These days it is fairly easy to put up a website. Anyone with some basic knowledge can create one in just a few minutes. But hastily assembling a web portal does not guarantee that anyone will find your business, much less buy any of your products. While it may be important to get yourself out there as quickly as possible, the best web development comes from careful preparation. Here are some considerations when planning an online store.

Consider Your Goals

Your goal is to sell. That is clear. But all the business experts will tell you that there is more to it. You need a business plan. The U.S. Small Business Administration has plenty of advice and resources to help put yours together. Even if you already have a plan, you should be sure that your intentions regarding an online store are included. Writing a plan will force you to think about how you will make your store happen.

Selling merchandise or services through an online store is a form of e-commerce. Techopedia describes this process as an “interactive collaboration” between the buyer and the seller. The dream of anyone wanting to sell online is that many people will find their website and respond to the product or service offerings. But if you want the fish to bite, you need to use the right bait.

According to Forrester Research, online sales are expected to reach $523 billion in the U.S. by 2020. To get a piece of that action, you will need to draw people to your site. Recently I wrote about how interesting content can bring people to your website. It will do no good to create a beautiful online store with all the required functionality if no one sees it. One of your key goals in preparing for your online store is to figure out how to generate web traffic. (For the previous article on drawing people to your site, see How to Build Your Business with Content Marketing.)

To do that, you should consider your demographic. Who will buy your product? The design and content of your e-commerce site should be targeted to that audience. All the fancy bells and whistles mean nothing if they don’t help to reach your potential customers.

Ask Key Questions

Entrepreneur online writer Kim Lachance Shandrow suggests “10 Questions to Ask When Creating an Online Store.” How will you build your store? What financial tools will you use? How will you attract shoppers? The truth of the matter is that until you have done it, there are many things that you don’t know about starting an online store. Embrace your ignorance. Spend time writing questions of your own, and don’t stop until you have covered every aspect of your e-commerce project.

What will the scope of your project be? Are you planning to sell just a few products that you create yourself, or will there be a large catalog of product offerings to incorporate into your site? It’s OK to start small. EBay was started by computer programmer Pierre Omidyar as a side project. Whatever your initial e-commerce storefront looks like will change and develop as you learn and grow as an online seller.

Here are some more questions to consider that are based on Techopedia's definition of e-commerce:

  • How will you market your online offerings?
  • Will you use advertising to attract people to your site?
  • How will your site complete transactions?
  • How will you deliver your product?
  • What about service, repairs or returns?
  • Will you need to use a billing service?
  • What about payment plans?

Investigate Tools and Resources

A few online searches will tell you that there are plenty of opinions about how you should implement your online store. It can be dizzying to consider all the possibilities. We could make recommendations here, but looking for the right e-commerce solution may be like shopping for shoes: You’ll know when you have found the right one. (For more on e-commerce trends, see How Recommendation Systems Are the Way We Shop Online.)

The Ecommerce Guide seems to be a good place to start your research. They explain the difference between hosted and self-hosted e-commerce solutions, and provide reviews of possible choices. They discuss the use of platforms like eBay or Amazon to sell your products rather than creating your own solution. Of course, if you are hosting your own store, you will need to sort out the standard issues about websites, like domain name, web hosting and design. Hosted solutions may be reasonable until you start doing high volume selling. There is no shortcut to the selection and design of your e-commerce platform. You will need to spend time evaluating and testing until you are satisfied. This is where you will need to put your development skills to use.

Make a Plan

Your business plan will probably not be specific or thorough enough to prepare you for your online store launch. You should think about a logical way to manage your actions. You may find that a project plan will help. If you are a software developer, you will have your own bag of tricks. The point is that you should find a way to track and forecast your work on your e-commerce site.

Your plan should certainly have time scales and action lists. You may want to break the project into phases. OK, you won’t have a full-fledged store functioning by next week, but you could set up certain aspects of it and lay the groundwork. Will you create a PR or social media campaign? When and how will you launch it? Analytics will help you to assess your success and should also be included in your plan. An effective plan will help you to turn your e-commerce goals into reality.

Conclusion

It can be frustrating to launch into a project without a game plan. You may find that you have spent an incredible amount of time in trial and error on various software and still you have made no headway. Making preparations for your online store will give you a good head start toward cyber success. Failing to plan is not the best choice. There are plenty of options out there, and plenty of software vendors who want to reel you in to use their e-commerce solution. You will have a lot to think about. How you prepare for the job ahead of you will be half the battle.