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Want to sell online? GREAT! Embarking on this journey is both exciting and rewarding. You might be tempted to start securing hosting, buy domains, technologies and more, but the very first step is a good plan. To ensure a smooth and successful launch, we compiled a comprehensive e-commerce checklist to guide aspiring online retailers through the key steps and considerations to help you make informed decisions, and be ready for anything.

1. Define your niche and target audience

Clearly identify your niche market and target audience. Understand their motives, needs, preferences, and online behaviour to tailor your offerings effectively.

  1. Identify a specific market segment that aligns with your product offerings.
  2. Understand the demographics, preferences, and behaviours of your target audience.
  3. Tailor your product selection and marketing strategies to cater to the needs of your niche.

Examples

  • As a maker of handmade, eco-friendly jewellery, your niche could be environmentally conscious consumers looking for unique, sustainable accessories.
  • A niche in personalised pet accessories for cat enthusiasts, targeting pet owners who seek unique and customised items.
  • Targeting fitness enthusiasts with a focus on fitted, hard-wearing activewear made from eco-friendly materials.

For more information, please read our article on how to define your niche and target audience.

2. Comply with laws and regulations

Familiarise yourself with e-commerce regulations, tax obligations, and legal requirements in your target market. Ensure your business is compliant to avoid potential issues down the line.

  1. Research and comply with e-commerce regulations in your target market.
  2. Understand tax obligations and ensure proper documentation and reporting.
  3. Seek legal advice to navigate potential challenges and mitigate risks.
  4. Consider indemnity insurance cover (to help mitigate the pitfalls of a data breach).
  5. Identify services and associated costs of automating taxation and tax reporting.

Specifically

  • Adhere to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for an online store catering to customers in the UK and Europe.
  • Comply with California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) guidelines for an e-commerce store with a significant customer base in California.
  • Familiarise yourself with the tax thresholds and rules for countries and regions, e.g.:

Luckily, there are quite a few services that can automation some of the tax requirements and privacy, but it’s important to understand your obligations so you can grow your business confidently.

3. Choose the right e-commerce platform

Select a robust e-commerce platform that aligns with your business needs and scalability goals. Consider factors like ease of use, payment gateways, and customisation options.

  1. Evaluate e-commerce platforms based on fees, features, scalability, and ease of use.
  2. Find out what technologies your direct competitors are using and whether it’s working well for them.
  3. Check integration capabilities between the e-commerce platforms, payment gateways and other essential tools you are considering.
  4. Choose a platform that aligns with your long-term growth goals, including the number of customers and orders, load on the platform (number of visitors at any given time), number of sales and any associated cost implications.

WooCommerce is our platform of choice, as it integrates seamlessly with WordPress, can be self-hosted and and provides endless ways to customise the shopping experience without limitations.

4. Develop a mobile-first, responsive website

Optimise your website for mobile devices, and ensure it looks and performs great. With a growing number of users shopping on smartphones, a mobile-responsive design is crucial for a positive user experience.

  1. Optimise your website design to ensure a seamless experience on various devices.
  2. Prioritise mobile-friendly features and functionalities.
  3. Test your website on different devices and browsers to guarantee compatibility.

5. Secure payment processing

Implement secure and user-friendly payment processing options. Choose reputable payment gateways to build trust with your customers

  1. Select reputable payment gateways to ensure secure transactions.
  2. Check their costs for the various currencies and geographical areas you will be taking orders and payment from.
  3. If you plan on also taking payment in-person, compare payment options for online and offline sales (without internet).
  4. Display trust badges and security certifications to build customer confidence.
  5. Streamline the checkout process for a frictionless payment experience.

6. High-quality product images and descriptions

Invest in professional product photography and create compelling, detailed product descriptions. Clear visuals and informative content enhance the online shopping experience.

  1. Invest in professional product photography to showcase your offerings beautifully and effectively.
  2. Craft detailed and compelling product descriptions that highlight key features.
  3. Identify global attributes that you will use on more than one product. Global attributes are important on category pages if you want customers to narrow their choices with a filter (e.g., size, colour, and materials).
  4. Catalogue product shipping attributes (width, length, height and weight). These are required by Google Merchant, and streamline the configuration of your shipping rules.
  5. Prioritise visual and written content that tells a cohesive brand story.
  6. Don’t waffle – get to the point and rework product descriptions until they are to-the-point and awesome.

