eCommerce Website Planning

What is eCommerce?

In website terms eCommerce is the practice of selling on the internet, whereby customers add things to their basket and then checkout.

An eCommerce website is different from a standard one because there is much more functionality involved. Any website should allow a user to find what they are looking for quickly.  Though with eCommerce this is even more vital as there is also greater expectation of finding things fast.  Make this difficult and the shopper will go elsewhere.

As well as the pages, articles, images etc. one would need for a standard website, an eCommerce site requires a lot more input from yourself as the client.

The options, possibilities and permutations are endless.  We can advise what may be the best strategy for you but ultimately you need to decide how to manage and operate your online shop based on your product catalogue and your business model.

One thing that is definite, is that eCommerce website planning is an essential part of your project and should be carried out before any other part of the project starts.

Which products will you sell online?

You can sell physical products, downloadable ones, a service or a mixture of all. You will need to create a list of products that you intend to sell.  This list will help you with working out all the details that follow in this document.

It will also become the basis for the form you complete so that we can add your first batch of products to the new website.

How will you price your products?

With all the eCommerce competition available, for example Amazon sells almost anything you can think of that’s legal to sell, one of the things a buyer will consider is price.  Though it is not always the deciding factor, it is still best to try and get it exactly right for both the buyers and your business.

You will need to incorporate in your eCommerce website planning things such as the following:

  • What profit margin will you require for this to be a viable business?
  • Can you afford to have some ‘loss leader’ products?
  • What will your suppliers charge you for the products?
  • Can you gain discounts for bulk buying? But can you store extra stock?
  • What will your suppliers charge you for delivery of their products to you?
  • What will your suppliers charge you for returns of their products to them?
  • Will you be ‘hiding’ your delivery costs in the product price to offer free delivery?
  • Will you need to add VAT to your selling price?
  • What will your packaging costs be? (See below)
  • What will your delivery costs be? (See below)
  • What will your premises costs be?
  • What are the costs of keeping the website online?
  • What will your staffing costs associated with order picking, packing, delivering, processing returns and administration be?
  • Will you add a percentage to allow for returns and failed sales?
  • Are your products affected by seasonal price changes, stock availability fluctuations, scarcity price fluctuations?

What will your product categories be?

Each product will need to appear in at least one product category, although they can also appear in multiple categories if appropriate.

For example a product called ‘Child’s Pink Jumper’ could appear in clothing, child’s clothing, pink clothing, jumpers, pink jumpers, pink items and so on.  You can see how this could get carried away and how important setting your category structure logically from the start is.

New categories can be added later but the initial ‘framework’ can take them if it was ‘constructed’ well in the first place, so this is your aim with setting categories and sub-categories.

To keep the website’s navigation menu easy to use for a shopper the ‘top’ or ‘main’ categories should be kept to a maximum of eight if possible.

Using the list of products you have started to create should help you to see what your main categories might be.  And you may also spot some sub-category ideas too.  Please try to keep sub-categories to only three deep.  In other words like this:

Top Category

Sub 1 Category

Sub 2 Category

Having said that, the best way to find out what your categories should be and their names, in terms of being found by search engines, is to take our SEO Research Audit & Strategy Report Extra.

Where will your product images come from?

You will need images of your products/services and also an image to represent each category and sub-category.  You may also need images for creating promotional banners or as part of the design if the demo design you choose features a lot of imagery. As with everything else above, this is an essential aspect of your eCommerce website planning.

Of course you can take your own photographs.  This would mean that your images will be totally unique and not found elsewhere on the Internet.  However, if you are not a great photographer it could also mean that your images are not good enough to entice buyers.

If you are selling products you create yourself we would strongly recommend getting them photographed well, ideally professionally.

If you are selling products from suppliers we recommend that you ask them for stock images of their products.  A good supplier should have had professional product and other images created already.

Another option is to buy generic stock photography.  We can help you with this, though time spent sourcing and gaining approval on images will be a chargeable service.

One thing you absolutely cannot do is use pictures from Google Images.   It is a common misconception that they are free to use.  They are not.  Google indexes images just like it indexes website pages.  And Google Images is just its findings.  Almost all images they find will be subject to the original owner’s copyright.  Avoid the possible complications by not using them in the first place.

