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Ecommerce Best Practices Guide: How To Set Up An Online Store & Optimize For Success

If you plan to open an online store, congratulations! Entrepreneurs and business owners like you are switching to ecommerce as a way to get their products in front of more potential customers. These ecommerce best practices will point you in the right direction. 

In a post-COVID world, having an online store and digital presence is considered low risk and high reward. 

Let’s look at the stats: By the end of 2022, global ecommerce revenue is expected to reach over $5.7 trillion. By 2026, the forecasted revenue will reach $8.1 trillion. This is a golden opportunity for business owners and entrepreneurs to get started on a sales channel that’s snowballing and will reap significant revenue.

global ecommerce sales 2021 to 2016 infographic
A screenshot of forecasted global ecommerce sales from 2021 to 2026. Source: Shopify

The rise of ecommerce is no surprise, given the plugged-in nature of our society. Still, the pandemic has accelerated this shift to online shopping even further. 

We have come to admire (even more than in years past) the speed, convenience, and contactless delivery options that have characterized a post-pandemic world. 

And, to be frank, having a physical storefront doesn’t carry the same cachet as it did before. Retail malls no longer bring in the same crowds or serve as modern-day watering holes. Instead, high rent and slow foot traffic force businesses to shutter and end their leases. 

These ghost malls have already been reimagined into residential or commercial communities to stave off the housing crisis. Places like Phoenix, Arizona, have already turned the iconic Paradise Valley Mall into a mixed-use destination consisting of luxury apartments, Whole Foods, and restaurants. 

As more physical spaces are turned into more functional areas to address the housing crisis, more businesses are turning towards ecommerce as a way to keep their businesses alive.

Staking your place in the digital space has never been more critical. As shoppers turn to their computers and mobile phones to help them order their subsequent purchases and curate their wishlists, it’s essential for your business not to miss out on this opportunity. 

Before you build a store website, let’s walk through some ecommerce best practices to get you started. This guide will walk through how you can create and scale your online storefront with a winning product that stands out from your competitors. 

Finding A Product, Partner & Platform

Pick the right product 

If you are starting from scratch and don’t have a product in mind yet, the first thing you need to do before building a website is to find the right product to sell. 

Whether you’re selling weighted blankets, personalized mugs, or eco-friendly flowers, it needs to be a product you are passionate about and serves a purpose. 

Secondly, you will also want your product to be something potential buyers are actively searching for. 

Depending on the ecommerce platform you use (more on this later) you will want to use a keyword research tool like SpyFu that can show you how many searches your product is getting and the click-through rate so you know there is strong demand for it. 

Ideally, you will want to find a product that is in high demand without too many competitors, so you don’t find yourself in an oversaturated market. 

There’s also the cost of how to package and ship the product. Depending on your product's size, weight and materials, some items are more prone to breaking or becoming damaged during the delivery process. If you’re selling glassware, you’ll need to be extra cautious when bubble-wrapping your products for them to get to the receiver unharmed. While starting a T-shirt brand, a compostable poly mailer should do the trick and is much cheaper in the long run. 

Find the right vendor 

You have identified the product you want to sell. Now it’s time to find the right vendor or manufacturing partner. Whether you are sourcing a ready-made product or creating a brand-new invention that’s patent-pending, you will want to find a partner with a solid reputation and years of experience in your niche. 

Here are some questions you can ask to find the right vendor: 

  • How positive are their online reviews?
    • See if they have a list of happy customers already and if there are any red flags or causes for concern raised by past customers.
  • Can you request a sample order to review?
    • Before placing a bulk order, place a sample order to inspect the quality of the product and ensure it meets your criteria. Online pictures can differ from the real thing, and you wouldn’t want those 100% cashmere pink sweaters to be made of synthetic materials and come out purple.
  • What are the expected delivery times and possible interruptions?
    • In a post-COVID world, as a business owner, you will need to anticipate supply chain issues and pivot if possible. Know the details of your manufacturer’s COVID policy. If there is a COVID case on-site, will production cease or will capacity limits be put in place? Knowing their schedule and possible risks ahead of time can help with your long-term strategic planning, so you don’t miss out on key opportunities like Black Friday or the holiday season.
  • Are they responsive and flexible?
    • As you continue to scale your business, negotiating a fair rate is crucial to maintaining your profit margins. As you speak to a potential vendor, see if they can listen to your pain points and work with you rather than against you. This will allow you to filter out the inflexible vendors that might be tough to work with in the long term. 

