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How to Build an Ecommerce Website: What's the Most Important Thing?

Updated on September 26, 2012

The One Thing You Must Never Do, When Starting an Ecommerce Business

If you need an ecommerce website and are worried that you don’t understand HTML or PHP, not to mention Java or CSS, don’t worry. Building an ecommerce website from scratch is a truly bad idea very similar to reinventing the wheel. Running an online business is difficult enough, without having to fix software when it goes wrong.

I started my first online business in 1997 and since then I've been to a lot of webinars and lectures all about ecommerce. I don’t know of any subject which is surrounded by so much misinformation. Gurus sell courses to assure you that they can fix your site, as long as you pay for this or that report and make this or that change. When you get down to it, you’ll find their experience is mostly limited to selling courses and webinars on how to make money on the web. They know nothing at all about selling real products, and in some cases their advice just makes things worse. There is no magic bullet and no foolproof formula. A lot of ecommerce is old fashioned common sense.

Ten Golden Rules to Follow When Building an Ecommerce Website.

1. Sell something people want. No matter how good your website looks, you can’t sell a product no-one wants or needs. How do you find out if people want your product? Research. Use keyword tools, look for competitors, check how many people are advertising similar products on the web, through google ads and other means.

Should You Use Bespoke Software?

2. NO! Unless your business is huge and you have a similar budget, never ever use ecommerce software that has been developed just for you. Yes, Amazon did it, but how many years was it before they were profitable? If you have investors who will wait that long, go ahead.

If you want to open an online store, you need to use one of the many commercial shopping cart programs available. The choice will depend on your product and your budget, but it’s not a decision to be rushed. Changing carts is not a fun process, so it’s much easier if you get it right first time.

Check out the availability of support. Can you get hold of them quickly and are they helpful? Some carts take a share of profits, some charge more for more products in your store, and others seem to charge a reasonable fee, but have a lot of extras. Some carts to check out are 3DCart and Volusion, but if you have only a small number of products you can keep it very simple by using something like Wordpress and adding paypal buttons to your pages. This keeps costs very low while you build the number of products you have for sale.

Do You Have to Find Something New and Original to Sell?

3. No! Don’t sell something new and original (unless you have lots of investors and a huge budget). The internet is huge now. If it’s not already for sale somewhere out there, most likely there is no demand for it.

There's an old saying. If you think you've found a gap in the market, check that there's a market in the gap.


What Sort of Content Do You Need for an Ecommerce Store?

4. Don’t forget to add good photographs and descriptions.When you draft the descriptions don’t think about the features of your product, think about the benefit to your customer from owning the product. When appearance is important, be sure to have more than one picture. Customers are wary of buying on the web, size and texture are things they can’t experience as they would in a physical store, so help them as much as you can. Show the size relative to other things, have pictures of the product in all its possible configurations, and show it in action as well as passive, from the back as well as from the front. Providing raw data, like size information and, dimensions, weight, that sort of thing, can cut down on the number of telephone calls you’ll have to answer, but if at all possible provide the data in addition to pictures, not instead of them. Most people won’t bother to phone if they have questions, they’ll just go to another web site which provides the information they want.

Websites are not just about products - include articles on how to use it, how to tell when you need it, when to give it. What related information would your customers find useful? Can you provide them with a free information product? Can you make videos showing the product working? How will you convince them to shop with you again? If yours is a product which can attract repeat sales, build a blog into your website and, if possible, a newsletter, you’ll learn a lot by establishing a dialogue with your customers. Pay attention to what they say and adjust your product and website accordingly.

The Most Important Thing About An Ecommerce Website

5. First impressions count. Yes, the designer stores have animated front pages but unless you have a powerful brand name like Chanel or Gucci, people won’t sit and wait while your front page loads. Be sure to hit them with who and what you are, and do it quickly. Speed is important. Make the plus points of your product obvious, and do it above the fold, that is to say attract their interest without making them scroll at all. You have only a second or two to make an impression, make it count.

Many first time website owners spend many many days working on the design of their home page. A great home page is good, but this is the world wide web. You have no idea which page your customers will see first. All your pages need to be good. Most websites use templates and the template for the home page is slightly different to the template for all the others. Some customers will see the home page at some point in their shopping with you, others will never see it at all! Don’t obsess on the home page.

