General Ecommerce Tips

Build an Ecommerce Website That Keeps Up With Evolving Customer Expectations

Leigh-Anne Truitt / 11 min read
performance marketing

Build an Ecommerce Website That Keeps Up With Evolving Customer Expectations

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The internet impacts every area of our lives. We use it for socializing, entertainment, working, and research. We also use it to shop. 

There’s now a generation of adults who have only known a world where the internet exists, and as they, and the generations that follow, spend more money, ecommerce will continue to grow. Currently, 43% of shoppers use the internet and social networks to research products before purchasing, and by 2024, ecommerce revenue will be worth $476 billion in the U.S.

2020 ecommerce sales

Retailers cannot afford to stay offline if they want to reach customers. Ecommerce sites empower businesses to reach new markets and gain resilience by selling if their brick-and-mortar stores have to close. If you’re just starting a business, an ecommerce site can give you a worldwide market and brand recognition before you even open a physical store.

Starting a dedicated ecommerce website gives you the ability to control every aspect of your customer experience, from branding to shipping and customer service. You can choose to build it yourself or go with a developer, but either way, knowing about the process can help you make informed choices, so you get a website that’s optimized for selling your products.

Ecommerce Selling Statistics

Ecommerce is growing every day and offers businesses unique opportunities to connect with their target audience. A well-designed ecommerce store can benefit from providing convenient shopping options for consumers.

1. Ecommerce will make up 22% of global retail sales by 2023.

Sales in online stores are expected to reach 22% of global retail sales by 2023, compared to 14.1% in 2019.

Global sales

While some of this growth is driven by more ecommerce sites being created, most of it is due to a shift in shopping trends. Business owners can take advantage of this global phenomenon by giving customers opportunities to buy as soon as they decide on a product and also reaching overseas consumers with international sites and shipping.

2. Ecommerce sales in Q1 of 2020 accounted for 11.5% of total sales.

It’s estimated that 11.5% of sales in the first quarter of 2020 were ecommerce sales. The impact of COVID-19 means more people are shopping online, and ecommerce sales have continued to grow throughout the year. As more consumers buy on the internet, opportunities exist for business owners to prove that the best ecommerce sites offer excellent online services, building loyalty for the post-COVID-19 world.

Why Create an Ecommerce Website?

It’s clear that the growth in ecommerce brings many benefits for a business’s bottom line, but there are more reasons to create an ecommerce business. An online presence gives businesses ample opportunities to create connections that lead to growth.

1. New market acquisitions.

For many companies, especially small businesses and startups, it can be hard to reach customers in new markets with just a storefront. An ecommerce site enables you to reach new customers online that you couldn’t reach with only brick-and-mortar sales.

2. Create unique shopping experiences.

Online businesses are also able to directly impact the customer journey by creating a unique shopping experience through videos, stories, and personalized services. These shopping encounters don’t need to end at the checkout either, as you can reach customers via email marketing or social media. These extraordinary experiences have a way of convincing customers that online shopping offers inclusive opportunities that a brick-and-mortar store typically doesn’t provide.

3. Strengthen your brand.

If you sell on an online marketplace, like eBay or Amazon, your products are listed generically and often use the marketplace’s brandings. Some customers may not even realize they’re purchasing from you and consequently won’t learn about your brand. Building your own ecommerce site ensures control of how your products are presented. Your customers remember you, not the marketplace.

How to Build an Ecommerce Website Step-by-Step

Building an ecommerce site may be simpler than you imagine. There are now ecommerce solutions that do most of the work for you, but you still need to understand what’s offered and what your site needs. If you do enough research, you can make decisions that lead to a magnificent site that grows and evolves with you in the years to come.

  1. Select your perfect ecommerce platform.
  2. Purchase a domain name.
  3. Find a developer.
  4. Pick your ecommerce theme.
  5. Customize your ecommerce template.
  6. Add your products.
  7. Set up payment options.
  8. Sort out your shipping settings.
  9. Preview, test… and publish your online store.

Find Your Perfect Ecommerce Platform

Finding the right ecommerce website builder is the first step in your journey. It’s important to have one that can meet the needs of your products and brand.

