Ecommerce isn’t an exact science. It takes research, logic, guesswork, and a bit of magic to launch a successful ecommerce store that is speedy and can scale.
When your clients come to you asking to launch an ecommerce store, it’s imperative that you’re on the same page so expectations are properly set. Asking the right questions before digging into the design and development work could save a great deal of trouble, and probably heaps of cash.
How do you know if you’re asking the right questions?
Table of Contents
- IS THE PURPOSE OF THE WEBSITE
- WHAT WILL YOU BE SELLING ONLINE?
- ROUGHLY HOW MANY DIFFERENT PRODUCTS OR SERVICES WILL
- WILL THESE PRODUCTS OR SERVICES BE SEPARATED INTO
- WILL THESE PRODUCTS HAVE “ATTRIBUTES” (E.G. A SINGLE “T-
- ARE ANY PRODUCTS CUSTOMIZED FOR THE CLIENT (E.G. A T-SHIRT OR PEN WITH THE COMPANY NAME OR LOGO)?
- DO YOU HAVE EXISTING PHOTOGRAPHY FOR YOUR PRODUCTS?
- WILL YOU BE SHIPPING PRODUCT?
- WILL YOU NEED TO CHARGE SALES OR OTHER TAX SEPARATELY
- DO YOU HAVE AN EXISTING MERCHANT ACCOUNT OR ONLINE PAYMENT GATEWAY?
1. IS THE PURPOSE OF THE WEBSITE
ONLY ECOMMERCE, OR WILL THERE BE PAGES SUPPORTING OTHER ASPECTS OF THE BUSINESS?
2.WHAT WILL YOU BE SELLING ONLINE?
(E.G.PRODUCTS THAT SHIP, ELECTRONIC PRODUCTS, SERVICES, ETC.)
Ecommerce takes a lot of forms. If you’ve ever paid for and downloaded a piece of software, that’s an ecommerce transaction. Same goes for digital versions of books. Physical products that ship add a different wrinkle, as your store has to calculate shipping costs, and you have to store and ship the physical items to complete the transaction. You also have to manage inventory (we’ll touch on that more later). Electronic products and services require special attention, as you have to determine the delivery method and format (direct from the page or via email), all of which will influence how your ecommerce site functions.
3. ROUGHLY HOW MANY DIFFERENT PRODUCTS OR SERVICES WILL YOU BE SELLING ONLINE?
Or, more simply put, will your ecommerce site’s footprint be small or large? The number of products and services you sell directly relates to the number of pages you’ll need, the number of files, and the size of the database. A large site with a lot of different products is going to have a huge footprint and should be accounted for at the start of the project. That is also going to influence the amount of storage and other architectural components. It’s a good practice to estimate a large footprint, which leaves room for growth and eliminates the surprise when you have to re-design a site to accommodate the additional new items.
4. WILL THESE PRODUCTS OR SERVICES BE SEPARATED INTO DIFFERENT CATEGORIES OR SUBCATEGORIES?
A. If so, roughly how many?
- I. Women’s clothing <category>
- 1. Shirts <subcategory>
- 2. Shoes <subcategory>
- II. Men’s clothing
- III. Children’s clothing
It’s important to set up a site structure that allows two things: (1) easy categorization of your products, and (2) easy navigation of your products for your customers.
Think of it this way: If they can’t find it, they can’t buy it. Logical categories and subcategories help you know where your products are, and also help your customers navigate them. They also make it easier to showcase related products, which could entice shoppers to purchase more items.
5. WILL THESE PRODUCTS HAVE “ATTRIBUTES”
(E.G. A SINGLE “T-SHIRT” IN RED, BLUE, OR GREEN, AND SMALL, MEDIUM, OR LARGE)?
A. If so, do you need the website to keep separate track of stock based on these attributes? Attributes are like an additional layer beneath product categories and subcategories. Now that we know how your products are sorted, how does each individual product vary? Some common examples are sizes and colors. If you sell t-shirts, each color and each size would represent a unique SKU, despite all being the same product category. Additionally, do you need to account for stock based on sizes, colors, and other attributes? That will impact how your site operates.
6. ARE ANY PRODUCTS CUSTOMIZED FOR THE CLIENT
(E.G. A T-SHIRT OR PEN WITH THE COMPANY NAME OR LOGO)?
While this is pretty straightforward, it requires an additional layer of programming, as the site likely requires a field to input a company name or unique text and an area to upload an image of a logo.