And remember that we will not use any images/trademarks/brand logos etc. that you do not have express permission to use.

How do you prepare your website images?

It is essential that you optimise and name your images very carefully, as the image names can affect your position in search engine rankings.  They should match the product name, be unique and not too long.  The correct naming of the images will also allow us to match the image to the product list you supply or the website page it should appear on.

Any images going on a website must be no more than 72dpi resolution.  Large images will slow your website down.  Because mobile device usage has now outstripped desktop computers, the bulk of your customers may come to your mobile site.  To this end, we recommend product images are from 500 pixels up to about 700 pixels on the longest side.

Also bear in mind that different sized product images may not sit well on the website.  Ideally they should be the same size and shape.  We will supply you with the sizes required for images needed for banners etc.

Most images will be in .jpg although if you need an image with a transparent background then use the .png format.  We can help with resizing and enhancing images but this is a chargeable service.

How will you accept payment?

Your website will need a ‘Payment Gateway’ i.e. a method of taking payments, processing them and then getting the money to you.

An extremely popular payment gateway is PayPal.  The customer uses PayPal or their debit/credit card via PayPal to pay for their purchases.  The money appears in your PayPal account and you can withdraw it to your designated bank account.

The advantages:

  • Easy to set up
  • Industry leader in payment security
  • You never see or need customers’ financial details
  • Trusted across the world for making payments
  • If selling worldwide it automatically calculates exchange rates and pays you in GBP.
  • No merchant fees, you pay only when you sell something
  • They handle the payment card information on your behalf and so take the burden of PCI compliance
  • It can run alongside other payment gateways
  • Transparent pricing

The disadvantages:

  • It has similar functions as a bank, but it does not have the protections that banks provide from the FSCS ( Because of this, consumers risk losing the funds in their accounts if PayPal unexpectedly shuts down. PayPal is also not held to the same laws and regulations that traditional banks are.

You can read more about PayPal Business Accounts here

And Seller Protection here

Other payment gateways include those integrated with accounting software such as Sage.  Check their fees and PCI Compliance status.

Your bank can help of course, particularly if you are already using them as a payment gateway in your physical premises.  Again check their fees and PCI Compliance status.

PayPal is the easiest for us to integrate though we are happy to integrate other payment gateways.  Though these may incur additional charges if they are not straightforward.

The turnover you expect, the value of products you are selling and where your target markets are should also be taken into account when deciding which option or options is best.

How will you process orders?

It is one thing to receive orders on your website and another to have a system in place to process them.

Things to consider include:

  • Who will be responsible for receiving new order emails?
  • Who will be responsible for downloading new orders and printing the invoices?
  • Who will double check the payment has been received and matches the order?
  • Will you deliver to addresses other than the buyer’s billing address? This can affect your PayPal protection if you send to an unverified address.
  • Who will pick the items?
  • How will they know where to find them?
  • Who will pack the items?
  • What packaging materials will you use?
  • Where will you store your packaging materials? They need to be kept fresh and clean.
  • Are there any packaging standards you need to follow for your products? Do you need to create such standards for staff to follow?
  • Where will the packaging take place? A grubby, dusty parts room is not the place to use.
  • Who will administer the processed invoices? Will you print and file them or leave them as digital?
  • Who will change the status of these orders in the website Admin?
  • Who will be responsible for following up and processing any orders that cannot be sent immediately? For example, back orders or out of stock items.
  • Will you part ship an order if it includes an out of stock product?
  • Will you put any other documentation in with the product(s)? For example a copy of the invoice, a delivery note or a promotional flyer.
  • There may be other things to take into consideration, for example are the products perishable?

Where and who is your target market?

  • Are they relatively local?
  • Are they all in the UK?
  • Might they be in the UK and Europe?
  • Might they be worldwide or in specific other countries?
  • Will they be able to accept signed deliveries?
  • Will they expect next day delivery?
  • Will they expect free delivery over a certain size of purchase?
  • Will they expect free delivery on everything?
  • Will they speak/understand English
  • Will they need help getting your products into their house/flat/garden etc.?
  • Are there age limits they must meet to buy your products?

How will you get the products to your customers?

Getting your delivery options correct from the start will make the difference between getting the margins you expect and not even making a profit.  This is why it is essential to work out where and who your target market is, because without that you will not know what delivery options to offer.  And the product list you started also comes in handy now, as you may need to get the products weighed.