1. Types of Ecommerce platforms.

There are three main types of ecommerce platforms to choose from, which suit different kinds of businesses and have different functionality. Here’s what you need to know:

Open source

As the name suggests, open-source platforms offer their source code freely to everyone who wants to use it. It’s free to install and endlessly customizable. However, open-source platforms usually require advanced coding knowledge to use properly. Security breaches are also a concern, and users often need to hire people dedicated to maintaining the security, which may end up costing more than a subscription to another type of platform.

SaaS

SaaS, or Software as a Service, is an ecommerce platform that’s offered as a subscription service. These systems are generally easy to use, scalable, and have robust security. As they’re designed specifically for ecommerce, they can handle the logistical processes, like checkout and payment processing.

Pricing is a concern with SaaS, as there’s a monthly subscription fee, transaction fees, and expenses for plug-in apps. Some services may also have restricted branding, which limits your creativity when designing. Sites built on Wix, for example, have “powered by Wix” at the bottom of the screen, so not only are you promoting your brand, but you’re sharing the spotlight with Wix. Premium services usually give you more leeway to create a look and feel that reflects your brand, alone.

Headless commerce

Headless commerce keeps the shopping cart and display layer of ecommerce sites separate. This means you can use a content management system (CMS), digital experience platform (DXP), progressive web app (PWA) or other technology on the frontend and power that with an ecommerce engine on the backend. 

Headless commerce enables customer-facing changes to be made quickly and gives businesses plenty of creative control. It also lets companies get to market faster, with a lower total cost, and businesses get increased control over their store while outsourcing security and PCI compliance.

2. Ecommerce Hosting.

Ecommerce web hosting is where your data is stored. It can have an impact on security and costs, so take the time to understand your options.

Cloud

Cloud hosting refers to ecommerce sites hosted off-site. It’s generally offered by SaaS or headless commerce companies. The platform manages the uptime as well as updates, patches, and upgrades that help keep sites secure. Open source solutions may also have a cloud option that includes the costs of hosting, but will still require security maintenance to be done by the merchant. 

On-premise

On-premise hosting refers to ecommerce sites that are hosted on servers owned by the business and is usually found with open source solutions. The company needs to have space for the server, handle the installation, and hire people to look after it to ensure that the site stays up and secure. This usually is more feasible for large corporations.

3. Things to consider when choosing your ecommerce solution.

Several systems have to work seamlessly to give your customers the best ecommerce experience. Look at how your preferred ecommerce platform works in the following areas to ensure it performs optimally now and into the future.

Website performance

Make sure the platform works consistently and has a strong uptime record, so your website is available when customers want to shop. Unlimited API calls help make your site easier to manage, and pages that load quickly give customers the best experience.

Traffic capacity

Can the platform meet your current traffic needs? Does it have the scope to grow with you as your business expands? Does it handle big days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday?

Mobile optimization

More consumers are shopping on mobile devices, so it’s essential that your platform can optimize your website for an excellent mobile encounter. Look for ways to enhance customer experience through mobile technology, like geolocation, which helps customers find the nearest store.

Secure payments and data

The platform must be able to protect your data and your customer’s data. SaaS solutions include security, like SSL and PCI, as part of their monthly plans. Self-hosted and open-source solutions require you to have a greater understanding of security, as there’s a higher chance of attack.

4. Ecommerce website builders to use.

Your website builder is the foundation of your online store. Options explicitly designed for ecommerce give you more options and room to grow than generic website builders with an ecommerce add-on. Here are a few to consider:

BigCommerce

BigCommerce is a SaaS solution that’s known for being scalable. It has 24/7 customer support, with priority support available for large accounts.  There are plenty of built-in features. Multi-layered security keeps data safe, and local payment methods bring in customers from around the world. BigCommerce supports headless, so brands can deliver API-driven experiences through a CMS, DXP, application, device, or custom front-end — with BigCommerce powering the commerce engine.

Shopify

Shopify is another SaaS solution that’s fully hosted and known for being quick and easy to set up. They have an extensive range of plug-ins, but if you need to use a lot, the price can quickly add up. Shopify can handle a high number of transactions per minute, so it can easily cope with traffic spikes. 

