Online store, online market space – part 4 and going live and online – 1
This is my fourth posting to this series on developing and building an online store and the first of two due diligence postings on developing an online ecommerce solution per se as a vehicle for your business. The first three postings focused on building the foundation for an online business, and in many respects for a startup in general, discussing the three legs of a core tripod of product and service, market analysis and financial analysis. You can find them at
This brings me to a discussion of building and executing from this planning that the first three postings laid the groundwork for. And I will add the issue that I will focus on here is where many if not most online businesses seem to start – getting an ecommerce web site set up. This posting is going to focus on the online store front and in selecting the options and approaches that will work for you. For the purpose of this series, that means developing an online storefront that really connects into and supports your business planning and prioritization that you have been developing and according to your budget constraints and according to your tripod.
I want to start with a specific working example here that was brought to my attention in feedback to my first two postings, above. I received an email from a colleague who is setting up an online business with her husband. The specific line of products involved here probably does not matter for this discussion, but this does involve physical products that fortunately for them do not have short shelf lives before spoilage and loss. This couple chose to take the entrepreneur’s route and they saw their type of product as offering good potential for building a business. So they signed up with a larger, established business to be a distributor and they bought a web site and then they signed a contract for Google search optimization and search engine marketing (SEM). And they sat back and waited for their first sales orders to come in, with their web site running and their marketing in place, and nothing happened. I am going to cover marketing separately in this series and just focus on building the online storefront itself in this, but I begin with this posting to stress a point. This couple sounds like they are just hoping that they will recoup their initial investment.
Start with the fundamentals so you know who your target audience is and where they go to research and to actually buy online. Know what types of products and services they would buy there and what your financials are so you will be able to set your goals and priorities for meeting these market needs. With that, I stop repeating the core message of the first three postings and move on, assuming you have done your homework and that you are ready to take this step in building your business. And I start applying this foundation approach to selecting and building the storefront by proposing an organized list of questions.
There are a lot of options and opportunities available for buying an inexpensive, quick to set up e-commerce web site and I have seen ads promising you can be up and running in as little as ten minutes. Whatever web site and ecommerce solutions you ultimately decide on – custom, off-the-shelf or some combination, I recommend you start out, at least asking questions like the following.
Product and service complexity and selecting the right ecommerce solution:
The more complex your intended inventory the more complex your web site has to be to effectively present it. This is true on two levels – how much you need to say about particular items and how many items you have to offer. I have seen incredible catalogs that in effect tell a story about each of their products, highlighting them as offering special and even unique value.
• How many products and/or services do you intend to offer?
• Assuming you start offering just the highest priority selections as developed from your market analysis, do you have a plan for adjusting and updating your advertised selection?
• Keep in mind that the more types of product you offer, the more capital you are likely to have tied up in inventory to be able to maintain working stock for completing incoming sales
Web site navigation and ease of use:
It is important that your customers be able to find what they are looking for, whether in your sales selection or in information they would need to help them make an informed purchasing decision, or in making a purchase, or in getting customer support. Basically, you want all of your customers and potential customers to be able to quickly find what they need and when they need it, and with a minimum number of clicks.
• Basic web site organization at this level is called the site’s information architecture. Are your web site options flexible in layout and design, and in how you organize and show your navigation sections?
• If you are considering a pre-designed template based web site that you would customize to your business, how much flexibility to do have on basic navigability?
Placing orders and setting up and completing online transactions:
Placing orders online means setting up and managing transactions where people offer their confidential financial information such as credit card information. There are benefits to this in that ease of sale can mean completed sale, but there are risks too, and some of them stem from the simple act of collecting this information with the security considerations that now arise.
• What options would your ecommerce web site solution support?
• Do you have easy capability to utilize third party payment service providers such as PayPal to limit your having to handle customer data to exclude having credit card numbers, etc in your system?
• Does your web site solution support direct credit card payment through MasterCard and other major card providers?
• What other options do you have the option of supporting for your online purchases?
• You may want to support customers who research and find online but who want to call up a person to actually place that order, perhaps accompanied with questions to make sure they are ordering the right items.
The next installment in this series will continue adding core questions to this developing set starting with customer service and continuing on from there.