The e-commerce industry has seen tremendous growth in the past decade. This success is due to the increasing dependence of today’s consumers on their gadgets and the internet for their purchasing needs.
With the coronavirus pandemic disrupting markets and consumer retail spending patterns across the globe, e-commerce is bound to increase sales even more. Food and beverage, health, and personal care are some of the categories that are expected to benefit this 2020.
This business opportunity attracts a lot of new and existing businesses and entrepreneurs. If you’re planning to join the e-commerce market, the first thing you should think about is your website.
The key to a successful e-commerce business is a website that offers a seamless, intuitive experience for every user. Every section of every page should lead the user to the next section or prompt an action, pushing them further down the sales funnel.
Qwantify shares the complete step-by-step guide to building an e-commerce website from scratch.
Web Hosting and Domain
To start, you need a domain name and a website hosting plan. There are plenty of providers and services you can use to secure your domain and hosting plan, and you can either purchase them together or separately. If this is your first time building a website, the easiest way is to buy your domain and hosting plan from the same provider. This will reduce the technical work needed to run your website, speeding up its launch.
When picking a domain name, make sure it’s easy to remember and easy to spell. You want to keep it short and unique so that people easily remember your brand. Avoid double letters and hyphens. You can use domain name generators if you’re struggling to think of a clever name for your website.
Some web hosting services offer domain registration for free if you purchase a plan from them.
Evaluate each web hosting service according to these 4 S’s: speed, support, security, and scalability.
You want a web hosting plan that gives you a fast-loading, secure website. Plus, you want scalability that will let your online shop accommodate traffic surges, potentially increasing your revenue.
Every provider offers basic customer service through ticket, email, or phone support. However, the turnaround time for requests vary. Keep in mind that a vendor can only resolve fundamental configuration issues, but they won’t be your systems manager.
If you want to delegate the management of your website completely, you can get a managed service. The provider will keep an eye on your system, look out for security issues, and configure any software as needed.
Below are some of the popular web hosting providers you can consider:
Bluehost is one of the most recommended web hosting providers. It offers a great blend of features, help and support, giving you your money’s worth. It also provides 24/7 support, free domain registration, and a free SSL certificate.
Bluehost offers WordPress hosting as well, ideal for businesses that want to strengthen their SEO strategy. Each account includes a simple one-click WordPress installation and automatically launches updates.
Siteground is known for its excellent customer service. Available 24/7, Siteground’s customer care team is among the highest-rated support squads online. They’re proficient and friendly and quick to resolve concerns.
One downside to Siteground is its limited disk space. Its StartUp, GrowBig, and GoGeek packages only provide 10 GB, 20 GB, and 40 GB of webspace, respectively. But Siteground makes up for its limited webspace with its affordable prices.
The appeal of GoDaddy lies in its strong uptime rates and exceptional page loading speed. It has a faster average loading time than its competitors. GoDaddy also offers easy app installations with its website builder, which has a drag-and-drop functionality.
HostGator is another recommended web hosting provider. It offers plenty of discounts for first-time users, although the hosting price will go up over time. HostGator is fast, even on basic hosting plans.
One of the benefits HostGator is known for is its free site migration. You can easily switch from another hosting provider to HostGator just by signing up for the service. Their team will handle all the technical work for you. This makes HostGator ideal for beginners who don’t want to deal with complex site migration.
Shopify is a popular web hosting provider among e-commerce businesses. It provides no-limit hosting for online stores, unlimited bandwidth to accommodate traffic surges, and fast servers. Shopify is designed for e-commerce websites, meeting the requirements of your online shop.
One of Shopify’s disadvantages is it can get expensive, with hosting plans ranging from $29 to $299. But every plan includes a lot of free features, including hosting, so they’re well worth the price tag.
After choosing your domain name and web hosting provider, it’s time to pick an e-commerce platform.
When building an e-commerce website from scratch, look for an e-commerce platform that is easy to set up, design, and maintain. These attributes will make it easy for you to manage your website. It also gives users a pleasant, seamless shopping experience.
