Primary Considerations When Developing an E-Commerce Website

By Meggan Kristiansen, December 13, 2011 10:27 am

Buying and selling online is slowly becoming more and more prevalent in South Africa. Whereas Europe and North America have been utilising e-commerce for over a decade, South Africans have been a little more hesitant coming to the party. There are various factors contributing to this, namely infrastructure and education, as well as slightly more dynamic problems like trust.

That being said, with websites like Gumtree reporting higher annual traffic every year, PayPal being made available within our borders, and large retailers like Pick ‘n Pay and Woolworths offering online purchase options, entrepreneurs are seeing the reduced cost implications of having an online store as opposed to physical premises.There are however various elements that need to be carefully considered before embarking on a venture of this nature.

What will you sell?

Before you decide to spend money on an e-commerce website, you need to decide what products you’re going to be selling. More specifically, you need to be sure that your particular product is (a.) desirable enough to warrant the effort and financial input, and (b.) the kind of product that people are going to be wiling to purchase online. Not all products are sellable in an online environment, and some products might only pertain to groups that do not make extensive use of online resources. As with all other aspects of starting a business, this will require the three R’s: Research, research and more extensive research.

Who will you be selling to?

As mentioned in the first point, market research is a key consideration of any business venture. If your product is only relevant to a market that does not make extensive use of online mediums, such as pensioners, or lower LSM’s, then it probably isn’t worth going through the effort of setting up an online shop. That being said, the online environment is constantly shifting, so you might be looking at a first-to-market opportunity if you can get ahead of the game and can afford to be patient.

How are you communicating?

The problem of trust was mentioned in the introduction. In a country like South Africa where electronic fraud is on the rise, trust is still an issue for people wishing to purchase online. Businesses that are not yet well known are already starting on the back foot, and that coupled with a society that isn’t 100% comfortable with online shopping equals a potentially difficult situation for businesses. This is why communication with your clientele is of absolute importance. E-commerce offers a variety of different ways to relate to your customers. E-mail newsletters, FAQs, knowledge bases, forums, chat rooms and the like are great potential avenues. Integrating these features into your e-commerce offering helps you differentiate yourself from the competition. However, communicating with your clients on a regular basis, and giving them relevant information, albeit it very important is only one half of the game. When they look at your site, they need to be at ease with giving you their personal information and credit card details. The look and feel of your e-commerce website needs to relay the fact that you are a trustworthy establishment and not a fly-by-night scam agency.

What kind of website is it going to be?

Once you’ve gotten as far as deciding what you’ll be selling and who you’ll be selling it to, consideration needs to be given to the actual nuts and bolts of your website. What kind of platform will you be utilising? There are a hundred different coding languages and a thousand different suppliers capable of implementing your digital store. It is advisable to draw a development agency in at an early stage so that they have as comprehensive an idea of your digital requirements as possible. Make sure that you make use of a reputable agency with contactable references, and have a look at their portfolio to see whether their work fits in with your style of business. It goes without saying that they should have experience with e-commerce sites. Have a look at some of your favourite e-commerce sites and find out who developed them. It is definitely worthwhile looking at an open source content management system like Drupal , as it has the kind of modular scalability that is useful in an e-commerce environment.

What will the website look like?

This again applies to the trust issue mentioned earlier. People are fickle to the point where disagreeing with the look and feel of a website on a personal level will result in them simply clicking the little ‘x’ in the top right-hand corner, and navigating away from your site. There should be a consistent theme and design running throughout your site. Obvious things like having the same header on every page and using high quality images are important things to think about. The navigation needs to be simple and intuitive, and customers should not need to search for twenty minutes to find the ‘BUY’. If you’re using an automated payment system, are those credentials visible to the customer? Your terms and conditions and privacy policy should also be easily accessible, and definitely be visible on your checkout page. Making use of a reputable vendor will ensure that a lot of these boxes are ticked, as they should have experience in polishing the finer details and taking care of any concerns that customers could potentially have.

How will people pay you?

This is another reason for drawing in your digital agency at an early stage. There are various payment gateways and they all have their pros and cons, and your digital supplier should be able to give advice on what the best option will be for your particular business model. Depending on what you’re going to be selling and how, simply having your account details available on the site might be fine initially. This can become an administration nightmare if you start getting a lot of traffic and have to keep track of separate payments, returns, etc. Automated payment gateways like PayPal are definitely a better option. In South Africa, PayPal is currently only coupled with one banking institution, so you’ll need to open an addition account if you don’t already have one. The South African payment gateway MyGate is great alternative and it works really well.

What if something goes wrong?

If you’re diligent in your research, and the company you use to build the infrastructure around your e-commerce presence, the likelihood of anything bombing out is small. However, things do go wrong. Almost every digital agency will include extensive testing in their building process, and they will probably include you in the trouble-shooting procedure. Look out for things like broken links and incorrect product information. These are both enough to convince a potential customer that you have no idea what you’re doing. Also make sure that your site is compatible with all browsers, because few things are as annoying for a shopper than half the product shot being cut off or the price only rendering in Wingdings when they use Internet Explorer. Perhaps the most important thing to consider is your plan of action for when something does go wrong. Make sure that you take care of your customers in general. That way they won’t be too upset if your website breaks or you accidently bill them R900 for a envelope. It happens, but if they know that you’ll sort out their problems quickly, apologetically and with courtesy, they’ll come back to you.

How will I let people know that I am selling things online?

Marketing your website is almost as important as the website itself. There is exactly no point in having a website that no one can find. Chances are that your development agency will offer digital marketing services of some sort, so ask them about it if they haven’t mentioned anything. Services like SEO and PPC can do wonders for your site if implemented correctly, as can affiliating yourself with existing businesses. Marketing is very much a double-edged sword, simply because it costs money. But if it is implemented effectively by people that know what’s cooking, then you can not go without it. Although you are going to have to spend money in order to make more, marketing your site will have to happen.

Ultimately, the most important consideration when building an e-commerce site is whether you want to do it properly. There are hundreds of amazing e-commerce websites on the web that are run by small companies with limited budgets. With hard work and some research, it is entirely possible to create a beautiful site that’ll make customers come back again and again.

2Stroke Interactive are experienced Drupal Developers. Contact us today!

Written by Meggan Kristiansen
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Meggan Kristiansen