7. DO YOU HAVE EXISTING PHOTOGRAPHY FOR YOUR PRODUCTS?
A. Will your product manufacturers or distributors provide professional photography?
The saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” is repeated ad nauseum for a reason. Excellent photography is key to success. Great product photos help sell. It’s highly recommended to have professional product shots for every item you sell on your site, and from multiple angles. This creates a large number of files and a huge demand on bandwidth, however, so it’s important to consider ways to compress product photos to ensure page speeds don’t suffer under the weight of loading those beautiful product shots.
8. WILL YOU BE SHIPPING PRODUCT?
- A. Will you need to charge shipping separately from the product?
- B. Which shipping methods would be the best fit (you can choose more than one)?
- I. Exact shipping costs through a real time direct link with a shipper such as USPS, Canada Post, UPS, FedEx
- II. Flat rate depending on location
- III. Free shipping over a certain dollar amount (or number of items ordered).
- C. Do you need to provide shipping details (tracking number) to the client automatically?
- D. Do you require any special shipping cut off times and dates?
- E. Which countries will you be shipping to? Shipping is frequently called the “least sexy part of eCommerce,” but we love it. Excellent order
fulfillment goes a long way. When done well, it creates a great customer experience, inspires loyalty, and reduces shopping cart abandonment. Most often, people integrate their eCommerce store directly with the shipping companies (USPS, Canada Post, etc.) for live shipping rates based on product weight and location. All of these shipping companies have excellent APIs, and they’ll let you print a shipping label. Alternatively, providers like ShipStation, Veeqo, and Ordoro integrate with multiple shippers and can make this experience even easier. Saucal often recommends these for our customers. They also provide tracking numbers, which make for an improved experience. Flat rate shipping is also very popular. It’s easy for the customer to understand, and can often lead to increased total order value.
Other considerations to make when it comes to shipping include:
Will shipping be determined by weight, by dimensions, or both?
If so, this is a lot of work, as each product will need this information added into the backend system. Also, do you offer free shipping after a certain dollar amount is spent? Is there free shipping across the board? Do certain items need to ship separately? Are there flat rates for specific parts of a country or city? All of this can be programmed in, but it needs to be specified, and it’s much easier to do this up front than to go back and update every detail to ensure shipping is calculated correctly.
Another consideration is some services, say catering or food delivery, have cut off times for ordering. So if your customers want an order, they need to place that order by a certain time the previous day. Lastly, you must determine if you will restrict shipping. Are y ou only going to ship products domestically? Or will you ship internationally? Are there certain states or countries where you won’t or can’t ship your items? All of this plays into how your site is programmed to work. Shipping should never be an afterthought for an ecommerce store.
9. WILL YOU NEED TO CHARGE SALES OR OTHER TAX SEPARATELY FOR THE ITEMS? IF SO, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE TAX RULES.
Taxes are a huge piece of ecommerce, yet it is still somewhat of a gray area and a place governments need to do some work. Today, the web is the wild west, with very few ecommerce stores charging sales tax or other taxes, aside from big corporations like Amazon. The general rule of thumb is you charge taxes based on where the product is delivered. So, as you can imagine, depending on where you sell and where you ship, this could be a logistical nightmare if not planned out accordingly. The EU has started crafting regulations and has formed a body for accepting taxes. However, unless your country has a treaty with the EU, you’re not obliged to follow this. So, most people charge for their country, yet don’t charge tax for anything outside. To correctly build an ecommerce site, an agency has to know where and how you want to charge tax so it can setup the tax tables and reporting to make sure you’re in compliance with the correct tax laws.
10. DO YOU HAVE AN EXISTING MERCHANT ACCOUNT OR ONLINE PAYMENT GATEWAY?
This is super important. The two most popular gateways, Stripe and PayPal, are free with WooCommerce, and provide your customers an easy, familiar, and secure way to pay for items bought from your store. Additional gateways can be configured and the Woo extensions library likely has what you need. Payment gateways provide an alternative payment option for customers cautious about sharing their credit card info with every site they purchase from. They can store that info securely with a service like PayPal. Letting your agency know up front that you plan to use an online payment gateway ensures this is properly setup from the beginning. As part of this, you’ll have to ask the client how important it is for their customers to stay on their site when checking out versus jumping to a third-party site like PayPal to finalize the transaction. This is really up to the client’s preference, and is mostly a UX issue. From our perspective, the more integrated the better, and keeping shoppers on your site has its benefits from a stickiness perspective. Either way, this should be something that comes up in planning discussions.