These are the features you want in an e-commerce platform:
- SEO compatibility: Competition in the e-commerce market gets tougher every day, so you want to make sure your website stands out. An SEO-ready site will make you easier to find online.
- Mobile-Friendliness: Today’s consumers rely on their smartphones for many tasks, especially when they’re on-the-go. Make sure that your website functions consistently across all devices, allowing users to browse your online store anytime, anywhere.
- Integrations: You want an e-commerce platform that smoothly integrates your other existing systems and channels, such as Facebook and email, among others. This feature helps you strengthen your omnichannel marketing strategy.
Here are some of the popular e-commerce platforms you can choose from:
This SaaS platform comes with plenty of built-in features, including an abandoned cart saver that automatically emails shoppers about the items they didn’t check out. BigCommerce is specially designed for business owners with little to no web design experience. It comes with 10 free themes and about 130 paid ones.
A noteworthy feature of BigCommerce is its native integration with Apple Pay and PayPal One Touch. It offers native support for accelerated mobile pages (AMP), giving you super-fast load times. This platform also easily integrates with Google Shopping, Facebook Easy Ads, and others.
Shopify is another SaaS platform. It’s available in five versions, catering to businesses of any size, so you’ll find a plan that suits your needs and budget. All Shopify plans have unlimited bandwidth and online storage, letting you quickly adjust to surges in traffic.
Shopify e-commerce websites integrate with over 2,500 apps, have built-in SEO for content optimization, and are mobile-friendly. These features make it obvious why a lot of e-commerce businesses love Shopify.
Startups and longstanding brands alike can get plenty of benefits from Squarespace. This platform offers tons of scalability options and customizability for e-commerce websites.
Squarespace makes the shop setup breezy. All you have to do is create an account, pick a template, edit the design, and you’ve got yourself an e-commerce website. It also has a drag-and-drop website builder, making it easy to use. The Squarespace mobile app lets you edit your website from your smartphone.
WooCommerce is a WordPress plug-in, which means you can sell your products and services on your existing WordPress website. When it comes to integration, this platform offers more than 400 extensions, including Facebook and Pinterest.
E-commerce business owners love WooCommerce for its customizability. It has several themes to choose from, all with user-friendly interfaces.
However, WooCommerce is self-hosted. This means you have to manage the updates and maintenance on your own. WooCommerce also lacks in terms of tech support. A lot of users report that its web ticket response is slow.
The appeal of Wix lies in its customizability. It has a massive template selection and tons of extra features, letting you customize your website’s look and function. This platform has a drag-and-drop interface, just like Squarespace, letting you easily design your website.
Wix is a good e-commerce platform option for startups because it’s affordable. However, it has less advanced features compared to other platforms. If you want better features, you’ll need to switch from Wix to another platform.
Weebly is a popular free website builder. Similar to Wix, it has a drag-and-drop builder that makes designing easier. But this platform is fully hosted, so you won’t have to deal with the complex technical aspect of running your website.
The free version of Weebly has a limited 500 MB site storage. Upgrading your plan will give you a larger storage along with additional benefits.
Once you’ve selected your e-commerce platform for your business and made your account, it’s time to design your website. Since you’re building your site from scratch, you can either choose a theme provided by the platform or install your own.
E-Commerce Website Design
Keep your brand identity in mind when designing your website. Your design should evoke the kind of personality that resonates with your target audience. If you’re a fun brand, then your interface should look vibrant and lively. If your market loves you for your minimalist aesthetic, your website should be simple but not dull, clean but not empty.
An e-commerce website has several design must-haves that regular business websites don’t. Be sure to include these in your online shop:
1. Guest Checkout
Sometimes, customers aren’t ready to commit to your online shop yet. They just want to try out your customer service and test your products. Guest checkout allows people to purchase their items without having to fill out lengthy application forms. If you’re worried about losing a lead, you can save their contact and shipping details and offer to automatically create an account for them.
