E-commerce revenue in the U.S. was estimated to be $768 billion last year and it is expected to exceed $1.3 trillion in the next three years, according to Statista. If you are in the retail space, it makes sense for you to build an e-commerce website to get a share of the pie. Whether you hire a developer to build an e-commerce website or deploy a ready-to-use e-commerce platform, you should know the ins and outs of building an e-commerce website.
Here’s how to build an e-commerce website in seven steps:
Step 1. Choose Your Content Management System (CMS)
The foundation of every website is a content management system (CMS). There are a number of different content management systems to choose from open-source platforms such as WordPress to beginner-friendly all-in-one website builders such as Shopify or Squarespace. Which is right for you and your online store will depend on your budget, experience, and unique e-commerce needs.
Here are the most popular content management systems for e-commerce websites:
- WordPress: The world’s leading CMS that is also one of the most customizable.
- Shopify: An ideal e-commerce solution for building a dropshipping business.
- Squarespace: One of the best website builders for beginners who want to easily build a professional website with no previous web design experience.
- Square Online: Best for existing retailers that are looking to sell in-person and online.
- Wix: An all-in-one website builder that is both easy to use and highly customizable.
To help decide which CMS is best for your e-commerce needs, learn more about the best e-commerce platforms.
Step 2. Create an Account (Or Get Web Hosting)
Once you have decided which CMS to use, the next step is to create an account–unless you choose WordPress. If you are planning to build your e-commerce site with WordPress, your next step is to get a web hosting plan. The best web hosting services come with a free domain name, a free SSL certificate and one-click WordPress installation, eliminating the need to manually connect your domain and hosting to WordPress.
If you’re using a website builder such as Shopify, Squarespace, Square Online or Wix, simply navigate to the provider’s website and register for an account. If your chosen CMS allows, register your domain name through the CMS to eliminate the need for manual domain configuration process.
In the instance where your chosen CMS does not give you the option to get a domain name, register your domain using a domain name registrar. For help choosing one, check out our article on the best domain name registrars.
Step 3. Select an E-commerce Theme or Template
The first thing you need to consider is a theme for your website. Themes are ready-made templates that give your website a consistent look and feel. All subscription platforms have tons of templates to choose from, so whether you’re building your e-commerce website with WordPress, Shopify, Wix or anything else, you will have prebuilt templates and themes to choose from.
Keep in mind that while free templates are generally available across most platforms, some also offer paid (or premium) templates. For example, both WordPress and Shopify offer premium themes that range in price from around $30 to over $200. The benefit is that many offer more unique designs, which can help businesses that want a specific look to reduce the amount of time spent customizing their chosen theme.
Step 4. Customize Your Site and Build Out Web Pages
After you have found the perfect theme or template for your online store, the next step is to begin customizing it. This is where you will be updating your header and footer, configuring your site’s navigation, and building out pages from your homepage to your refunds and return policy page.
Step 5. Create Product Listings
No online store is complete with product listings. So once you have built out your website, the next step is to create your product catalog, complete with all of your individual product listings. In this process be sure to organize and categorize your listings so they are easy for your future site visitors to find and for you to manage.
Step 6. Set Up a Payment Gateway, Inventory and Tax Tools
After you have populated your e-commerce website, there are a few key aspects of building an e-commerce site to attend to from setting up a payment processor to adding inventory and tax tools.
Choose a Payment Gateway
When it comes to choosing and setting up a payment gateway, many online retailers opt for third-party tools such as Stripe or PayPal to make the process easier and more secure. If you are redirecting the customer to other websites, you must ensure that the data is fully encrypted before transfer.
If you are choosing payment integrations, consider these points:
- How easy is it to integrate the tool with your platform?
- Is the tool secure?
- Is the tool PCI compliant?
- What are the fees you and the customer must pay?
For a detailed breakdown, refer to our article on the best payment gateways.
If your platform allows it, you should integrate shipping with your e-commerce website for a seamless experience. It will also simplify operations and you can focus on selling. But before you integrate shipping, determine your shipping policies such as free shipping, variable fee, flat rate, etc. And while you are at it, also establish refund and return policies.
Add a Sales Tax Calculator (Optional)
Additionally, you may want to consider adding a tax calculator to automatically calculate sales tax, shipping and any other fees at checkout.
Step 7. Test and Launch Your E-Commerce Site
Before launching the e-commerce site to your customers, you must check the site thoroughly. Every button and every link on the site must be working. Even 404 error web pages should be designed according to the theme.
Run tests to see if you can add products to the cart and process the payment. Most platforms will allow you to test payment processing without actually charging your credit card. Be sure to check if all the emails are getting sent to the right inboxes after a purchase has been made or declined. And last but not least, check how your site looks and functions on mobile devices. If possible, try to check out the site’s performance on different web browsers.
Once you have tested and double-checked everything, from product descriptions to category pages, you are ready to launch.
Announce the launch of your e-commerce store through your social media pages, guest posts on popular retail blogs in your niche, influencer marketing and to your email lists. If you have the budget, you can also go for paid advertising on Facebook, Google and other platforms.
Why You Should Sell Online
Before you actually start building your e-commerce website, you need to be clear about your business needs for building a website. Here are some reasons why you should sell online.
More People Are Buying Online
Buying online is convenient as well as safe, and during the recent pandemic, e-commerce sales surged by as much as 40% in 2020, the first pandemic year. The easy availability of smartphones also means that you can buy from anywhere, any time of the day. So it’s obvious that people will continue buying long after the pandemic has abated.
Setting Up an E-Commerce Storefront Is Cheaper
When you compare it with a brick-and-mortar store, Setting up an e-commerce storefront is much cheaper. This is partially because brick-and-mortar stores incur multiple fixed costs such as rent, electricity bills, employee payments, infrastructure maintenance, etc.
E-Commerce Website Can Augment Off-Line Sales
It is not necessary that online and offline stores should be mutually exclusive. They can augment each other nicely when you tell people about your brick-and-mortar store on your e-commerce website and install app kiosks in your stores.
For instance, Amazon is now opening brick-and-mortar stores after the runaway success of its online e-commerce website.
Create Unique Customer Experiences
Personalizing experiences and services are much easier online. You can use different media including video, audio, stories, customer reviews and personalized messaging to build an experience your customers cherish and share with others.
Start Selling Immediately
Once you have the website ready, all you need to do is set up payment processing and list your products on the website to start selling. There is no need to wait for new employees, stockpile inventory or generate enough marketing buzz. You are in business the moment you put your website live.
Eliminate Costly Overheard With Dropshipping
When you think of retail, the first thing that comes to mind is sourcing, maintaining and handling inventory. However, if you choose a dropshipping business model, you don’t need to maintain and handle inventory by yourself. You can read all about dropshipping here.
An e-commerce website is your online brand identity. You must take care to build it in a way that makes it easier for customers to experience your brand. Also, remember that it is not possible to get everything right the first time. Keep learning from your experiences, be ready to experiment and make changes when required.