There are currently approximately 24 million e-commerce sites globally, a figure that continues to grow. The online shopping craze has grown exponentially over the years – recently even topping in-store sales but in the last year in particular, a whopping 85,000 businesses opened online stores amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unsurprisingly, statistics reveal the UK experienced one of the highest rates of online purchasing ever, with 87% of Brits heading online for goods and services they couldn’t shop for amid nationwide lockdowns. With so many businesses opening or migrating online, we explore the top priorities for retailers getting into e-commerce.
Before companies can start selling goods or services online, they must ensure they have the right platform to trade on – one that suits them and their customers.
By nature, an effective e-commerce platform allows retailers to create and build an online experience and fulfil orders. By function, it will act as the command centre for the business, where they can control everything from sales to marketing and house the tools to keep expanding. But what are the options available?
Initially, it’s the question of whether they have the internal skills to self-host a domain (PaaS), which will have less support on offer, or should they invest in a hosted domain (SaaS), which will have more support for technical issues that may occur.
Shopify is an example of a SaaS model that provides users with automatic updates and internal technical help, while Magento ECE is a PaaS with a slightly lower level of support for those more confident in developing their site in-house.
For first timers, it’s often recommended to stick to SaaS domains, freeing up time and resources to focus on building out content and gaining exposure, However, more established businesses migrating to a new site may opt to develop a more complex offering with custom apps and add-ons.
That’s not the only consideration when choosing a platform though — before purchasing a plan or domain, investigate which tools and themes are available, annual costs and overheads to keep the site running and which skills may be required to use it. It’s no good having a platform that is visually appealing when it gets started with the help of a crew of technical whizzes if it’s not possible to make any changes or add new features in the future.
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2. Safety and security
Even with the world returning to normality and physical shops reopening, reports have revealed that 63% of shopping sessions begin online. That said, just because the business is online doesn’t mean it is automatically safe. Physically, yes — but not from cyber security breaches. This kind of threat could result in a loss of customers, with 44% claiming they will stop spending on a site following a cyber security breach. So, protecting user data is vital for retaining valuable custom.
The most common security threats for e-commerce sites come in the form of phishing, malware, ransomware, SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS) and e-skimming, as well as compliance issues. These all threaten customers’ personal data and information, including their confidential payment details.
To protect e-commerce customers from potential threats and gain their trust, firstly recommend that they implement strong passwords when creating accounts. Then, protect company devices with anti-virus software and firewalls and only store the customer data the business needs, to avoid falling foul of privacy regulations.
In addition, be vigilant by making sure the e-commerce site is always up to date with the latest software, regularly reviewing plugins and third-party solutions and getting an SSL Certificate to switch to secure HTTPS hosting. SSL Certificates act as a trust indicator to existing and future customers, too.
While this may seem like a lot to keep an eye on, ensuring robust online security is key to the overall success and future growth of e-commerce businesses, as it encourages customers to return and recommend to others.
3. Ease of use and functionality
Once an e-commerce platform has been rolled out, along with relevant safety and security considerations, it’s time to review the website for user experience. With users reportedly taking just 50 milliseconds to form an opinion of a website, there are several things businesses need to consider to provide an intuitive and memorable user experience.
At first glance, ensure the site has a coherent design with a home page, category and subcategory navigation and appropriate, clear headings. Using a website builder tool gives businesses access to tried and tested designs that load quickly and offer the responsiveness demanded by modern consumers.
Next are product descriptions and high-quality images, which allow customers to see what they are buying – which is especially important in building consumer trust when they can’t simply ‘try before they buy’.
Finally, provide an uncomplicated checkout process, which offers several payment options, such as credit or debit card, Paypal or even buy-now-pay-later features, such as Klarna or ClearPay. Additional functions, such as search and filtering tools – which allow users to find what they want – and wish lists that give them the option to save for later, are all beneficial in making the e-commerce experience extra special.
Plus, with nearly half of consumers shopping via mobile nowadays, e-commerce sites must be functional on multiple devices too.
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4. Finishing touches to drive traffic
Finally, consider what additional activity could help the e-commerce site stand out from the competition. This means researching competing websites, finding out what works well for them – and any gaps in their offering – and making it even better.
Create comprehensive onsite content, such as blogs and articles for specialised knowledge and advice, and FAQ pages that give the customer all the information they may need.
Invest in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) services to boost the site’s potential sales and revenue by increasing visibility on Google when consumers make relevant searches.
Additionally, create a social media presence on sites such as Instagram and Facebook that allow businesses to host profiles, expand their audience reach and attract new customers to their website.