High Seas: Design & Technology for Evolving Brands
Amanda Marcotte, High Seas

Amanda Marcotte

March 30, 2020

Let’s Talk About eCommerce

If you suddenly find yourself thinking that the best time to start an ecommerce business was yesterday… and the second best time is today… you’re not alone.

While there are many third-party marketplace sites you can fairly easily sell products through, we wanted to offer some tips and things to consider when you’re preparing to open up your digital storefront.

What will you use for payment processing?

Setting up your payment processing is one of the first things you should think about. Secure checkout is a must, but in addition to that you’ll want to consider the customer experience, is it easy to checkout, is it convenient and reliable? Some solutions that are user friendly and create a smooth checkout experience are ApplePay, Amazon, and PayPal. You can also consider Stripe and Authorize.net if you decide to take credit cards directly.

If you have a physical location, you likely already have a business bank account. If not, you will want to set up an account that is separate from your personal finances. You may choose to contact your bank and discuss your options with them. Make sure you understand the fees associated with each option as well as the trade offs to ease-of-setup and management.

Again, selecting the right payment solution is important to giving customers peace of mind that you are safeguarding their personal payment information, so be sure to choose appropriately!

Do you have email set up for all your needs?

Email and hosting can be worthy of an entire article unto themselves, but a couple tips for the beginner ecommerce site:

  • This should go without saying, but try to have a business email address that is separate from your personal email and is professional. Something like “hello@[your domain]” or similar. Set this up with your Site Hosting plan, or your Email Hosting plan, if you have it as a separate service.
  • Make sure you can access your email easily. This means getting it into your Microsoft Outlook, Apple Mail, or Gmail client, etc. Your email host should have step by step instructions how to do that.
  • Make sure you put your email address into the appropriate notification settings in your ecommerce website admin. You’ll want to get emails when a customer makes a purchase, at the minimum, but also consider (and explore on your web platform) what other notifications you can get to make sure you’re on top of sales and customer service.
  • You’ll also want to make sure your appropriate business email address is added as a “from” address on all outgoing automated web-to-customer emails. Things like order confirmations and shipping notifications.

Create a Returns Policy and make sure customers know how to get in touch with you

The last thing you want is a scramble over how to handle an unhappy customer. Setting some guidelines and policies ahead of time will save you from some of these pain points down the road. Think about how customers should get in touch with you. Is it a phone number? Email? Chat / messenger? Will you allow them to return your products? Will they get a refund, store credit, and/or exchange? Will you provide free shipping for returns or is the customer responsible for organizing and paying the shipping fees?

Note down the answers to all of those questions and use it to draft your policy. Be clear about the process, and don’t forget to check around for what other sites are doing so your service fits in to what customers expect.

You’ll also want Terms of Service and Privacy Policy info

This is where you want to make sure you cover yourself legally. You can find all kinds of examples of these policies and terms online, but should always review them and clear them with your legal or business counsel before going live.

Make sure you have thought about your fulfillment

How will you pack things up? Who is your shipping carrier? How long will it take you to pack and ship each order? What will you charge the customer?

Many platforms have available integration with companies like UPS, USPS, and FedEx to automatically calculate shipping and populate/send the tracking information. But these can be complicated to set up if you are a beginner to website management.

Another option is to choose to start with flat fees or even free shipping to make life easier, in which case you’ll want to be sure you add the tracking number manually back into the customer’s order notes in your system and even email it to the customer once the item is shipped.
When you determine your shipping rates, consider the cost of packaging and any of your time as well. For low-margin items these costs can make a big difference in the bottom line.

Make sure you have thought about a plan to organize your products so they’re easy for your customers to find and understand

Before you pick a template or layout your product catalog, do some research into online shopping. Start to notice what kind of categorization is convenient and what kinds of website features make it easier or more complicated to find and purchase what you need.

At High Seas, we conduct a User Experience phase to determine the best workflows and layouts for the type of products, industry, and customers our clients are dealing with. In lieu of anything this thorough, it’s still hugely beneficial to think about how your customers are going to find and interact with products on your site. It may be very different from the way your physical stores are organized.

Think about inventory and how you will manage it between online and offline sales

If you are going to be selling products both at physical locations and online you will need to make sure your inventory is in sync so you don’t have to refund online customers due to selling out in stores or vice versa. For small operations this may just mean updating online quantity whenever you sell something in person. For more extensive businesses you may want to consider integration with your point-of-sale system so that everything is automatically tracked and deducted from available inventory no matter where it’s sold.

Make sure you test end-to-end before you launch

This should go without saying, but the big tip here is probably that this is going to take more time than you think. You’ll want to make a checklist of expected actions and verify that everything happens as planned as you walk through the process both as a customer and as a manager / fulfiller. A few quick things on the bare minimum to check:

  • Search & filtering: can you find what you’re looking for? Do the filters and search produce the expected results according to your product offerings?
  • Product Details: are colors/sizes/variations all represented correctly?
  • Inventory: are products that have available inventory accessible to purchase? What happens if something is out of stock?
  • Cart: can you add product(s) to your cart? Can you change quantities in your cart? Does the subtotal reflect the correct amount?
  • Checkout: are you able to complete a purchase with all available checkout options? Do you get a confirmation page? Do you get a confirmation email? If you have promotions available, do they work?
  • Account: If you allow users to create accounts, are you able to create a new account? Do you get an account creation email? Are you able to reset your password?
  • Administration: Are you able to add/reduce products and inventory? Are you able to add prices and promotions? Do you receive a notification when a customer makes a purchase? Are you able to access orders and fulfill them? Does the transaction appear accurately in your bank account? Are you able to process a refund?

As always, High Seas is here to help and never charges for an initial conversation. Give us a shout if you want to chat about your getting your business or product online or enhancing your existing web presence.

Amanda Marcotte, High Seas
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