Not that long ago, if you wanted to open a store you’d have to build out a bricks and mortar store, or create a costly mail-order business. Today, an entrepreneur can open a retail store that serves customers all over the world in a matter of days, and often on a reasonable budget.
That’s possible in large part thanks to ecommerce website builders and tools.
That doesn’t mean it will be easy to start your online business. You’ll either need to learn how to use these tools yourself, or hire a freelancer or employee who does. But it is easier and cheaper than ever to start and grow an ecommerce business.
Why Your Ecommerce Website Is So Important
Even if you plan to advertise and sell primarily on social media, or on sites like Amazon or Etsy, you should still make it a goal to create your own ecommerce website.
Your ecommerce store is your flagship store. Your website is where your customers can always find your products. It’s where you can connect directly with your customers.
In addition, your own ecommerce website allows you to collect email addresses, offer exclusive discounts, create a loyalty program, and develop a strong brand presence. It’s much easier to create the user experience you want for your customers, rather than playing by the rules of other platforms.
Ecommerce Website Design
When creating your site, the first thing on your mind is probably website design. How will your website look? What colors should you pick? How will you design your logo?
There’s both an art and science behind website design, and fortunately many website builders make it easy to create an appealing website. The process of creating the look and feel of a website is often referred to as “frontend design.”
There is often another level of thought and work that goes into website design for an online store. Not only does it need to look good, it must incorporate the tools required for customers to make purchases.
While an informational site may use stock photos for visual appeal, for example, an ecommerce website must incorporate high-quality product images, with multiple views to help buyers make a purchase decision. You’ll need to be able to create product categories so customers can find what they want, and then you’ll want to write enticing product descriptions to get them to buy now. And of course you’ll have a system to make sure you add new products quickly, and remove ones you no longer sell.
You’ll also want to make sure your site is mobile-friendly. Increasingly shoppers prefer to shop from their mobile devices, and your site should be just as easy to use from a smartphone as it is from a laptop, tablet, or desktop computer.
When designing your website, don’t overlook accessibility. You want to make sure your site is available to as many users as possible, including those with visual or hearing disabilities. Following Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) can help you accomplish that, and may also help your business avoid lawsuits. There are tools that can evaluate your website for accessibility.
One option is to hire a website designer to create the look you want. Make sure they have experience with ecommerce website design, though, to ensure they either create the functionality you need or are able to work with someone who can.
Today, many website builders offer templates or themes you can customize to achieve the look you want even without design skills. We’ll share some top picks in a moment.
Ecommerce Website Development
Ecommerce website development incorporates the technical aspects of your website including how you’ll accept payments, and how users will interact with your site. The technical side of website development is often referred to as “backend development.”
When you start digging into ecommerce website development options, you’re going to start running into a lot of terms you may not be familiar with if you don’t have a strong technical background.
Just looking at your shopping cart functionality, for example, you may need several or all of the following features:
Secure shopping cart
User-friendly checkout page
Multiple payment options (Paypal, credit cards etc.)
Shipping rate calculations
Sales tax calculations
Abandoned cart notifications
Integrated inventory management
POS integration for in-person sales
Expect to learn a new vocabulary as you research what you need and want, and don’t let it intimidate you. Plenty of people have started successful ecommerce businesses from scratch, and you can learn how to do so as well.
The Best Ecommerce Website Builders
You can always hire a website designer and/or developer to create a custom site. But today there are numerous ecommerce platforms that can help you create a beautiful and effective ecommerce site.
If you’re not comfortable doing it yourself, you can always choose a platform, and hire a pro to help you build what you want.
Here are 6 top picks for ecommerce platforms:
A leader in ecommerce solutions, Shopify is a popular option with robust features designed specifically for ecommerce businesses.
Pricing: $29– $299/month + credit card fees
$5 startup plan to sell on social media available
Create an online store with no coding
Tools to manage products, inventory, payments, and shipping
High level of security
Shopify POS available for in-person purchases
While probably most well-known as a place to buy domain names and build websites, GoDaddy also offers the GoDaddy Online Store Builder that allows you to launch an online store quickly.
Pricing: $14.99– $29.99/month + credit card fees
Build a store for free, and pay when you are ready to sell. Only the top plan allows you to list unlimited items in your online store.
100s of web design templates
Connect custom domain name
Social media and email marketing
SSL certificate for security
Sell on Amazon, ebay and Etsy
WooCommerce offers open source software that can be used to add online shopping to your WordPress site, using compatible WP themes. However, unless you have technical skills (or don’t mind developing them), you may need to hire someone to assist you.
As open source software it is free, but you’ll need add-ons such as a payment gateway and other add-ons. WooCommerce Payments is free + transaction fees. Stripe and other options are also available.
Free, open-source software
Highly customizable online storefronts
Numerous integrations with third-party apps and WP plugins
A popular solution for midsize and enterprise e-commerce business, BigCommerce can be used for B2B, B2C and Headless ecommerce platforms. It offers advanced marketing tools and scalable ecommerce features.
Pricing: $29.95– $299.95+/month + merchant fees
BigCommerce allows you to use leading payment gateways with no transaction fees, or get special credit card rates through Braintree.
Unlimited products, files and bandwidth
Inventory management tools
Connect to Amazon, ebay and Walmart
Facebook Shop and Instagram check out
Customer groups feature to reach your target audience.
Coupons, discounts and gift cards
Known as a website builder for creatives, Squarespace has launched new features in 2022 to help small business owners monetize their expertise through custom merch (like t-shirts), members-only content and more.
Pricing: $23– $49/month plus card fees
A personal plan is also available for $16/month but may not have the functionality most online businesses will need.
Free custom domain with annual plan purchase
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) features
Promotional pop-ups and banners
Digital gift cards
Custom site search engine
Wix is also known for its beautiful, modern website templates, and you’ll have lots of choices. The feature list increases significantly above the basic plan.
Pricing: $27– $59/month plus card fees
800+ customizable templates
Free domain for a year
Abandoned cart recovery
Dropshipping (not on basic plan)
How To Advertise Your Ecommerce Website
Once you build your store you’ll need to get shoppers in the (virtual) doors. While you may be able to build an audience organically (without paying for advertising), most ecommerce business owners find they need to invest in digital advertising.
And it can include social media marketing, as well as ads on Pinterest, Twitter, Tiktok, LinkedIn and/or Instagram. You may also find success with influencer campaigns where you compensate influencers through products and/or cash to promote your
A successful ad campaign will find your audience where they hang out, and will convert them to buyers. Tracking and analyzing your marketing metrics will help you invest your advertising money wisely. One of the advantages of digital marketing over traditional advertising is that you can often quickly see what’s working and what’s not, and act accordingly.
If your budget is tight, you can still find ways to get in front of customers. Many businesses pull back on advertising during a recession, but those that find creative ways to consistently market will maintain an advantage over those that disappear. That may mean investing more time and effort (and perhaps dollars) into organic strategies such as organic social media, blog content, or guest appearances on podcasts, for example.
At a minimum, you want to be sure you earn rewards on your ad spend to maximize every dollar your business spends. As sales increase, you can invest into reaching more customers.