E-Commerce Web Design Agency

what, why & how

Maybe you own a high-street shop and you’ve heard ecommerce is a great way of helping you reach new clients. Or perhaps you’re the creative type, making homemade bits and bobs and would like to start selling them around the world.

Whatever your story, if you’re interested in ecommerce check out this article to help you avoid the pitfalls and to help you start selling in no time!

Who’s this guide for? Anyone looking to find out about ecommerce and wants to know the pitfalls and problems that can occur.

What is ecommerce?

Basically, ecommerce is any commercial transaction that is carried out online. Ecommerce has changed the way many of us shop. It allows us to find unique products at great prices from all over the world.

The businesses that have truly embraced ecommerce find new customers easily and have reduced their overheads considerably.

What are my options for an ecommerce platform?

Woocommerce (WordPress ecommerce platform)

Woocommerce is one of the most popular ecommerce platforms. It’s free to use and there are thousands of themes and plugins available meaning it’s easy to  add new features.

WordPress/Woocommerce is relatively easy to code from a developer’s point of view. If you need to make changes to your site, you should be able to hire a developer to carry out the work without having to re-mortgage your house.

On the down-side WordPress wasn’t initially intended for use as an ecommerce platform (although it does handle it well). If you’re planning on housing thousands of products on your site this will be asking too much of Woocommerce and you should probably consider using either Magento or Joomla.

Shopify

Shopify has become increasingly popular in recent years, allowing for some great “off-the-peg” solutions with a wide range of high quality themes. There’s a monthly fee, which at the time of writing varies from $29 to $299, depending on the size of your store. They also take a percentage of your credit card transactions, which varies depending on your package.

While the monthly fee may not be prohibitively expensive it’s the sort of thing that makes it harder to find a Shopify developer. While running your store, you might never need a developer to work on your site. But if you’re a very meticulous person who’s likely to want colours and elements tweaked, bear in mind that this won’t come cheap.

Magento

Magento is an ecommerce workhorse. It was developed specifically for ecommerce, unlike WordPress for example.

Like WordPress, Magento is available without any monthly costs (this doesn’t include any hosting expenses) and there are a wide range of themes to choose from. Magento is one of the best options for stores with large numbers of products.

Magento can at first seem quite overwhelming. The admin area has been built to be solid, comprehensive and professional, as opposed to warm, fuzzy and user friendly. Additionally, as Magento is more complicated from a development perspective, it’s more expensive than WordPress if you want changes made.

Joomla

Like Magento and Woocommerce, Joomla is open-source in nature, meaning it doesn’t incur any additional monthly costs. While Joomla doesn’t have the same range of themes and plugins as woocommerce, it’s an excellent choice for stores with a large number of products. It’s not as technically complex as Magento. However, like Magento it can be costly to hire a developer if you need any changes to the website in the future.

And there’s more…

There are many more ecommerce platforms available and the internet is filled with various opinions of these platforms. If you’re setting up an ecommerce store, do your homework. You should be involved in choosing the platform as you’re the one who will have to work with it.

Why is choosing the right ecommerce agency so important?

For new ecommerce businesses, there are two main considerations.

First is the design of the website (how you want it to look), and second how the shop part of the website will function. It’s important that your chosen web developer covers both areas adequately. They will need to set up your site with a design that’s right for you and your customers and set up the shop side of things to house your products.

As always ensure that you’ve seen previous examples of their work, specifically with ecommerce. Talk to them. Ask them how they work and about the ecommerce options they have to offer. While you shouldn’t blindly follow their advice, their recommendations and willingness to discuss your project should reveal whether they’ll take your project seriously.

The main pitfalls and problems – before you hire an ecommerce design agency

1

Being out of your depth with technology

If the mere sight of a computer fills you with dread, ecommerce might not be for you. If you are planning on managing your business yourself you will need to do things like manage orders, add new products and deal with emails and messages from your clients. While most of the systems are considered “user-friendly”, due to the huge complexity of ecommerce it can be a steep learning curve.
One option may be to hire someone to manage this side of the business for you, but obviously, this will eat into your profit.

2

Overcomplicating the entire process

Start small, rather than attempting to fit every aspect of your current business into your new ecommerce website. Think hard about the clients you’re trying to reach and the products that will appeal to them most. Start with these products then expand gradually. Ensure you use clear, intuitive categories to group your products.

Keeping things simple to begin with will help with the initial development of your site. It’ll help you to focus on the design of your site and to keep starting costs lower. Also, this will help visitors to your site. If your site is overloaded and unorganised people will just move on to another site.

3

Using low-quality photographs

No matter how great your new website is, if you don’t have good quality images of your products you’ll be shooting yourself in the foot.
If you look around at some of your favourite online stores the standard now is to have images on white backgrounds. Usually the products have been “cut out” so the background is just flat white with no shadows to detract from the product.
If you’re selling products you’ve bought from a wholesaler you may be able to obtain good quality images from the wholesaler. If not, you will either need to take the images yourself (ideally using specific professional lighting and a backdrop) or you could hire a professional to take the images for you. Your web developer may be able to offer some suggestions.

How to save money, how much to spend and how to save time

What are the best ways to save money?