Choose an ecommerce platform 

Creating a functional and aesthetic online store has never been easier. But with so many ecommerce platforms out there, which one is right for you? 

Each ecommerce platform has its advantages and drawbacks, but here’s an overview of four popular options so you can see what’s out there. This will help you make the right choice for your business needs, preferences, and level of technical and design expertise. 

Ecommerce best practices tip

Make use of free trials to explore each platform in depth before you make a decision.

Shopify 

Shopify is the #1 ecommerce platform available. It is designed to help businesses scale quickly. They have multiple plans available according to your business size, but to start selling products, you will need at least a Basic Plan, which will cost around $29 per month (including hosting). 

rare device screenshot
Screenshot of Rare Device, an online store and art gallery featuring items by local designers, built on a Shopify template

There are hundreds of themes available you can use to customize your online store, plus many third-party app plug-ins available to help with SEO, upselling, retargeting customers, and more. 

For beginners new to website creation and selling online, they are also great with customer support. They have an active developer community that can also lend support when needed.

Wix

Wix is another popular ecommerce platform that has emerged and is a great option if you are looking for more website design templates to choose from. With over 500 different ecommerce templates to choose from, Wix has the most available themes out of any ecommerce website builder. 

wix screenshot
A screenshot of sparkling beverage brand Ciao’s ecommerce homepage created using Wix

While they don’t publicly promote a free trial, switching from a free plan to a paid one and trying it out for yourself for 14 days is possible. Just note that you will need to cancel before this period if you don’t want to get your credit card charged. 

BigCommerce 

This ecommerce platform offers a slightly longer trial period, with 15 days to explore and test their platform. They boast more than 170 available themes and zero transaction fees to appeal to small business owners. 

burrow screenshot
A screenshot of Burrow, a furniture store powered by BigCommerce

There are already some great built-in features in place, but if you want to customize your site even further, there aren’t as many quality third-party apps available. 

However, there isn’t an app marketplace for this platform so customizing your site with marketing apps is limited. 

Remember that once your sales reach a certain threshold, you will automatically be bumped into a more expensive plan. 

Squarespace

Finally, there is also the option of using Squarespace. It is easily one of the cheaper options, with an $18 per month price tag and more than 230 themes to choose from. These are great for ecommerce stores with a particular niche and a tight budget. However, the payment options are limited to Stripe, Paypal, and Apple Pay, which can alienate a few customers. There are no apps available, and they also charge transaction fees for their business plan. 

oishii screenshot
A screenshot of Oishii, an online store that sells high-grade strawberries grown in an indoor vertical farm, made using Squarespace

Take your time to evaluate which of these options or others are right for you. All of the above have transaction fees of 2.9% per sale plus a $0.30 charge, which is the norm. 

ecommerce platforms pricing and featured infographic
*This chart reflects each ecommerce platforms current pricing and features (subject to change)

If you still need help, The Ecomm Manager created an in-depth article on choosing the right ecommerce platform for your business.

Setting Up Your Ecommerce Store

Pick a domain name and hosting site

Ideally, you will want to have your business name as your domain name. If you don’t have a business name in mind just yet, consider it before purchasing your domain name. 

If your desired name is taken, try to find variations instead. It’s also helpful to have a name that reflects your niche and product, so Google understands what you are selling. 

For example, if you want to sell vintage clothing and accessories, having a domain name that includes the word “vintage” helps Google categorize your store more quickly, especially early on when you are still working on growing your organic traffic. 

domain name infographic

Decide on website design

Select a website design (or theme) and customize it to your heart's content with your brand color and logo with an easy drag-and-drop interface.

Play up your brand colors like the vegan and cruelty-free makeup brand Tower 28. Their lavender and clementine orange aesthetic appeals to their young target audience, and their ecommerce site contains interactive elements on their brand logo that make the shopping experience much more fun. 

tower 28 screenshot
A screenshot of Tower 28’s mobile homepage

Create a website customer journey map 

Website usability is key. How will users flow through your website? Creating a website customer journey map will give you a better idea of where customers will go after visiting your ecommerce homepage and allows you to see if your top navigation structure makes sense.

website customer journey map graphic

Your top nav should have relevant categories for your niche, an About and Contact tab, and a search bar. The latter follows the ecommerce site search best practices, allowing customers to find the specific item they’re looking for quickly and easily. 

