When launching an e-commerce business, your website is a virtual “storefront” for your customers. Not only is it critical for your landing page to clearly articulate what products or services you offer, but it should also be functional and user-friendly. Good user experience (UX) design is simple and intuitive.
With the rise of e-commerce giants like Amazon, eBay, and Etsy, emerging brands have ample opportunity to participate in the e-commerce space. Business owners need a website that displays their product offering and promotes brand identity, linking to social media and other digital content to boost sales.
This article will offer a guide for creating an e-commerce website, including its costs and tips to make it user-friendly.
Your guide to creating an e-commerce website
Imagine walking into a shop where the ceiling lights are flickering, the shelves are unstacked, and the cashier is nowhere to be found. The equivalent for an e-commerce store would be buttons that don’t click, products without descriptions, and a checkout page that only accepts PayPal. From entering your site to purchasing items, your customer’s e-commerce experience should be seamless, in keeping with the latest user-friendly tools and interface.
1. Define your business and choose an e-commerce model.
Consider your business type. Perhaps you’re pivoting from brick and mortar. What do you sell? Who is your target market? What is your brand strategy? Ideally, your website will emulate your company’s ethos and deliver an enjoyable customer experience.
If you’ve already defined your e-commerce business model, or have been selling offline, then move on to Step 2.
Defining your business and its needs will help you choose the right e-commerce model:
- Business-to-customer (B2C): The most common model, in which a business sells products or services to consumers.
- Business-to-business (B2B): Businesses sell products or services to other businesses.
- Customer-to-customer (C2C): Online marketplaces that connect consumers to exchange and sell goods or services.
- Customer-to-business (C2B): Individuals sell their goods or services to companies.
And it will help you determine your delivery method:
- Direct-to-consumer (D2C): Sell your products directly to customers, without the help of wholesalers or retailers.
- Drop shipping: Set up a storefront (website) so customers can pay by credit card or PayPal, sourcing from a supplier that manages inventory and packaging. Drop ship businesses are quick and inexpensive to start.
- Wholesale: Purchase products in bulk at a discounted rate from a retailer.
- White label: Put your name and brand on a generic product that you purchase from a distributor.
- Private label: Hire a manufacturer to create a product to be sold exclusively (by you).
- Subscription: Deliver products, such as pet food or fresh vegetable boxes, on a monthly or weekly basis to loyal customers who prioritize convenience.
2. Choose an e-commerce platform.
There are three main types of e-commerce platform models to consider for your online business. First, decide whether you’d like it to be hosted, meaning it is software that provides the service of storing your information on a server, or self-hosted, meaning you find an external server or use open-source hosting.
Here are the three types of platforms:
- SaaS (software as a service): As the name suggests, this is an all-inclusive software experience that allows users to use an editor to drag and drop to customize the website’s structure and overall look and feel.
- Shopify, and website builders like Squarespace and Wix
- Open source: An option that delivers infinite customization because everything must be designed and coded from scratch, often by a developer.
- Magento, which lacks a theme editor
- Woo Commerce, a plug-in that attaches to WordPress sites
- Headless commerce: This platform’s front end is separated from its back end, so you can change your platform at any time. Headless commerce is flexible but more complicated to figure out on your own.
- Big Commerce enables headless commerce
For business owners just starting, the best overall option is Shopify for its convenient and robust all-inclusive platform. Its customizable features and plug-ins are more than enough for most of your business needs, including options for direct selling, multi-channel selling, drop shipping, free themes, payment processing, and unlimited online storage.
Companies that use Shopify
Fun fact, Shopify’s platform is both user- and creator-friendly. It is used by some of the world’s leading companies for their e-commerce websites.
Electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla’s website was initially built by CEO Elon Musk. PepsiCo’s subsidiary brands Pantry Shop and Snacks are also hosted on Shopify, along with Nestlé’s Nescafé and LVMH’s beauty emporium Sephora.
3. Select a template and start customizing your website.
Once you’ve chosen an e-commerce platform, it’s time to select a template (or design a wireframe) for your website. Different template styles, colors, and font styles will alter the virtual store environment, so keep this in mind as you design your customer experience.
