I’ve written about it before. E-commerce is hard. Just having a product and putting it online is not enough to get sales. When it comes to actually selling products online, there are a lot of pieces of this puzzle that need to go together. Whenever I get an email that comes in requesting info on a new e-commerce site, I immediately send back a few initial questions. What I find most often is that most people haven’t considered anything past “will sell product online.”
Here are my initial e-commerce questions:
- How many products will you have?
- Are the products digital or physical?
- How much do you expect to sell?
- Will the products have variations (size? color?)
- What sort of shipping do you want to offer?
- Will you be preparing items for shipping yourself or will they be shipped by a third party?
- What methods of payment do you want to accept?
- Do you need to charge tax?
- Do you need to manage your inventory?
- Who is your target audience?
- What’s your unique selling proposition? Why should someone buy from you and not Amazon?
And those are just the getting started questions! So many tiny little pieces go into getting an online storefront to work, so I thought I’d break down my questions and spell out what you need to know in order to get an online store up and running. These questions assume we’re doing an e-commerce store using WooCommerce, which is our favorite shopping cart plugin.
How many products will you have?
You’d be surprised at the number of people who are ready to inquire about a website and don’t even know how many products they’ll have. Setting up a store for 10 products is different than setting up a store for 1,000. It’s important to know this information.
Will the products have variations (size? color?)
If you’re selling physical products, knowing if they’re all the same or will have variations is pretty important. If you’re selling a t-shirt that’s available in 10 colors and 4 sizes, that is an important aspects of setting up your e-commerce store. Every different variation of the same product needs to be outlined.
Are the products digital or physical?
If you’re doing digital products, then we need to know a number of things, such as what kind of file they’ll be, how you want them delivered, and where you plan to store the digital products.
How much do you expect to sell?
This is sort of a trick question. You can’t know how many sales you’ll have before you have a store, but the purpose of the question is to see if you’ve done any market research. Is anyone interested in your product? Why go to the trouble to create an online store, get it branded, designed and marketed only to find out nobody wants to buy it? You need to know there’s interest in your product before you take that step.
What sort of shipping do you want to offer?
If you’re selling physical items, then there’s a good chance you’ll need to ship those products. UPS? USPS? FedEx? Australia Post? There are a lot of shipping vendors and they all have various requirements to make them work on the website and some of them require extra plugins (that aren’t free) to work.
Will you be preparing items for shipping yourself or will they be shipped by a third party?
Are you packing up the items and shipping them all yourself? Will you have staff do it? Or are items being drop shipped?
What methods of payment do you want to accept? Have you considered a payment gateway?
This is one of the most important questions I ask. If you’re selling products, then you need to accept payments. A lot of people just answer PayPal, because it’s easy. And it is easy. But the truth is, if you aren’t accepting credit cards right on your site, you’re losing sales.
“Oh, you can checkout with a credit card with PayPal.”
Yes, you can. But unless you are paying for the Pro version, during checkout the user has to jump from your site to PayPal. If your user already uses and likes PayPal, this isn’t going to stop them. If they don’t, then there’s a good chance they are going to abandon their cart and leave without completing the sale. Adding credit card transactions to your site isn’t more expensive and isn’t more difficult. It just takes setting up a payment gateway. We recommend Stripe because it’s easy to set up and integrates well with almost any shopping cart. And the fees they take are the same as what PayPal takes.
Do you need to charge tax?
I’m not an accountant or a lawyer, so I can’t answer this for you. But I can set up your tax modules if you need me to. I just have to know how much to charge and who to charge it to. Each state has different rules and regulations on how to charge and collect taxes. Indiana, where I live, has a 7% sales tax, but if I was selling online, I would only need to charge tax to products I’m shipping within the state. That’s fairly typical, but you need to check with your own lawyer/accountant/state and know this info before getting started.
Do you need to manage your inventory?
If you have a limited number of products, then you may need to manage your inventory. If it’s a never ending supply, then you may not. It’s important to know whether you need this kind of tracking.
Who is your target audience?
I cannot tell you how many times I ask this question and the answer is “Everyone!” Yes, you do want anyone and everyone to buy your product, but that isn’t a realistic answer. If you sell baby clothes, probably your target audience isn’t senior citizens.
What’s your unique selling proposition? Why should someone buy from you and not Amazon?
It is super hard to compete with these big box stores that offer products delivered to your house in two days. If you don’t have a product that’s unique enough, cheap enough, or get there fast enough, than you may not have a viable option for e-commerce. Why would I order a scarf from you if I can have the same scarf delivered in two days for $5 less? You have to have a compelling reason for people to choose you.
Putting together all the pieces to create a successful online shop isn’t easy. There’s a lot of strategic planning involved so it’s important to put in the work up front in order to have success later.