Regarding relevant categories for your business, does it make more sense to group similar products by color, size, or price? Would your customer be interested in seeing the top-selling items, what’s on sale, and what will be out of stock? 

cocofloss homepage screenshot
cocofloss top navigation screenshot
A screenshot of CocoFloss’s top navigation

Luxury dental floss brand CocoFloss gives website visitors three different shopping options: Customers can search by individual product, by their favorite fragrance type, and also through a curated gift list. These categories make sense for their niche. If you are a skincare brand, you may want to explore product categories targeting different skin issues and types. And if you are selling coffee, perhaps grouping by light, medium, and dark roast would make sense. 

Once you have an outline of all the pages, you’ll need on your website and a clear hierarchy of importance, we will want to start creating content that motivates customers to end up on your checkout page.

Share your brand story 

One of the most essential pages on a website is an About page. Since customers cannot touch and feel your product, you must replace that tactile experience with good old storytelling to create a strong emotional connection with your brand. 

You can answer some of these questions (hint: this is great content to use on your About page once we get to setting up a website):

  • How did you come across this product?
  • How did the product change your life?
  • Why did you want to share this knowledge with others? 

Have a look at SoapSox’s About page. They sell plush toys that also double as washcloths for kids during bath time. 

The founder discusses how he was inspired to create this product when working with kids who had dealt with trauma. For them, bathtime could be a triggering and stressful part of their day. For one child who refused to part with his toy, the founder created a bath toy that doubled as a washcloth, with functional and self-soothing benefits for kids dealing with anxiety and needing a cuddly companion. 

storytime about page screenshot
Screenshot of SoapSox’s Storytime About page

This heartfelt story is an excellent example of a brand openly sharing its inspiration behind the product and creating a purpose-driven brand. Now ask yourself: What’s my brand story? 

Read our content marketing strategy guide to learn more about how to craft an irresistible brand story.

Educate with SEO-optimized content 

We already did keyword research during the product phase, but you’ll want to keep up with your SEO research as you develop educational content for your ecommerce store. What words, phrases, or questions are customers typing into search engines about your product or niche? And on what key pages should those topics and issues be addressed? 

Don’t just tell customers your product is valuable and brag that it is the best. Make sure to provide value too. 

You will want to include keywords in your web copy that address all stages of the conversion funnel.

Along with the names of your products, think about any other outstanding attributes they have that people are actively searching for. Tools like Ahrefs and Semrush can give you more insight into people’s search habits and queries and ideas on related keywords that could help build your store’s organic traffic. 

Showcase quality product images and videos 

Low-resolution images and videos are a major turn-off and can hurt your brand.

Visuals are a determining factor in what sells, especially for ecommerce fashion brands. Visitors want to see how clothing moves and flows on the body before adding it to their shopping cart. Free People seamlessly incorporates short videos on their product pages so customers can get a 360 view of their clothes.

Customers want to be able to envision themselves using or wearing your product. The easier it is for them to picture this, the more willing they are to purchase. 

Lean on customer reviews 

Display your five-star reviews front and center on your ecommerce homepage and product pages. Seeing social proof helps to raise conversion rates by over 50%. And now, reviews are the determining factor in a potential buyer’s purchasing decision, ahead of price and free shipping. 

Ecommerce best practices tip

If you don’t have any customer reviews yet, consider adding a thank you note in your packages that prompt customers to leave reviews if they are happy with their purchase.

Getting more reviews on your site should be a priority as your sales start to take off. Having testimonials adds credibility to your brand and website. Hearing a first-hand account from a real customer gives potential buyers insights into your offerings that your product pages might not. 

Take these hilariously honest online customer reviews written by Glossier customers. These reviewers left five-star reviews for their Lash Slick mascara for its water-resistant wear since it lasted even when ugly-crying during a therapy session and in worst-case scenarios. It’s an innocuous admission but one that’s sure to delight and surprise others, which is precisely the sort of community building you want on your ecommerce store. 

glossier customer reviews screenshot

Extend the conversation with lead generation forms 

A web visitor may not be ready to purchase your product immediately but may want to get to know you better in the discovery stage. Make it easy for them to sign up for your email newsletter or fill out a contact form to learn more so you don’t miss out on these leads. 

Here’s an example of a great email pop-up by cookware brand Our Place. This clean and minimal call-out offers an incentive to sign up, motivating indecisive leads to make their first purchase. The call to action “Get 20% Off” is also easy to see and read whether you are viewing on mobile, tablet, or desktop.

Along with other perks for signing up, they also include a GIF of their best-selling Always Pan that shows off the interior so you can take a quick peek. 

our place newsletter pop up screenshot
A screenshot of Our Place’s newsletter pop-up design

Test your add-to-cart flow 

An ecommerce business owner’s worst nightmare is to go live only to realize they have a glitch with their checkout page. In an instant, they lose sales, visitors leave the site, and momentum is gone when it was all preventable. 