Keep things simple at first. Ensure that you have communicated your overall plan for the store to your developer. Ensure your chosen platform will accommodate any future expansion, but aim for a small-scale workable model. This will test the system and help familiarise yourself with everything before you expand.
Also, do your homework. Find out what you like and don’t like in terms of design and functionality. Making changes to your site after you’ve agreed the designs can cost you a lot. To avoid this, communicate your requirements clearly at the start.

Which areas should I be aware of that take the most amount of time?

On hand-over of the website it’s wise to give yourself a week to test it and get familiar with everything. Put through test orders and become familiar with what happens in various situations.

What should I do first to make sure I pick the right digital partner?

Do your due diligence. Check their website. Is it professional and up-to-date? Look at their portfolio. Are the websites still active and do the websites mention that design agency at the bottom of the page? (i.e. did they actually build them) Do their past websites look good and work well? Do they look good on a mobile and tablet?
They should have at least 10 solid portfolio items. If you’re looking to spend serious amounts of money perhaps contact 2 or 3 of their past clients to ask about their experiences with the agency.
Check out their reviews online, although as mentioned above do so with caution.
Finally talk to them, meet them and find out if they are the kind of people you can work with.

What can I do myself, if any?

The best thing you can do is be certain about what you want in terms of style and content. You can write all the content yourself for the website to reduce costs.

What are the signs that my digital partner is ripping me off?

If your agency is slow in responding to your emails and the timeline for the project begins slipping, you may need to start asking questions. In this situation, throwing more money at a project is not the solution. It’s entirely reasonable for your agency to ask for additional money if you’re asking for features above and beyond what was agreed. However, they shouldn’t be doing this mid-project for any other reasons. If they’re developing your website but still haven’t shown you anything, then start offering you a great deal on some new features, DO NOT accept. No matter how good the deal is, this could be a sign they are running out of money and are hoping you’ll prop them up for another week. Before paying more for additional features in these instances ensure you can see and test your website fully. Ideally also get the site “live”.

Golden Rules – before you hire a landing page design agency

Before you hire a landing page design company you must remember to follow a few golden rules.

1

An ecommerce store is for life…

It’s important that when choosing your perfect ecommerce platform you really do your homework. Once you’ve decided… that’s it. Without having your store rebuilt there isn’t an easy way of “switching”. Try out a few options and talk to people who work with these platforms day in and day out. Find out how easy it would be to get someone to make changes to your site further down the line.

2

Read the fine print

Most ecommerce platforms don’t come with a monthly fee, meaning your only cost would be the hosting of the site which could be just a few pounds a month.
If you get a web design agency to build your ecommerce site make sure you understand what monthly fees are involved. Some agencies charge small initial fees and then make their money by charging the client monthly. While this might suit you when your business is small if you’re paying year after year it’s possible you’re overpaying.
Find out what start up and monthly fees (if any) are involved and what the fees include. Ask what happens if after a year you decide to move the site. Some ecommerce agencies won’t allow this, meaning “game over” if the monthly fees become too much.

3

Test it

Once you have a nice shiny ecommerce site, start testing it. While your developer will have tested it to an extent don’t rely on this. Objectively test each part of the system and make sure your customers will be able to understand how to use your site. It can be easy to miss things when you’re so close to a project, so ask friends and family to test it for you.
Also check that you and your customers are receiving all necessary notification emails. This should include new order alerts to allow you to swiftly process new orders.

4

Learn the system

As has been stated, you will need to understand the admin area of your website in order to review and fulfil orders and to communicate with your clients. Your developer may be able to provide you with some training but there a million online tutorials that can also help if cost is an issue.
Ideally, you should start learning to use the system as soon as you know what platform your website will be based upon. This will allow you to thoroughly test (see rule 1) while the developer is still around.

5

Client expectations

If you’ve ordered anything from ebay or Amazon in recent years you’ll know that sellers are all about the ratings. As such, it’s not uncommon to get items delivered the day after you placed an order. Be aware that many of your clients may well be expecting a similar fast turn-around from you. If it takes you a few days to fulfil orders and then a few days for you to get over to the post office and then a day or so for postman to do his work customers may be give up on you and return to some of the ecommerce giants.

6

Returns policies and insurance

While you might be hoping everything runs nice and smoothly, the real world isn’t like that. Ensure you have very clear policy documents on your website and ensure you understand their implications. Ask yourself what would happen if an item gets lost in the post, or if a person is unhappy with their item. Would you be willing to pay the postage for these items or will it be more cost effective for you to just provide a refund? Additionally, if you don’t allow for these types of loses in your pricing structure you may quickly find your profit margin shrinking.

7

Everyone loves a discount!

Ecommerce systems are great for allowing the use of discount vouchers. Make sure when you get your new store you understand how to create new vouchers and how to limit them by date and by customer.

8

Connect with people

Ensure you have a business facebook page to showcase your new products and to allow customers to see them. If you have something special to sell, social media is a great way to rouse excitement in your product and to connect with the people who will most appreciate what you’re selling. Keep your social media profiles attractive by using high quality images of your products, and regularly post updates so people know you’re still a live active business.
You can also connect with your customers by sending out regular newsletters. This can be done using a mailing tool like Mailchimp which allows people to unsubscribe if they so choose. As with social media keep your newsletter simple and attractive. Showcase great deals, voucher codes and new products.