The definition of e-commerce is “Commercial transactions conducted electronically on the Internet.” So basically an e-commerce website is a site from which customers can purchase products. There are all different sorts of e-commerce sites including those selling clothes, food, gifts and some even virtual products like online training courses. Examples of these sites, already enjoying a large degree of success include Amazon, eBay, Not on the High Street, Alibaba and many more, including the major supermarkets. Also, a lot of high street shops have an e-commerce website highlighting how effective having one can be. When you think about it, it’s a lot more convenient for customers as all the hassle of travelling to a shop, parking and then trying to find what you want in a shop is all removed. In comparison, all you have to do is open the website, search for what you want, buy it and in some cases with companies like Amazon it turns up in the next day at your door. Figures show that this year 1 in 5 pounds spent with UK retailers is now online, so although the majority of people still prefer actually looking at products in a shop, an e-commerce website will still help add to your sales.

However, it’s all well and good having an e-commerce website, but how do you actually make it successful and build sales?

How to make your website (if you already have an e-commerce website you can skip to the next section)

  • First of all you actually need a website on to which you’ll install e-commerce functionality. If you already have a site you may be limited to the platform you can use. It’s best to check this with your web developer prior to deciding which e-commerce platform to start working with. If you are starting from scratch (i.e. no existing website/platform) then you have a couple of options to choose form including WordPress WooCommerce, Magento, Shopify, Wix, SquareSpace and more.
  • Once you have set up the site you need to start adding products to it. Make sure you use high quality images and add plenty of details to the products so that your customers know what they are going to get.
  • e-commerce example layoutIf you are selling physical products then you need to set up shipping, if applicable. Most e-commerce websites have this functionality built in and it’s easy to set up. You can set up standard shipping rates, shipping rates based on price, free shipping for orders below a certain weight or price and more. Some platforms also have the ability to connect to your shipping provider like FedEx, Parcel Force etc. so you can just click a button to generate the shipping and postage documents.
  • Then you need a payment gateway so that you can take payments from customers when they make an order through the website. Lots of different companies provide payment gateways like PayPal, Stripe, WorldPay and more, so it’s just a case of finding the best option for your site. Also most off-the-shelf e-commerce platforms have facilities ready to quickly and easily integrate payment gateways.
  • You also need to set up emails to send out to customers throughout the order process. Although the same as above, most e-commerce platforms have email templates already set up, so in most cases you just need to add your logo to it and customise any text you might specifically need in your email correspondence with customers.

How to make your site successful

  • The first foundation is having a good business idea and a good product to back it up. You could have the most high-tech, fully functional e-commerce website, but if your business idea and products are not very good it will not succeed.
  • Keeping your site up to date with new products and offers is so important. (Also see our blog post here for further details on why it is important to keep your site up to date.)
  • Apply discounts to products. Everyone knows that sales, whether that be online or on the high street, help to bring in extra customers and earn more money, even though the product prices are discounted. So it’s a good idea to add a sale section to your website and offer things like discount codes, free shipping for orders over a certain amount and money off products. It really works well, especially online if a customer thinks they are going to get a good deal.
  • Make it easy to use. If someone adds something to their cart show a pop up or notification telling them it was added successfully and make it obvious how they can then checkout or add more products to their cart.
  • Person shopping onlineYour website must be responsive, meaning that it looks good and is easy-to-use across all common devices from desktops to smartphones. Considering that the majority of web traffic now is from mobile devices, your site should be well adapted for mobile layout, in particular your shopping cart journey.
  • Ensure that your payment gateway is easy-to-use and is secure, and also looks secure. If a customer makes an order, gets to the payment gateway and thinks it doesn’t look secure you could lose out on a potential sales revenue. So, make sure you have an SSL certificate to secure the payment/gateway page; using well-known payment gateways like PayPal can also help gain trust with a customer as it is a well recognised, secure brand.
  • Make sure your order emails are clear and concise. Once someone has made an order make sure you set up a ‘thank you’ email letting them know you have received the order – attaching a PDF receipt is also a good idea, as well as explaining the next steps for example, once the product is shipped or if it’s an online product make sure you send them details promptly on how to download or access it.
  • Use social media. Make sure you post about new products and updates – you can even pay for advertising to reach more new customers. Also make sure you have social media sharing icons on your product pages to allow people to share your products they think one of their friends might like. Another good thing to do is add a link for people to share their purchase from the ‘thank you’ page, so they can show their friends the latest products they have purchased. This could help get the word out about your new fantastic website and all your great products.

If you follow the basic steps above you should be well on your way to having a successful e-commerce website. Although, one thing to consider is that every business is different. So it may not necessarily right for you to follow the tips above exactly, as you may find that certain things work or don’t work in a specific sector or environment. No two e-commerce websites work in the same way, so customise your users shopping experience how you think will best benefit your website, and if something doesn’t work don’t be disheartened, give something else a try until the site starts working the way you need it to.