Examples

  • Showcase detailed images and engaging descriptions for handcrafted leather goods, emphasising the craftsmanship and materials used in setting with natural light.
  • Feature professional photographs and compelling descriptions for tech gadgets, highlighting the unique features and benefits of each product with macro shots in a glossy, dust-free environment.

7. Establish clear shipping, return and refund policies

Clearly communicate shipping costs, delivery times, and return policies. Transparent policies build trust and reduce uncertainties for customers. Google Merchant requires these policies before they will consider your application to display your products in Google Shopping.

  1. Clearly communicate shipping costs, delivery times, and return procedures.
  2. Provide transparent information about potential additional fees or restrictions.
  3. Address customer inquiries promptly and professionally.
  4. Be clear about refunds, your expectations regarding return condition and any restocking fees (also consider what your payment provider will charge you to issue the refund).
  5. Commit to a lead time between placing an order and having it ready for shipment?
  6. Ensure your stock levels are accurate  and adequate to handle quick replacements in case an item is damaged in the warehouse or during shipment, so you can send a replacement quickly if necessary.

Examples

  • Packaged and ready to ship in 24 hours.
  • Free shipping to the Mainland UK.
  • Free returns within 30 days (enhancing customer confidence and satisfaction).

8. Implement structured data and content feeds

Enhance your product visibility on search engines by implementing structured data and automated content feeds. This improves your chances of appearing in Google Shopping and other relevant searches.

  1. Enhance product visibility with structured data and content feeds.
  2. Utilise automated solutions for real-time updates on product information.
  3. Increase the chances of appearing in Google Shopping and relevant search results.

9. Invest in customer support

Prioritise excellent customer support and ensure prompt, helpful responses to build a positive reputation.

  1. Offer multiple channels for customer inquiries, including live chat, email, and phone.
  2. Provide training to your support staff, to be helpful, efficient and give your customers a consistent and on-brand experience at every interaction.
  3. Monitor and address customer feedback to continuously improve support services.

Examples

  • Customers may have a presales question about a subscription service. Address their questions and concerns with responsive customer service.
  • Online orders can be handled by several different departments. Multi-channel customer support can customers get answers faster with the respective teams who manage products, orders and deliveries.

10. Marketing and promotion strategy

Develop a comprehensive marketing and promotion strategies to drive traffic to your e-commerce store.

  1. Develop a multi-channel marketing strategy encompassing social media, email, and other platforms.
  2. Curate relationships with influencers that are popular with your target market to increase your reach. Build trust with an influencer before asking them to endorse your brand.
  3. Create engaging content to build awareness and increase your search engine footprint.
  4. Leverage promotions, discounts, and partnerships to attract and retain customers.

11. Test your website

Thoroughly test your website’s functionality, including the checkout process, on different devices and browsers. Identify and address any issues before the official launch.

  1. Conduct thorough testing of your website’s functionality before the official launch.
  2. Approach the testing from multiple mindsets / personality types to ensure every user has a great experience.
  3. Test the checkout process on various devices and browsers to identify and address any issues.
  4. Ensure that all links, buttons, and forms are working as intended.

12. Monitor and analyse performance

Implement analytics tools to monitor website performance, user behaviour, and sales metrics, and use insights to refine your strategy and adapt to changing market trends.

  1. Identify analytics tools that track the  metrics and provide the granularity you require to hone your business operations.
  2. Regularly analyse data to identify trends, strengths, and areas for improvement.
  3. Forecast and adapt ahead of anticipated market changes, to not fall into the trap of reactionary change.

Examples

  • Monitoring sales metrics and customer demographics for an online bookstore, adapting inventory strategies based on popular genres and authors identified through analytics.
  • Utilise A/B testing to compare the performance of different product page layouts, enabling data-driven decisions to optimise for higher conversion rates.
  • Implementing heatmaps and session recording tools to gain insights into user interactions and identify areas of the website that may need improvement.

Final thoughts

Launching an e-commerce venture requires careful planning and execution. By diligently checking off each item on this readiness checklist, you position yourself for a successful online retail journey.

Let’s get started!

Last updated 20 Jan 2024

About the Author: Stephan

With 20 years of industry experience as a UX specialist, designer and developer, I enjoy teaching and sharing insights about UX, accessibility and best practices for e-commerce and the web.

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