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How to Add E-Commerce to a Website

Read our suggestions on how to incorporate e-commerce functionality into your small business' website, and our tips on CMS platforms.
How to Add E-Commerce to a Website

Updated on 17/12/2020

E-commerce simply describes the buying and selling of goods online. It isn’t, by any means, a new concept - but for many small businesses it’s becoming a new reality they’re having to embrace. That’s because the pandemic has forced many SMEs with brick-and-mortar stores to consider digital options. This is especially true generally, for any businesses who used to rely heavily on face to face sales models.

We’ve already covered how an e-commerce trend is sweeping the nation, but for many the change can be a little scary. That’s why we’ve decided to outline some points for you to consider if you’re looking to move to an e-commerce model. From upgrading your current website to changing up your Content Management System (CMS), here are our tips on how best to add e-commerce to your business’ website.

Firstly, though, is building in payment functionality absolutely necessary, or are there other ways to sell your products and services?

Do you really need e-commerce functionality in your website?

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While listing your products and services on third-party sites can be a viable option for many businesses, as a small business, you may want to set up your own e-commerce platform to facilitate a large portion of your sales.

Why is that? Well, for a start you may save money by hosting your own e-commerce operation rather than paying a major online seller to feature you on their product/service catalogue. Beyond that, using your own website will let you personally obtain all of the data via tools such as Google Analytics that can be used to learn more about your customer shopping habits - as opposed to only having access to the data an external retailer is willing to provide.

Data can be incredibly powerful. It can help you personalise and refine your customer’s journey, identify which points of your sales funnel are the weakest, and test improvements as you implement them.

What’s more, using your own website to fuel the majority of your e-commerce activity can give you more control over what that shopping experience looks like for your customer base. Whether you want to incorporate your branding into shopping pages, use creative colouring to highlight the ‘buy now’ buttons around your promotional items, or display your products in a different format to what your competitors or online retailers are likely to offer - having your own website gives you the ability to make creative and functional decisions.

So, do you install e-commerce into your existing website, or pay for a fully hosted e-commerce package?

Self-hosted vs hosted e-commerce platforms: which one is right for my small business?

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This can be a much trickier debate, as there are a range of pros and cons to each option that vary for each business. Here are some of the key differences.

Self-hosted e-commerce

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Self-hosted platforms essentially involve you paying for the hosting of your website, then installing an open-source e-commerce platform into it. For example, perhaps you install WooCommerce or PrestaShop functionality into your existing WordPress site, although there are many other platforms available.

This option is attractive for the more tech-savvy CEO’s with some level of experience in web development, given that it can be cheaper than a hosted alternative, but it can also prove to be more time consuming - both in terms of the initial setup and ongoing maintenance.

Hosted e-commerce

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Hosted e-commerce platforms are typically a little more expensive, however they’re much easier to set up for those with less experience in this area. With a hosted solution, you may find yourself having access to more support from your host, being recommended partners who can help with the technical elements of setup, and following a setup process that may be easier to follow.

So, when making the decision over whether to run with a hosted or self-hosted platform, ask yourself:

  • How much do you have to spend?
  • How much time do you have to set up (or learn how to set up) and maintain the platform?
  • How much control do you need or want over the functionality and visuals of your website?

With an answer to the above in mind, it’s time to look at the actual steps you’ll need to take to bring your e-commerce operation to fruition.

How to install e-commerce functionality on your website

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Here are the steps you may want to consider when adding e-commerce functionality to your website for the first time.

1. Choose the e-commerce platform that’s right for your business

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If you’re self-hosting, you’ll need to purchase a domain from a provider such as Dynadot or GoDaddy, although there are many other providers out there. Be sure to check out the terms associated with the pricing rather than simply picking what looks to be the cheapest option, as some providers may increase their charges at the start of the second year.

With your domain purchased, you’ll need someone to host it. To find the best hosting option for your business, it could be wise to dedicate some time to properly researching the market leaders within the hosting space. Read review and comparison blogs, watch YouTube videos, and look at the websites of the hosting platforms that look the most compatible with your business goals.

The same is true for hosted e-commerce platforms, except for these you may want to look more into the additional benefits that providers are offering in terms of support and contact. You may even be able to set up a guided tour of a platform with major providers and have the benefits of the platform pitched to you formally.

2. Map out a step-by-step of the installation process

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The same research methods you’ll have used to identify the right e-commerce platform can help you understand the key steps you’ll need to take to make online sales a reality for your business.

Mapping out this activity in advance can help you identify any potential pressure points or roadblocks you might run into; in which case you can plan in advance and source external help from web development professionals where necessary.

3. Test your platform

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Don’t assume that your e-commerce process works immediately after completion. Instead, start testing your site to see whether it’s fit for purpose.

Set up a range of fake test products and run through the different customer journeys you’ve planned out to ensure that your process is absolutely seamless. There are some neat little tricks you can use to help with the testing process. Gmail users, for example, can test inputting multiple email addresses into the platform by using a plus sign after their name. If your Gmail address is dave@gmail.com, you could input addresses such as dave+test1@gmail.com, dave+test2@gmail.com, and all of these emails will still filter through to your main Gmail account.

Testing can be incredibly valuable, and a properly tested e-commerce solution could help you avoid having to spend time correcting faulty customer orders and rectifying issues you run into shortly after launch. So, take some time to thoroughly test your platform and optimise it to ensure that your e-commerce process is watertight - then hopefully your sales can flourish.

Disclaimer

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This has been prepared by Esme Loans Limited for informational purposes only and should not be treated as advice or a recommendation. There may be other considerations relevant to you and your business so you should undertake your own independent research.

Esme Loans Limited makes no representation, warranty, undertaking or assurance (express or implied) with respect to the adequacy, accuracy, completeness, or reasonableness of the information provided.

Esme Loans Limited accepts no liability for any direct, indirect, or consequential losses (in contract, tort or otherwise) arising from the use of the information contained herein. However, this shall not restrict, exclude, or limit any duty or liability to any person under any applicable laws or regulations of any jurisdiction which may not be lawfully disclaimed.

How could Esme help?

These are difficult times for many businesses, so it’s important now more than ever, to take good care of yourself and your team. If you’re concerned about your business being impacted financially due to coronavirus, visit our FAQ's page for information about how we may be able to support you.