The industry buzzes with the E word spoken barely above a whisper. Ecommerce. We talk with a lot of retailers about why you need to have eCommerce but no one talks about how to build your ecommerce website. Such a daunting, disruptive business shift takes time and a sustainable roadmap. That’s why we’re going to break down the basics of building your ecommerce website. You’ll learn how you can work with your manufacturers, your website partners, and your customers to make a sustainable ecommerce strategy.
Start with a Great Mobile Friendly Website
So, you think you’re ready to build your eCommerce website? Before you start your ecommerce roadmap, you need to make sure that you’re adhering to the Google technical guidelines. After the dust settled from the first mobilegeddon, the period of time when a website that isn’t mobile friendly was essentially “dead” to Google search, businesses were complacent with the quality of their Google-approved mobile-responsive websites. The websites are technically sound but the experience for shoppers was poor. Somewhere along the way, retailers lost their way. With so much focus on Google guidelines, we forgot about the customer experience. This is where your ecommerce strategy comes from your customers.
Adweek author Lisa Lacy says “Google research shows that 73 percent of consumers will switch from a poorly designed mobile site to an alternative mobile site that makes purchasing easier.”
You can’t afford to “think” your website is mobile friendly for Google but an awful experience for your customers. Yes, it is vital to meet Google standards for website structure to improve your website ranking. But the last time we checked, Google wasn’t writing you a check for new sofas and loveseats. Many out of the box website builders and most of the website partners in your industry will offer a mobile-friendly template to choose from. That’s half the battle. What you learn from customers while you build your ecommerce website is how customers browse your website. If you are the one in a million retail website with a low percentage of mobile visitors, this message is not for you. Also, congratulations. For the rest of the 99%, mobile traffic represents a majority of your website traffic. That number is only going up year over year as shopping trends continue to shift. Mobile friendly is great but for ecommerce retailers, thinking “mobile-first” is better.
Build Your Ecommerce Website as a “Mobile-First” Site
Mobile First is another initiative of the great Google. Its complexity can’t be understated but here is what you need to know in this article. Mobile-first indexing means that 9 times out of 10, Google will use the mobile version of website content for indexing and ranking the website. Google wants to make sure the majority of Google users that use a smartphone for searching can find the best mobile websites to review. Google has listed best practices for transitioning to a mobile-first website version to prepare for mobile-first indexing. Don’t panic. If your website is responsive and you’re working with a great website partner, you can optimize your website for mobile shopping as you transition to eCommerce.
Build an eCommerce strategy that is scalable
Now that you’re planning the roadmap to build your ecommerce website you think you’re ready to run straight to “what payment methods should I use online?” But, that’s where many retailers who have come before you failed. It’s important to create a sustainable ecommerce roadmap. While a “big bang” approach might seem your best option, we suggest a slow roll to ecommerce. This means setting goals and identifying some potential roadblocks to reaching those goals.
What products can you sell online today?
Many of the websites we see may be great at mobile responsiveness and theoretically have a good user experience onsite. But there is a gaping hole in your strategy that you may not realize yet. Product feeds. Manufacturer product feeds are a critical component to selling furniture online. It may seem too basic even for beginners. Ecommerce websites require product data on them; you can’t sell a product that can only be found on another site. Yet, many of the retailers we meet who want to build an ecommerce website don’t have manufacturer products living on their existing website. Too often, retailers are using the website to link shoppers to the manufacturer website for product information. While it may be the “easy” route for those who don’t have another option, you’re stealing from your own profits.
Not only does this break the user experience, switching from one website to another, it all but encourages the shopper to engage with the manufacturer’s dealer locator to buy this product they’ve seen on the manufacturer website–all thanks to your link. Will they remember your store was the one to lead them to the product they love? Not likely. That’s why it is vital to bring those manufacturer product catalog feeds to your own website.
Shameless plug: MicroD bridges the gap between your website and your manufacturers’ product catalogs. With an OmniVue website, you get instant access to nearly 400 manufacturer product catalog feeds. Your top selling brands and products can fill your website without any effort on your part. Sounds easy, right? This connection makes it easy for shoppers to research products they love, customize it with new upholstery options, see it in a room planner, and purchase it from your store. All of this happens without the customer ever leaving your website.
What products should you sell online?
One EASY way to start your ecommerce strategy, and one that we’ve suggested to retailers in the Home Furnishings industry, is the Clearance rule. If most of your best sellers have no pricing available from the manufacturer to sell online, you need another avenue to build your ecommerce website. Clearance items are already priced to sell on your showroom floor. You can create an entire virtual catalog of clearance items and price them with ease. If you’re short on great manufacturer-provided images of the product, snap a photo of the item in your store and upload it to your website clearance catalog. Clearance online sales are a great opportunity to get familiar with pricing, payment logistics, and how to navigate some of the growing pains of building your ecommerce website. Starting small, especially with a clearance category, will help you work out the kinks and scale your strategy over time.