A good tactic is to first browse the available templates and themes on your platform for an idea of your options. Then, take a pen and paper to draw out your wireframe, or a detailed overview of your website’s navigation. You’ll want to include the following common elements in your roadmap:
- Homepage (what customers will see first)
- Category pages, including a product page for browsing and selecting
- Shopping cart and checkout pages
- About us (who you are, what you sell, your brand’s mission)
- Contact information
- The search engine within your site
- Email subscription form
Take a peek at other e-commerce websites that sell similar products to similar audiences for inspiration. When you feel comfortable, you can start playing with the platform to customize your online store. You’ll want to make sure users can navigate through your virtual store as easily as they would in a brick-and-mortar shop, as they click buttons, register for an account, and purchase items with their credit cards.
4. Set up your online store.
Next, it’s time to load your products onto the page. High-quality photos and brand-consistent product descriptions will help your products stand out from the competition. If you have a broad offering, you may want to separate the page into categories, such as by color, design, or product type. You may want to allow customers to sort or filter by price, new arrivals, or rating.
Assuming you have your initial launch products ready, you’ll want to prepare shipping and payment methods to ensure accurate and convenient customer service. Your inventory should match what’s available on the website, and the payment method should be connected to your business bank account. You can easily set up payment on sites like Shopify, or with external add-ons like Square or Stripe.
5. Market your business and prepare for launch.
After you’ve finalized your website, it’s time to launch your business. You can begin experimenting with digital marketing for your brand. Perhaps you can start by using social media, like Instagram and Facebook, to post lifestyle images of your product or service. Promotional copy should tout the benefits and values of your brand.
A launch promotion using sponsored posts or ads can help to boost your brand awareness and penetrate your target audience. Google and Facebook Ads can help your business gain traction and exposure in its early days, while content marketing (such as emails and newsletters) can build a following.
How much does it cost to create an e-commerce website?
Creating an e-commerce website doesn’t have to be expensive. You can build a minimum viable e-commerce site at first and enhance it with a designer or developer later on. To get started lean, here’s what you’ll need:
- E-commerce platform: A basic Shopify plan is $29 per month, or $348 for the year, and comes with everything you’ll need to launch your online business . With these types of all-inclusive platforms, you can create a fully functioning website in just a few hours.
- Domain and name hosting: Some platforms include the option for domain name and hosting, while other platforms require them to be purchased separately. A domain can cost as little as $1 a year, while hosting can range from a few dollars to $700 per month.
Once your business starts selling and becoming profitable, you may want to upgrade your branding designs, switch to a regular Shopify plan, or work with a developer to design a fully customized website from scratch. However, plenty of plug-ins are available to enhance Shopify for free.
Shopify plug-ins to boost your website
Here are just two of the hundreds of options for Shopify plug-ins. These will help you display product reviews and enable live chat.
Product Reviews: A simple solution for displaying product reviews can help drive sales. Products are 270 percent more likely to be purchased when it has over five reviews
WhatsApp Shopify: Customers like the option of live chatting with a customer service representative if they have a question or issue. This plug-in allows Shopify users to follow up with customers about order confirmations and deliveries with messages and notifications.
Tips for designing a user-friendly e-commerce website
A user-friendly and functional website can attract more customers to your brand, as they glide through an online shopping experience tailored to their needs and desires. Here are some tips for delivering high-quality user experience design:
- Simple, clean layout: Incorporate plenty of white space between elements such as images, words, and buttons to create a natural flow for navigating through the website. Visual hierarchy is important—what do users see first, second, and last? How do their eyes travel from one item to the next?
- Quip, a company that sells user-focused dental hygiene products, is an example of a website with effective use of white space
- Focus on call to action (CTA): Whether you want users to donate money or shop for sale items, you’ll want to have a clear CTA. Typically, this includes leading customers to make a purchase, sign up for a free trial, or subscribe to an email newsletter.
- Squarespace, a website builder featuring modern templates, has a CTA for users to get started (with a free trial) because they’re convinced you’ll want to continue using their product once you try it
- Consistent branding: Consistent branding begins with a solid brand strategy. This includes colors, font styles, graphics, icons, the tone and content of your blog and product descriptions, logo, and packaging. Your branding should be consistent across channels.
- Dropbox, a cloud-based file-sharing platform, has consistent design and fun, vibrant messaging across its social media and website
- Mobile-friendly: The mobile version of your website should deliver the same functionality and brand consistency as its web and mobile app. Reports show that 70 percent of web traffic comes from mobile phones, while 80 percent of the top-ranked websites are mobile-friendly .
- Google Maps app’s performance, speed, and visuals are the same across its website, mobile website, and mobile app