How quickly can you build an ecommerce website?

  1. Empty shopping cart on blue background
    Melissa Tredinnick

    Melissa Tredinnick Contributor

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    When lockdown came into force earlier this year, ecommerce was the only option for many retailers to keep their businesses running. 

    During those first few weeks, any retailer without an online presence had to work against the clock to create one.

    Online shopping saw a huge increase during lockdown, and while online sales dipped slightly in July – the first full month non-essential stores were allowed to open – ONS data shows they are still 50.4% higher than February’s pre-pandemic levels

    For some businesses, the necessity caused by the pandemic acted as the push they needed to put together their ecommerce site, whether they’d already planned to do it at some point or didn’t see the value in it until they were forced to. In many cases, Government-backed financial support such as bounceback loans also helped to make it possible.

    But if you’re just getting started with building an online store, can you learn from that process and get your site up and running in a matter of days?

    Establish your priorities

    Many of the businesses that launched their online stores during lockdown had a clear goal: to provide a way for customers to reach them and their products as soon as possible.

    For some, it was about making up for a dip in sales while for others, forced to shut down completely, it completely replaced the usual trade. Like many hospitality businesses, Lucy Do of the Dodo micropub in Hanwell, West London, had a web shop up and running within a couple of weeks of lockdown being announced, giving customers the opportunity to order beer for pickup or local delivery.

    Similarly, Bristol-based cafe and bakery Pinkmans had their online shop and home delivery service ready for orders by the end of April, building on their strong Instagram presence and using it to keep their customers interested.

    For those that were heavily reliant on seasonal business, there was an added sense of urgency with Easter just around the corner. One case study on the Shopify website, for example, shows how Lindt Canada built their online store in just five days at the end of March.

    Having the goal of a quick launch in mind meant it wasn’t necessary for those businesses to have every single product online right away, or to produce a beautiful and sophisticated design – but it was important to be very clear and methodical about how they would get the website up and running on time, and how they would fulfil orders.

    Now that many of the heavier restrictions of lockdown have been lifted, you might have different priorities when you’re creating your store. Perhaps you want to reach more customers, or enhance your brand image. Depending on your objective, it may be worth putting more time and effort into certain aspects of your website, rather than rushing through each step as quickly as possible.

    Whatever your timescale, the best way to ensure the process runs smoothly is to set out a plan and communicate it clearly to everyone involved.

    Building the website

    Before you get started, check that the domain you want is available, and register it.

    From there, you can choose your ecommerce solution. There are various ways to build and host a website, and you can find discussions around the pros and cons of each on our Ecommerce forum

    If you’re looking for a quick solution and you’re not particularly technically-minded, an ecommerce provider like Shopify or BigCommerce might be your best option, or you could add a plugin like WooCommerce to a WordPress website.

    Lucy Do, who used Squarespace for her business's website, found it relatively easy to adapt the site to include an online shop.

    "It did take a bit of time to get my head around the technology but watching YouTube tutorials really helped," she said. "Then from a user experience perspective I just had to remember to make it as easy as possible for people to find the products they were after and check out. I obviously tested it heavily before pages went live.

    "Once I got going it was fairly straightforward and I was glad I didn't have to spend lots of money I didn't have on getting a web shop up and running."

    It’s also worth thinking about the platforms you could use outside of your own website, such as Amazon, Ebay or Etsy, to access an existing audience of customers.

    With your ecommerce solution ready, you can start thinking about your website’s design and structure. This isn’t just about making it look nice – it’s also about providing a good user experience that makes it as easy as possible for customers to buy from you.

    Using a template and tweaking it to fit your business can be a good way to save time on this step. There’s no shame in your website looking similar to others – the best templates reflect good practice based on evidence of what works for users.

    You might also be able to use your knowledge of strategies for making sales in a physical store to create a user-friendly design for your website, as this video from the Nielsen Norman group explains. For example, providing clarity upfront about which payment types you accept to avoid frustrating potential buyers in the final stages of a purchase.

    It’s also important to check that your website is mobile-responsive, and can be used just as easily across desktop and mobile devices. 