Magento

Magento is a self-hosted solution, so you have total creative freedom; however, you need someone with coding knowledge to take full advantage of the platform. There’s a wide choice of integrations, and it can handle instant purchases and product suggestions. 

WooCommerce

WooCommerce is an open-source WordPress plug-in, so it’s free to install. It’s generally used by those with an existing WordPress site. WooCommerce is flexible, has limitless customization, and industry experts audit its secure code.

Purchase a Domain Name

If you already have a domain name, it can be transferred to your online store builder. If you don’t have a domain name, make sure it follows these best practices below.

1. Avoid creative spellings.

A domain name should be easy to remember and type, so avoid creative spellings. It doesn’t necessarily need to pass a spelling test, after all, google wasn’t a word until Google created it, but it must be easy to spell. Make sure that it’s also easy to pronounce, as you want customers to tell their friends about it. Avoid hyphens and numbers because this makes it harder for people to easily share the web address.

2. Avoid generic names.

A generic name has two problems: people will forget the name, or they’ll go to a similarly-named company that has a better search engine optimization (SEO) ranking. A brandable name is memorable, so make sure your domain name stands out.

3. The shorter, the better.

Aim to make your domain name 6-14 characters in length, making it easier for your customer to remember. Shorter names are also more straightforward for you to use in marketing, which leads to more customers, even if people are finding you through a search engine.

Find a Developer

Even if you’re bootstrapping your business, a developer can make the process of setting up an ecommerce site simpler. They have the technical know-how to get you set up quickly, meaning you can start selling sooner. When considering a developer, ask them about their timeline, so you can plan your launch date. Ask to see other websites that they’ve built and get references from those businesses. Make sure the developer shares your vision and can create what you’re looking for within your budget.

Pick Your Templates: Find a Theme that Matches Your Ecommerce Website Vision

Templates, or themes, are ready-built pages that you can customize to suit your brand and help your site look good without design or coding skills. Think about the following areas when selecting a template:

1. Customer navigation.

Smooth navigation is essential to an excellent customer experience. If a customer can’t find what they want, they’ll hit the back button and shop somewhere else. A navigation bar is easy to read and located on the left side of the page, as customers read from left to right.

2. Style of the homepage.

Does the template’s homepage reflect your brand? Does it have areas where you can include images, slideshows, or videos? Is there space for you to share your story with site visitors? A customer should be able to tell what type of business you are from first glance, so make sure the template communicates that clearly.

3. Customization options.

What parts of the page can be customized? Is there a font and color scheme that matches your branding? How many images can you include? How are products displayed, and can they be changed? Can social media be embedded? Most online store builders use apps to add features that aren’t built-in, so consider how many apps you need to interact with the template.

Add Your Products

Product pages are among the most critical pages on your site, as they show your customers what you have to sell. Take the time to ensure you display your new products in their best light by including optimized product descriptions, eye-catching images, and easy to navigate categories.

1. Product descriptions.

Product descriptions are an essential part of your ecommerce site. They describe the usefulness, colors, textures, measurements, and/or value of the product to your customers and allow bots to index your page for SEO. Avoid cliches, long sentences, and complex phrasing when writing descriptions, and make sure the descriptions answer the following questions:

  • Who is the product for?
  • What are the product’s basic details?
  • Where would someone use this product?
  • When should someone use the product?

2. Product images.

Website visitors are engaged by visual information, so high-quality product images are essential. When producing photos, consider the following areas:

Use high-quality images.

Images represent the perceived quality and value of your product. High-quality photos make your products stand out. Vibrant photos also make the images more appealing, keeping customers browsing.

Make sure each image is the same size.

It’s essential that each image is the same size, as different sized photos can often misalign your gallery. Use an image editor to adjust each picture to the required size.

Add product variation image.

Most images should be product-only images that show the product from all angles. You should also include an in-context photo that shows the product being used. These are helpful on product pages and can also be used in social media to boost emotional engagement.

3. Product categories.

You can add products to categories, like clothing, books, and movies, to help customers find what they’re looking for. Categories can also be used with filters to enable people to sort through specific brands or price ranges, keeping them within their budget. And featured items are a great way to lead customers down your preferred shopping path.

Set up Payment Methods

The right payment method is essential for closing a sale. If the method is too complicated or not trusted, your customer could abandon their cart and not return. Make sure it also meets your payment processing needs.