The Important Elements of a Webstore.

6. Be contactable. Shoppers have questions, make sure they can get answers. The easiest way to do this is to publish a telephone number right at the top of your site where everyone can see it. If it's in the sites header/banner, it will be included on every page. Companies like will sell you an 800 number and using their software you can reroute the number to your home phone or cellphone depending on the time of day. If/when you have the budget you can route the calls to a virtual assistant, but don’t do that too soon, You’ll learn a lot about the way people see your product from answering their questions.

Make Sure You Can Measure Results

7. Build in tracking and statistics. You need to be able to measure the success of your efforts. Use packages such as google analytics and google’s webmaster tools to keep track of the traffic to your website. You’ll see where they come from and how they move through your site. These tools are free. Don’t spend money on statistics gathering programs unless you have a very good reason.

What Should my Priorities Be When Launching an E-commerce Site?

8 Don’t obsess on details. The most important thing is to have a website out there. The site will never be perfect because there is no such thing. Get the site operational and make adjustments over time, using your statistics as a guide. Will more people like your store if the bullet points are yellow, not green? Quite possibly, but just as many people won’t.

Have you ever visited a website and decided that you didn't want to buy from it? If so, why? If you don't find the answer here, please add it as a comment.

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Other Than Products, What Do I Need to Think About When Opening an E-commerce Store?

9. Don’t forget the details. Shipping costs and delivery times can all make a big difference to customers. Keep an eye on abandoned shopping carts and experiment with shipping costs. These may be better built in to the product itself. Will customers buy your product as a gift? If so then great packaging might persuade them to buy from you instead of your competitors, or you may like to offer gift wrapping at an additional cost.

Think about loyalty bonuses, gift vouchers, regular sales, VIP customers. What can you offer to make people buy from you, and not the other guy?

The Ultimate Guide To Building And Marketing Your Business With Google
The Ultimate Guide To Building And Marketing Your Business With Google

Right up to date, this guide will help you bring traffic to your store, without that, the best store in the world won't be able to sell a thing.


What Do I Need Most When Starting an E-Commerce Store?

10. In one word, traffic. The best web site in the world can’t sell a product if no-one ever visits it. Build the web site, then concentrate all your efforts on bringing traffic to it, rather than constantly changing product descriptions and site design features.

E-commerce is easy. All you need is to find out what people want, then sell it to them. Then just keep doing it, and you can’t fail.


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    • sameerakhan926 profile image

      Sameera Khan 

      4 years ago from Chandigarh, India

      Very nice hub I must say. You have covered all the important topics that should be discussed related to an eCommerce website. I agree with Daljeet Kaur that you should always avoid duplicate content in any website specially if you are into eCommerce business. You cant display the same stuff to the people. Explore more about eCommerce website development and best eCommerce Solutions here:- https://smallbusinessonlinecommunity.bankofamerica...

    • Amaryllis profile imageAUTHOR

      Lesley Charalambides 

      5 years ago from New Hampshire

      Thanks for your comment. As you say duplicate content is not a good idea.

    • Daljeet Kaur profile image

      Daljeet Kaur 

      5 years ago from India

      Very true. All these points should need to keep in mind. User will like and come to your site when it is according to user's needs. The main thing that need to keep in mind is your website should have a user friendly interface, fresh content and one more thing that Content should never be duplicate, it should be related to user's searches and impressive enough to attract customer.

    • Amaryllis profile imageAUTHOR

      Lesley Charalambides 

      6 years ago from New Hampshire

      That's fantastic. Care to share a link to the etsy store?

    • Lilleyth profile image

      Suzanne Sheffield 

      6 years ago from Mid-Atlantic

      I know! She has a degree in English education!

    • Amaryllis profile imageAUTHOR

      Lesley Charalambides 

      6 years ago from New Hampshire

      Wow, she needs to be writing hubs on how that was done! I'd queue to read them! Thanks for commenting.

    • Lilleyth profile image

      Suzanne Sheffield 

      6 years ago from Mid-Atlantic

      Good info. My daughter is in the process of opening an e-commerce site and is using a professional web designer. She has been on Etsy for 2 years and is branching out. She is a former paralegal, which you can appreciate, who just couldn't take filing another petition, and decided to start an Etsy business from scratch and her sales this month are going to be around $7k...


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