    Your next step is to put together the website’s content. Although it might be tempting to rush through this stage, the quality of your written content can make a huge difference to the way your business is perceived. 

    Detailed and appealing product descriptions, in particular, play a big part in selling your products, giving customers the information they need to make a confident purchase, and improving your chances of appearing in Google search results.

    Product photos are another essential part of the website to get right. If you have a good camera, the right lighting, and an appropriate backdrop, you may be able to do this yourself.

    You’ll need to set up your website’s payment methods. Ecommerce website builders are generally paired with multiple payment options, giving you some choice over which ones you offer. 

    Finally, secure your website with an SSL certificate, which allows you to move from HTTP to HTTPS. This is now fairly standard practice for any website, but it’s particularly important when you’re asking customers to enter their payment details.

    Keep making improvements

    Depending on the size and complexity of your business, the resources you have and the type of website you need, working through all of these steps might take a day or two, or it could take months – but either way, it’s your continued effort that will make it successful.

    To make sure your website does what it’s intended to do, you’ll need to create and implement an online marketing plan.

    This could include promoting your website across social media and other platforms as you gradually expand the products available, and assessing your search engine performance.

    Website best practice, design trends and technology are all constantly changing, so think of your website as an ongoing project, and keep testing, tweaking and improving it over time.

  2. bluenun

    bluenun Guest

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    You can get a (free) mobile friendly website setup with basic products ready to go in 10 minutes with ecwids . Oviously you would want your own domain as well - but if that is setup then just copy and paste the 5 lines of html or install the plugin if on wordpress / joomla etc.
    Dont fall into the trap of becoming yet another ebay seller. Etsy I would avoid at all costs.

    If you are looking for customers then they are on your social media door step - at no cost - you can put your ecwid shop into facebook - then use a targeted and direct Ad to pinpoint the customers you want - eg Men over 50 who like mountain biking or women under 30 that live in London that are into Prada etc . The same applies to twitter and insta. If you start to sell then you can upgrade to various other options (it's about £10) that covers all the hosting, the security, all done for you. It covers anything from physical products, services to digital downloads - and unlike etsy there arent any transaction costs.

    You could consider Magento (long winded), xcart (techy) - if you just want to sell 'stuff' then it's a no brainer. Shopify is ok - but pricey and not as nice. Facebook example here
    Posted: Aug 28, 2020 By: bluenun Member since: Jan 1, 1970
    Hollies64 and Melissa Tredinnick like this.
  3. Training 4 Your Business

    Training 4 Your Business UKBF Newcomer

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    Very well put. I would add: consider different delivery options, and don't fall into the classic trap of just charging for postage. There are other things to factor in such as printing, packaging and time to get the orders sent out. Also, now restrictions are being lifted, have “click and collect” as an option instead of delivery. That way, you increase your footfall and get the opportunity to not only reconnect with customers, but to upsell and cross-sell in the conventional manner.
    Posted: Aug 28, 2020 By: Training 4 Your Business Member since: Feb 19, 2020
    Melissa Tredinnick likes this.
  4. DaveElmen

    DaveElmen UKBF Newcomer

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    You absolutely need an online store if you have product to shift. If your hosting company has something like cPanel, it should contain a bunch of Scriptolicious(sp?) options for installing all manner of eCommerce software and shops for free.

    I've used Prestashop to great effect before. The main issues I encountered were a) time to get to know the software, but there's plenty of YouTube videos, b) getting the images and copy for your items takes 3 times longer than you imagine and c) working out the postage combinations and how people roll-up postage when buying multiple items.
    Posted: Aug 28, 2020 By: DaveElmen Member since: Aug 5, 2020
    Melissa Tredinnick likes this.
  5. Robert Ormiston

    Robert Ormiston UKBF Newcomer

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    Wordpress is very good for SEO. Consider using Fiverr to find a (reasonably priced) developer but check out thier work first. Magento is a developers honeytrap.
    Posted: Oct 1, 2020 By: Robert Ormiston Member since: Oct 1, 2020