When you build your eCommerce website, one very effective way to begin is the Pareto Principle. You may know this by its more common name: the 80/20 rule. This rule challenges you to focus your energy on the 20% of your product line that provides 80% of your profit. For example, you may have hundreds of accessories that are in stock and cost efficient to ship within a delivery area of 20 miles. When you look at the consumer purchasing data in your website analytics, you’re only selling 1/4 of your inventory instore. Rather than spend time manually pricing each product that has a low track record of sales, focus on the best sellers and apply the Rule of 3 (yes, another Rule).
- Price them
- Rank them
- Sell them online.
How Will You Deliver Your Products?
Once you have the aesthetics in place, it’s time to work on the infrastructure of your eCommerce website. It’s important to recognize that you are now competing with industry giants like Amazon and Wayfair. Take this into account when you decide how to ship your products. In most cases, the retail giants offer free two-day delivery and have optimized their supply chain.
You need to carefully evaluate and then make decisions on your distribution, shipping and return policies. Use this checklist to help you logistically build your eCommerce website:
- Consider choosing logistics partners who support the short turnaround delivery option
- Evaluate various pricing strategies for online vs. in-store and how shipping costs will bake into your price
- Offer reasonable return policies
- Determine a viable delivery area to start–set a smaller radius and grow from there based on the data (more here in a minute)
- Include an 800 number for customers to contact you and train your team on how to handle ecommerce transaction questions
If you choose to make delivery available. Aim low. Do some research to determine your optimum delivering areas. If you are unable or unwilling to deliver to certain areas, find an ecommerce platform like MicroD that allows you to set parameters that allow only customers in specified zip codes to order online. Once you start selling online, you are opening markets never before available to you. Choose third-party logistics companies to stock and deliver your products within your parameters. There is always room to grow once you train customers on your ecommerce business.
The Ins and Outs of In-Store Pickup
One of the best ways to compete with online sellers is to leverage your brick and mortar presence. Although a few of them are aggressively moving to add traditional stores, most online sellers do not offer in-store pickup. Add a “click to brick” option where customers can buy online and pick up at the nearest store.
We highly recommend that you correlate your in-store marketing strategies with your online advertising. You can direct online customers to the physical store nearest to them with simple mapping technology.
Your physical store allows prospective customers to:
- See the product,
- Sit on the furniture,
- Talk to an actual sales representative, and
- Visualize the product in an actual room setting.
Secure Your Website for Online Shopping
When you build your eCommerce website, remember that you’re asking customers to share personal information like name, contact information, and payment information. Nothing shuts down an ecommerce strategy like hacking of customer payment information and ensuing identity theft. To protect your business and your customers, not to mention the new security requirements, you need to secure your website. Most retailers and anyone who uses Google have heard of SSL. SSL stands for secure sockets layer. It is a certificate that keeps your website locked down and secure.
Think of your SSL certificate as an electronic passport. SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) establishes an encrypted link between your web server and the customer’s browser. It ensures that all data passed between the web server and browsers is private and secure.
An SSL Certificate includes:
- Name of the holder
- Serial number and expiration date
- Copy of the certificate holder’s public key
- Digital Signature of the certificate-issuing authority
If you’ve got a good website partner, like MicroD, you’ve known about the Google changes regarding SSL for websites since 2017. Your website partner should help you set up and keep your SSL renewed annually. As of July 2018, Google made SSL certificates a requirement for all websites. What does that mean for you?
If you want to have a website that Google presents to visitors, get an SSL yesterday.
Pro Tip: PCI DSS Compliance
Yes, we’re getting into the weeds with this one but it’s important to build this into your ecommerce strategy. If you’re going to accept payments online, you must comply with PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards). Make a note to talk with your eCommerce provider about PCI compliance and the steps you need to take to be compliant.
Online Payment Methods
When you build your eCommerce website, make it easy for your customers to order and pay. Take a page from our book at MicroD. We offer the following payment methods for our retailers starting eCommerce:
- First Data – “the #1 merchant acquirer for small businesses”
- eMerchant – offers merchant accounts and credit card processing
- PayPal – accept credit cards and invoice online with PayPal
- Authorize.net – Visa solution that allows you to accept credit cards and create invoices
SEO BONUS Section
Traffic, traffic, traffic! The best website in the world is useless if nobody knows it exists. Find a company who specializes in both local and traditional SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and especially one who is adept at making local SEO work for their clients.
We provide full SEO, PPC and other services designed to bring traffic to your website. We create customized campaigns designed to attract your target customers. Visit MicroD’s OmniVue Website Platform. Contact us when you are ready to build your eCommerce website.