E-commerce in 2020 has boomed up to 146% over the same period last year, fueled in part by the COVID crisis in which “non-essential” stores had to close. People are ordering things online from giants like Amazon, but more and more smaller stores are stepping forward to claim their share of the e-commerce pie. Restaurants everywhere have shifted their business to take-out and/or service, and even many independent restaurants have created online ordering systems for no-touch payment and patron convenience.
Pennsylvania and other states have begun re-opening their economies, but it remains to be seen to when people will resume pre-COVID shopping habits, if ever. Health concerns will remain until a vaccine and effective treatments are developed, but habits have also changed. E-commerce, which was already growing by leaps and bounds, is here to stay.
In short, if you don’t have an online store, you’re missing out. In this month’s article, we’ll discuss what you need to do to get started in the world of e-commerce.
Deciding where to host your site is probably one of the most important decisions you’ll make. There are a lot of options out there, but most fall into one of two basic categories:
Self-managed platform – In this instance, you would use a piece of software (likely open source/free) that you install and manage yourself. An example of this is WordPress with the WooCommerce plugin installed. You are responsible for choosing a web hosting company (like GoDaddy), installing/configuring WordPress and installing/configuring all the necessary plugins that will turn WordPress into an online store, or for adding a plugin like WooCommerce to an existing website. Generally speaking, this option is more suitable for smaller online stores.
Managed platform – A managed platform is just what it sounds like – a website that operates through a platform e-commerce company such as Shopify or BigCommerce. The advantage here is that you don’t have to worry about installing/maintaining any kind of software at all, and get the benefit of very specific support in relation to the actual store part of your website.
Whatever you decide to move forward with, you’ll want to pay careful attention to how the following two items are handled (more on each further below):
Payment processing: What payment processors options are available? What third party payment processors can you connect with? What kind of fees are involved?
Shipping: Do you want/need to connect with a third party (like USPS or UPS) to calculate shipping rates? Can you set/add an additional handling fee to the shipping fee? Can you set up free shipping if you want? How are shipping labels handled?
Whether you choose to self-manage or go with a company like Shopify, you’ll have to make some decisions on how you want your online shop to look. Free and commercial templates/themes are available for both, but are not all created equal. Don’t be afraid to spend a little extra time experimenting and testing out template/theme demos until you find something that will work for your needs.
All online store platforms allow for single product creation – that is, adding one product at a time to the store — whether you’re using a managed option like Shopify or self-managing within WordPress with WooCommerce. If you only have a few products (around 20 or so) it’s probably easier to manually add them to your store one at a time through that interface.
If you have a lot of products, importing a spreadsheet of your products will definitely save you a lot of time. Each platform has their own set of restrictions and methods for importing products with a spreadsheet, though, so it’s best to find a sample spreadsheet document from your chosen platform to use as a guide.
So you know where you’re hosting and what your store is going to look like. You’ve even added your products to your store. But how are people going to pay you for your products?
Most managed platforms have built in payment processors that you can use, and all of them allow you to connect to a variety of third party payment processors. This could be valuable if you already use a system like Square or PayPal Point of Sale for your brick and mortar store – you might be able to process payments with your current accounts.
For a self-managed platform, you will need a third party payment processor. Check the software/plugin you’re using to find out what payment processors are compatible. An additional extension/plugin might be needed to connect to the payment processor you want to use.
Setting up shipping is probably one of the more involved parts of setting up an online store, since there are so many variables and moving parts. You’ll need to consider:
- Are your products large and/or heavy?
- How will you handle it when customers purchase more than one item?
- What are the packaging/box sizes you plan to use?
- Are any of your products fragile, requiring specialized packaging?
- What company are you using to ship your products? (USPS, UPS, FedEx etc.)
- Are you precalculating your shipping, or do you plan to tie into a carrier and calculate shipping on your site?
- What options does your software (managed or self-managed) allow you to use?
You’ll definitely want to do some research and find out what will work best for you, your products, and your customers. If you plan to use a managed platform, don’t be afraid to call sales (and more than one platform!) and have a conversation about your needs.
Often overlooked, a policies/terms and conditions pages are must-haves for your online store. If you’re not sure where to begin, there are lots of places online that offer generic/starter policies for you to use, copy, and edit however you need. The most important thing to remember when creating these documents, though, is to be as transparent as you can be. Below are a list of policies that you might want to consider adding to your online store:
Terms and conditions: These lay out legally binding rules for people using your site and buying your products, with the goal of limiting your liability and protecting your business.
Shipping policy: In this policy, the customer is informed what to expect in terms of delivery method, cost, and time.
Return policy: This policy specifies under what conditions you will accept returns, and whether you give refunds or store credit only.