1. Three types of ecommerce payment gateways.

There are three types of payment gateways, which all have their own pros and cons. When deciding on a gateway, think about the steps you need to take to keep payments and information secure.

Redirects

A redirect takes the customer to a separate site to process the payment. The most widely used example is PayPal. This is a simple solution for retailers and passes on security concerns to the third party, but adds another step for customers, which may drive some away.

Checkout on-site, payment off-site

This gateway hosts the front-end of the payment, including collecting details, but the payment is processed off-site. Stripe is a popular company offering this service. It takes away extra steps for customers, but you have to ensure your site is encrypted correctly so information can be safely sent to the payment processor.

On-site payments

On-site payments happen on your site, which gives you complete control and responsibility. It’s suitable for large corporations who process a lot of payments, as they can afford to keep it working and secure.

2. Tips for choosing your payment integrations.

A payment gateway integration is a secure method that encrypts and transmits credit card data to your payment processor. As it’s an essential part of your ecommerce site, make sure you research and understand what you’re getting from your payment integration.

Judge ease of integration

Think about how easy it is to integrate the system on your site. Does it work with the ecommerce platform you’ve selected?

Consider customer reviews

Look at customer reviews from other websites. Is the gateway trustworthy? Does it work consistently? Have people had problems sending or receiving money?

Keep fees in mind

There are fees involved in every step of the process, including taking payments and processing refunds. Read the fine print, so you understand how much the system costs and are happy with that price.

PCI compliant and secure

PCI refers to the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard. This ensures that credit card details are kept safe. Non-compliance can lead to fines, lawsuits, and a loss of trust from your customers, so make sure your gateway is compliant and secure. You will also want to make sure your site has an SSL certificate to ensure all transactions and information from customer to merchant are secure. 

Sort out Your Shipping Settings

Shipping is a critical component of ecommerce. Customers want products promptly, so choose your shipping settings wisely.

1. Determine your shipping policy.

Your shipping policy includes fees and carriers. Are you offering shipping for free, a flat rate, or a variable fee? Who are you shipping with? Also, consider whether you plan to ship internationally and, if not, make sure that information is readily available, so international customers aren’t frustrated at checkout.

2. Select ecommerce shipping solutions.

Decide on your shipping solution. Will you be doing the packing, or are you dropshipping? Shipping software that works seamlessly with the rest of your workflow permits you to automate that side of your business, freeing you up for other matters.

Preview and Publish Your Online Store

A successful launch relies on everything on your site working as it should. If a link doesn’t work, payments don’t process, or the site doesn’t look good on mobile devices, it can send customers away and lead to time delays while you fix mistakes. Make sure you test everything before hitting the publish button.

1. Does checkout work?

Do a test run on an order. Can you add products to the cart? Is the payment processed? Do you receive all the confirmation emails you were expecting?

2. Are the store’s functions working?

Click every button and link it on your site. Do the buttons and links work? Do filters and categories work? If a link doesn’t work, does your 404 page direct customers back to your site?

3. Does the store work on mobile?

Look at the store on a mobile device. Are the dimensions correct? Are the buttons easy to click? Are images clear on a smaller screen?

4. Test your store on different browsers.

Look at the store on as many different browsers as you can, including Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. Make sure it works on all the browsers, and if you have difficulties, ask the developers to fix it.

5. Set up the store’s settings.

The store settings include things like language, time zone, your address and contact details, tax, and measurement units. Check that these have all been set correctly before you launch.

Conclusion

A good ecommerce site is more than just a place to sell products. It’s where a business can create an experience that strengthens their brand, draws in new customers, and converts casual shoppers into loyal ambassadors. Choosing the right ecommerce platform and having a marketing strategy to create a successful online store can give you a headstart in being an ecommerce success.

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    Leigh-Anne Truitt

    Leigh-Anne Truitt

    Leigh-Anne Truitt is an SEO Specialist at BigCommerce where she researches and discovers strategies to increase organic traffic. Prior to joining the e-commerce industry, Leigh-Anne perfected her marketing skills at The University of Texas at Austin and CanIRank.

    View all posts by Leigh-Anne Truitt

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