommerce websites over the years, and here are his top high-level necessities to consider before pursuing your website build:

Do you have a viable product to sell online?

Answering this question is 1A for obvious reasons, as you need to determine if you have a product that people actually want, and if they’ll want to buy it online vs. offline. Products that traditionally have a short sales cycle are usually ripe for selling via eCommerce, while products with long sales cycles may require consideration for how viable they are to sell online.

Are there competitors in your space or sites outside of your space that you want to emulate aspects of?  

Awareness of competitors’ websites or other websites that have aspects you want to emulate can be a great jump-start in planning out the experience that you want your website to provide. Some considerations could include things like how to organize and display the top navigation, the internal search experience, whether or not to use fly-ins for lead generation, or even verbiage to use when adding a product to cart. 

What’s your plan for website development and/or management?

Perhaps an easy aspect to forget about for beginners: determining how your website will be developed and managed is huge. Depending on your answers to the questions above, you could decide to go with a fairly easy to internally-managed platform solution like Wix, WordPress or Shopify.

If your needs are more complex, you may want to consider a platform like Magento or Craft, and then you must determine if you have the capabilities or resources to develop and maintain the website in-house, or if you should pursue working with a third-party development partner.

If you’re going the route of working with a third-party development partner, there are TONS of questions that only you can determine the importance of based on your wants and needs. 

Some questions that have been important to Jeremy in the past have been:

  • What platforms is this developer most familiar with and able to support?
  • Has this developer worked on projects similar to your scope and industry-type?
  • What is the responsiveness level of this partner when something goes wrong (it will)?
  • What is the estimate for variance iterations of my website build?
  • Will I like working with this partner?

On the website management side of things, you need to consider your internal capabilities. Some considerations here include:

  • Who is going (and how are we going to) manage correspondence among all partners involved in development and promotion of the website?
  • How will we manage some of the more tedious aspects of eCommerce like managing specifications, pricing, inventory and more?
  • How will we handle correspondence with customers who use our website, such as issues with returns, status checks, questions and more? Returns especially are one of the biggest aspects of eCommerce that newcomers underestimate the relevance of, as it has internal effects on shipping costs and labor usage.

Consider how visitors will find products on your website.

There are various paths someone may follow to find a product on your website, and designing your website to make that path a simple one depends on your understanding of your customer. Does your product have lots of attributes that could be narrowed-down by filtering? Do you know or envision that customers will want to enter high level or specific search terms? Maybe you’ll have lots of direct traffic to your site from being a well-known brand; in this case you could consider linking to certain products or categories directly from your home page.

Is content an important aspect of earning new customers and/or explaining your products?

Here’s where the sexy side of marketing plays into eCommerce. Even if you’re operating as an organization whose goal is to sell products at the absolute lowest price, it’s a huge boost to the customer experience, your SEO performance, and overall website authority score to host content on your site that helps to promote, inform, educate, and inspire. Ultimately you want your content to boost your performance in moving customers through the sales funnel.

How will you promote your website and the products you offer there?

There are an endless amount of ways that one could promote their eCommerce website, but here are some of Jeremy’s MUST-DOs, especially for smaller or emerging brands:

  • Email marketing to existing prospects and customer lists. This is a no-brainer, as any existing list you have is likely a bit more warmed-up than any new leads you’ll go after in prospecting. You can test all kinds of email formats, subject lines and more in seeing what works best for your brand.
  • SEO (search engine optimization). This aspect of website promotion involves developing content, formatting your website, and nurturing the health of your website to appeal to search engines for higher rankings in search engine results pages (SERPs). The SEO aspect of website promotion could be its own blog or educational page entirely, but essentially you want to curate and develop your site in a way that is useful and provides an easy experience for visitors in order to develop more traffic from being rewarded with better SERPs results by search engines such as Google and Bing. You may consider using tools such as SEMRush or Ubersuggest for help in managing your website’s SEO performance, or perhaps you explore working with an agency for help here.
  • Online Ads (or Paid). Here’s another topic that you can go down a rabbit hole with. Engaging in paid platforms, such as Google Ads, requires understanding of what your budget is, content or conversion actions you want to promote on your website, who you want to promote this to, and determining what success looks like to you from a profitability or awareness angle.

    We won’t get into the weeds of all of the ad types that platforms such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin etc. provide, but long story short, it really helps to do your homework in understanding how these function before you begin pouring money into them. One path you may want to follow if you aren’t comfortable with managing paid in-house is to partner with a Paid agency that you can task with managing your ads, which simultaneously can help with educating you on this topic over time.

This has been a fairly glossy overview of what to consider when launching an eCommerce website, but each point listed is a good starting point for what to think about and explore.

Whether you’re fairly comfortable with these aspects of eCommerce or if you’re a complete novice, Jeremy’s advice is to continuously research, explore and test what you’re doing for best long-term success.

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