Before you direct your Instagram followers, friends, family, and brand ambassadors to your newly launched site, test out the checkout process on both desktop and mobile. There should be no friction once customers are ready and amped to buy. 

Do a proper walk-through of your site. Arrive at a product page and see if all the page elements are working correctly and if there are no slow loading times. You are golden if you can purchase a product without your spirit dampening because of multiple 404 errors and glitches. 

Add trust and security badges 

Customers want to buy from trustworthy brands. Adding trust badges that promise free returns or satisfaction guarantees eases some of the worries about purchasing a product online. Just make sure that you can live up to these claims or else it will affect your online credibility. 

Hush Blankets does a great job of adding these badges front and center on their ecommerce homepage. They convey how their products are superior: 

  • Scientifically proven results
  • Adaptable to all seasons
  • Being able to test out the product before making a purchase 
  • And the all-powerful allure of free shipping 
hush blankets homepage with badges screenshot

A secure checkout badge is also vital since it indicates to the customer that your checkout method is secure and their credit card information won’t be compromised. Displaying a secure checkout badge on your online store improves conversion rates since customers feel more confident about sharing their private information. 

Offer different payment options 

If you are selling a product with a high price point, allowing potential buyers to make interest-free payment installments can be a significant draw. 

"Buy now, pay later" payment options like Klarna and Afterpay offer more flexibility to customers and don’t incur interest. Offering different payment options ensures you aren’t alienating part of your target audience with a hefty price tag. 

Offer multiple shipping options 

Once customers are ready to purchase, what shipping options will be available? Being able to offer customers fast or a next-day shipping option can add a lot of value to your user experience. And we all know how tempting free shipping can be.

In 2022, 73% of customers admit they are more likely to buy an item if there is free shipping. While rising shipping costs can make this difficult for some businesses, having a variety of shipping options can really set your brand apart.

Read our in-depth guide on ecommerce shipping to learn more. 

Provide customer service support 

Whether it’s a 24/7 customer support live chat or a dedicated phone line, customers will have questions and expect you to address them fast. A dedicated individual or customer support team can help quickly address new customer concerns. 

It’s also another opportunity to build community with your customer base. Delight them with quick and friendly customer service; they are more likely to purchase from you again and refer you to others. 81% of customers agree that a good customer service experience will make them want to repurchase from the same brand again. 

Explore other sales channels and community-building efforts 

Use your ecommerce site as another opportunity to promote your social channels. Encourage visitors to follow you on Tiktok, Instagram, and Pinterest with a strong call to action. 

Perhaps Pinterest is where you post your recipe ideas, or Instagram is where you do weekly live chats with your followers. Your social media channels can also be used as other sales channels. 

Learn more about how to leverage different social channels in this article.

Set up your Google Analytics account 

As you’re setting up your ecommerce store, don’t forget to also set up your Google Analytics account as well. It’s free to create an account, and this will give you more insights into your website traffic, along with pages that resonate well with your audience. 

As more time passes and you continue to grow and tweak your site, your Google Analytics account will be able to reveal what’s working and what still needs improving with your site structure and content. 

Let’s keep this in mind as we move into the next chapter, where we will learn how to optimize your online store for success. 

Optimizing Your Store

Now that you have the basics for creating a website, let’s take it one step further and start optimizing your online store for success. 

You can’t expect people to find your online store once it goes live. We need to invest time into promoting it, whether we decide to go the organic or paid route. 

Track keyword trends 

Use an SEO tool like Ahrefs, Semrush, or Google Trends to see what keywords are exploding in popularity. Are there any breakout keywords relevant to your industry or niche? You can use these trending keywords in your blog content or social posts to get more organic traffic to your website. 

Set up email marketing segmentation 

Now that you’ve built up your email list and have a healthy amount of subscribers, it's time to talk about segmentation. You can segment your audience by age, location, and even by their purchasing behavior.

The most significant benefit of segmentation is customizing emails for a particular audience and speaking to their pain points more precisely. 

Take a look at this email pop-up by the clothing brand Knix. Their newsletter sign-up asks what you are shopping for to segment your email experience. You can choose from active wear, maternity and postpartum, and more, so the emails you receive are more targeted and specific to your needs. 

knix newsletter sign up screenshot

Build high-converting landing pages

Creating landing pages can help you find more qualified leads and ultimately increase your conversion rate. These web pages are where prospects will “land” after clicking through an email link or pay-per-click ad. 