The four main factors to decide about delivery are:

  1. What delivery price calculation will you use? This means how will delivery charges be automatically applied to someone’s basket within the shop.
  • A flat rate that everyone pays no matter the order value?
  • A free delivery option over a certain order value?
  • Based on the actual weights of the products plus packaging?
  • Based on driving distance from your physical shop?
  • Based on where the customer is located in the world?
  1. Who will deliver the products?
  • Will you allow buyers to collect from your physical premises?
  • Will you deliver the products with your own transport?
  • Will you use Royal Mail to send your parcels?
  • Are your products too big to send by normal post?
  • Are you sending hazardous materials, liquids or food?
  • Will you need a courier to deliver items?
  • Will you have enough volume of sales to make a courier account a viable expense?
  • Will you be selling only within the UK or other countries as well?
  • Will you sell worldwide or specific other countries only?
  • Will you need to set up more than one of the above?
  1. How much will it cost to deliver them? All the factors listed above will help to determine your delivery costs.
  • What are the postal rates for the UK?
  • What are the courier rates for the UK?
  • What are the postal rates for any other countries you plan to sell to?
  • What are the courier rates for any other countries you plan to sell to?
  • Will you insure parcels?
  • Will you want your deliveries tracked either for yourself or your customers?
  • Will you require a signature on delivery?
  • Will there be Customs requirements?
  • Will you need any special export licences or processes to follow?
  • Will you need an international courier who can handle export administration for you?
  1. How much will the packaging materials cost?
  • What type of packaging will you use for your products?
  • Will you need boxes and will they need to be a certain size, different sizes, a certain strength etc.?
  • Will you need Jiffy bags and will they need to be a certain size, different sizes, a certain strength etc.?
  • Will you be offering gift wrapping or wrapping your products in stylish boxes with tissue paper etc.?
  • Will you need to use packaging as specified by your courier?
  • Will you need to send items on pallets?

As you can see, all of the above need to be very carefully worked out to produce the best delivery options for your business and your customers.  Once your delivery policy is worked out this information also needs to be explained in a Delivery Information page on the website.

How will you deal with returns and complaints?

The ‘Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013’ made gives online buyers a lot of protection from unscrupulous website sellers.  You will need to read the regulations in full and understand the contents.  They contain legal requirements that you will have to follow and adhere to as a seller.

For example it sets out the legal requirements relating to what information must be supplied to potential buyers about your products.  But more importantly it sets out how order cancellations and returns must be handled.

Depending on the products to be returned it may be the seller’s responsibility to collect them.  Or it may be up to the buyer to send them back.  You will need to work out what category your products will fall under.

  • Will you expect the buyer to pay for their own returns if they change their mind?
  • Will you expect the buyer to pay for their own returns if they bought the wrong size, colour etc.?
  • Will you offer free returns regardless?
  • Will you offer free returns for damaged/faulty/incorrect items?
  • What delivery service will you use for the returns?
  • Will you be selling bespoke/personalised products?
  • Will you be selling perishable items?
  • Will you want a ‘Returns Authorisation System’?

Again all these decisions will be made based on your product list you drew up at the start.  And once decided you will need to create a clear and easy to understand Returns Policy that potential buyers can read on your website before committing to buy.

You will also need a Complaints Policy for the website.  This is to let potential buyers and actual buyers know what to expect if they need to make a complaint about an item, customer service etc.

How will potential buyers know what quality of service to expect?

You will need a written set of Terms and Conditions that outline the obligations of all parties involved in any sale.

  • What is expected from the seller during the buying process?
  • What is expected from the buyer during the buying process?
  • What levels of security can buyers expect from your payment gateway?
  • How will buyers know if you have accepted their order and what stage the process is at?
  • What levels of service can buyers expect with regard to delivery?
  • Will your products have warranties/guarantees?
  • Will warrantees/guarantees apply to all products?
  • Will warrantees/guarantees be provided by your company or by the suppliers of the products?

Do you understand and follow the procedures for complying with the following:

As stated above the options, possibilities and permutations are endless.  We can advise what may be the best strategy for you but ultimately you need to decide how to manage and operate your online shop based on your product catalogue and your business model.

Article last updated May 2022

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