2. Shopping Cart
Today’s consumers do research about products and services before buying them. They add items to their cart and spend some time contemplating the purchase before checking out. A shopping cart lets users save the items they’re eyeing while they continue browsing. They can easily come back to their cart and proceed with the checkout once they’ve made up their mind.
3. Payment Methods
With various digital payment methods available, consumers now perform transactions in various ways. Avoid losing customers by accepting different kinds of payments, depending on your target audience. Include the logos of the payment options you accept on your homepage so users can immediately see them.
4. Search Bar
Many shoppers know exactly what they’re looking for. In such cases, they don’t want to waste time browsing to find their desired product. A search bar gives them a way to go directly to the product page they need.
5. Customer Reviews
More than half of online shoppers rely on customer reviews to check the quality of the item since they can’t see it in person. Allow past customers to share their feedback on your products and put these reviews in a clearly visible area of the web page.
Now that you’ve finished the design and layout of your website, it’s time to build the content and pages. We’ve provided a rundown of the steps you need to take to develop and launch your online store.
Building the Website
E-commerce websites need to offer a pleasant, convenient user experience to convince customers to support your brand. One way to do this is to anticipate what users expect and look for in an online store. Include pages on your website that would aid the user’s digital experience, making sure that their entire interaction with your brand is convenient, easy, and quick.
These are the following must-pages for your e-commerce site:
1. Home Page
Your homepage should show customers why they should choose your brand. This is where you’ll communicate your branding, unique value proposition, products and services, and added value.
Some important elements of a good e-commerce home page include:
- High-quality images
- A search bar
- A menu button
- Social proof
- Sales you’re currently holding
- Discounts you’re currently offering
Many users land on your homepage first, which is why you must use this section of the site to make a good first impression.
2. Category Page
A category page narrows the search of your users. This page is extremely beneficial for instances where the customer buys items in pairs or as a set. For example, those who purchase a moisturizer are likely to want to buy a toner, too. They can fulfill their shopping needs by visiting your skincare category page.
3. Product Page
Product pages put a spotlight on your various merchandise, allowing customers to peruse the items they’re eyeing more closely. Each product page should have an “add to cart” button, “add to favorites” button, customer reviews, dimensions and other details, and high-quality photos.
The shopping cart shows the customer all the items they’re interested in. This is where they decide which ones to purchase, to think about more, and to remove from their list. The shopping cart page is an ideal place to include promo codes, shipping fees, and other billing matters.
5. My Orders
The order history page makes it easier for customers to repurchase products they liked, track packages they’re about to receive, cancel orders, and change an order.
Customers have plenty of questions during their first interaction with your brand. The FAQs section lets them quickly seek the answers they need without having to wait for customer support to attend to their needs. This benefit affects both your customers and the support team.
The FAQs page is also good for SEO. You can organically insert targeted keywords and link internal pages in this section.
Apart from these six pages, your online shop should also include the basic pages in any business website, such as the contact, about us, store locator, and return policy pages.
Between designing and building your website, we’ve mentioned that high-quality images are crucial to an e-commerce business. Putting photos on your online store also requires some technical knowledge. It’s not as simple as just uploading the images.
You have to optimize your images to make sure they complete the user browsing experience, show up on Google search, and don’t slow down your page loading times.
Below are some need-to-know image optimization hacks when building your e-commerce site:
1. File Type
The most common file types of website images are PNG and JPG.
JPG allows all colors in the photo to show. Another benefit of this file type is its adjustable size. However, adjusting the size also affects the quality of the photo. JPG is best for product images and ones that are colorful.
PNG has a higher quality than JPG, but it tends to come with a larger file size. Use PNG when the image quality is more important than the file size, such as above-the-fold photos.
2. File Size
An image with large file sizes can cause slow loading times, potentially increasing your bounce rates. The goal is to keep your photos at 1 to 2 MB in size. You can resize the image until you have the quality-to-size ratio you want.