The purpose of a landing page is to convert leads into new customers through persuasive copy, product images, and video. Elements of a landing page can include a catchy headline, product benefits, a strong call to action, a product demo video, or testimonials from existing customers.  

When creating a landing page, try to get into the customer's head. 

The bottom line is that people are seeking answers and direction, not messages or sales pitches.

Brian Solis, digital analyst, futurist, and author of Engage!

You can add a form to your landing page if you aim to acquire more leads. In the example below, the online investment management service Wealthsimple prompts visitors to add their name and email to create a free account. 

wealthsimple landing page with form screenshot
A screenshot of Wealthsimple’s landing page

Create compelling ads

Take a look at this Hello Fresh ad on Google: 

hellofresh ad on google screenshot

They include an enticing offer in their headline to motivate new customers to buy. They also list many benefits to the customers in their ad copy, which emphasizes convenience and quality ingredients. Finally, they demonstrate that their deliveries are flexible and can be customized to each customer’s needs. 

Retarget potential customers 

If customers leave the site without making a purchase, there are still opportunities to get them back to your online store through retargeting ads. 

Retargeting tools like Adroll or Remarkety can serve ads to potential buyers and entice them to visit again with timely offers. Are you having a flash sale or offering a promotional gift with a purchase? That could serve as your call to action on your retargeting ads. 

The Art Of The Upsell

Orders come in, but you notice that most customers purchase only one or two items at a time. To increase your average order value, you will need to perfect the art of the upsell. 

Getting customers to buy more in a way that benefits them and adds value to their user experience is a skill that’s necessary to have for your ecommerce store. 

Use upselling plugins

Apps like Shopify’s Product Page Upsell and Discounts can help create timely pop-ups that will display once a customer adds an item to their cart. You can choose from different pop-up designs and customize them according to your brand color and product images. It’s a great way to suggest similar or complementary product offerings to increase their basket size and your online sales. For example, customers who purchase a new phone case may also be interested in pairing it with a pop socket. 

When upselling, suggest beneficial products to your customer rather than just aggressively trying to unload your most expensive product offerings onto them. 

Offer subscription models 

Subscription models can create recurring revenue streams for your business and provide stability during downturns and slow periods. But the frequency needs to make sense. 

Customers probably won’t want to purchase a new couch every month. Still, if you’re offering a subscription for toothpaste, it makes sense for customers to opt in since they can see themselves needing to replenish this item down the line anyways. 

Joy Razors offer customers three different delivery options and a recommended option to help them with their decision-making process. 

joy razors delivery and recommended option sccreenshot
A screenshot of Joy Razor’s product page with built-in subscription model

Offer products in bundles or sets 

An easy way to increase your average order cart value is to bundle items together in a set. This could be a “bestsellers” set of your top-selling SKUs or themed sets that capitalize on specific holidays like Christmas or Valentine’s Day

Aim to create an experience that will surprise and please the customer. 

When you enchant people, your goal is not to make money from them or to get them to do what you want but to fill them with great delight.

- Guy Kawasaki, entrepreneur, marketer, and author of Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions

Take advantage of social media unboxings to create a one-of-a-kind experience like this unique advent calendar by Rifle and Co

rifle paper co screenshot

Market products via SMS messaging 

Stay in touch with your customers through SMS marketing. This is an easy and low-cost way to send out messages about offers and events you are hosting online and help reduce your cart abandonment rate. Entice them with a limited-time offer or a special discount. 

Tools like Attentive and Text Magic allow ecommerce brands to send personalized text messages to drive more revenue. 

Brands like NudeStix do a great job of staying in touch and sending customers timely text messages about online offers. 

nudestix text message on customers screenshot

Next Steps: Test These Ecommerce Best Practices And Strategize 

Once you have a winning product and a stunning online storefront, there are so many ways you can explore optimizing ecommerce best practices and scaling your website. 

Doing a bit of A/B testing can ensure your site is easy to navigate and provide a fantastic customer experience. A high-quality product and an unboxing experience that’s delightful and shareable will also get customers talking and generating referrals for you. 

If you want to dig further into marketing your online business, here’s a great article on ecommerce marketing strategies

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Ecomm Manager newsletter to get more strategic insights for your ecommerce business. You can also connect with us on Instagram for more digital marketing tips. 

By Frances Du

Frances is a marketing strategist and writer who brings brand stories to life. You can connect with her on Instagram @frannytravels.

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