3. File Name
It can get boring or tedious to name each image you upload on your site, but it’s also a bad idea to randomly name them. Identify your images in a descriptive, straightforward manner. This helps search engine web crawlers understand the content of your site better.
4. Image Alt Text
Alt text describes the image to alternative sources. These are for users with visual impairment and are browsing on screen readers. If there’s no alt text on the image, it will display as an empty photo.
Setting Up Website Navigation
Navigation is crucial for e-commerce websites. With tons of product listings, it’s difficult for users to find the items they need. Site navigation allows shoppers to quickly search the products they’re looking for, improving their online shopping experience.
Be sure to follow design conventions. This means that the main navigation panel should either be at the top of the page or on the left side. This placement creates an intuitive, natural browsing experience for your users.
The following website navigation elements can significantly improve your user experience:
1. Collapsible Navigation Menu
The navigation panel on e-commerce sites can get long, taking up space on the screen. A collapsible menu gives your user more real estate on the screen when browsing without making it difficult for them to find what they need. This is especially helpful for people who use their smartphones for online shopping.
2. Autocomplete Search Bar
You can elevate your search by including an autocomplete function. This helps speed up the search process of the user. It’s also helpful for products with long, complicated names that are difficult to remember. Shoppers can also see product suggestions when the search bar autocompletes with frequently searched items.
3. Fat Footer
Fat footers provide a quick, bird’s-eye view of your website. Users can browse by category or subcategory and jump to important links and resources. You can also make the fat footer collapsible to save space on the screen.
List the subcategories in each category page to allow users to browse your broad selection at a glance. You can do this with an accordion menu. The items are listed vertically, and each has a drop-down menu that appears when the user hovers over the category.
Integrating a Payment Gateway
The last step in creating your e-commerce website is to integrate a payment gateway. Your payment gateway should make transactions quick and easy for your customers while providing your business security and fraud protection.
Your payment gateway determines the payment methods you offer, the currencies you accept, how fast the money transfers, and the transaction fees.
Here are the three most popular payment gateway options for e-commerce websites:
Almost everyone with online shopping experience recognizes PayPal. It’s one of the most widely accepted e-payment methods, serving over 200 countries. This makes PayPal a good option for businesses that ship worldwide.
PayPal supports most major credit cards: Mastercard, Visa, American Express, and Citibank, among others. It offers various payment solutions, including PayPal Express Checkout, PayPal Payments Pro, and Braintree.
Stripe also supports all prominent credit cards, just like PayPal. It accepts alternative payment types as well, such as ACH, Alipay, and Bitcoin. One noteworthy thing about Stripe is its WooCommerce integration.
However, this payment gateway is only available in 39 countries. Stripe is best for businesses serving Australia, United Kingdom, and Canada.
The strength of 2Checkout comes from its simple site integration, giving your customers a flawless checkout process. This gateway has an easy-to-incorporate payment API, embedding credit card processing directly on your website. 2Checkout is available in over 200 countries.
E-commerce Web Design and Development
By now, you have a better understanding of what it takes to build your own e-commerce website. Following these steps will help launch your website on your desired timeline.
Keep in mind that your decisions in creating your e-commerce website are influenced by your target market. The choices you make in terms of the web hosting plan, e-commerce platform, payment gateway, and website design will depend on your ideal customer’s needs and expectations. So, before anything else, thoroughly study the demographics and behaviors of your target audience.
A comprehensive market analysis will guide your website development, and create a seamless digital experience for your users, future-proofing your business.
Full E-Commerce Service Package
Qwantify offers web design and development services for e-commerce businesses. We create ready-to-use, fully supported, feature-packed sites that bring in guaranteed revenue for your business.
Apart from our web development services, we also help e-commerce brands with their business development and digital marketing needs. We have dedicated project managers to help you ensure and maintain business success. Our digital marketing team provides SEO, PPC advertising, and social media marketing solutions to drive your business to the top.
Qwantify provides free consultations through phone or email. Contact us today to start growing your e-commerce empire.