Easing Into E-Commerce

If you are thinking about selling products or services online, it doesn't take long to realize what a daunting task this can be. My clients are often overwhelmed when we share conversations about what is needed for a successful launch. Launching an online store is every bit as if not more involved as opening a bricks and mortar store. So where to begin?

  1. Have a written business plan that includes a summary, market analysis, company description, organization & management, marketing, service or product line and financials.
  2. Use the business plan as a springboard to create specific and measurable goals and objectives for the store. This will help measure progress throughout the life of the project.
  3. If the items to be sold are products, prepare a file that includes the following information for every product to be sold:
    1. Product number root (a.k.a. sku) Ex. A dress is sku number 1122
    2. Product number variations Ex. The same dress is available in red, size medium: 1122-RM
    3. Product Title
    4. Product Description
    5. Product Categories EX. Dresses, Tops, Pants
    6. Options for each product if applicable. Ex. Color, size, etc.
    7. Price
    8. Weight
    9. High quality product images that are named by sku number
  4. Know how products or services will be delivered.
    1. Will an account with FedEx or UPS be needed? If so, this is the time to open one.
  5. Decide which payment processing service will work the best. There are full merchant account services that offer a variety of options. There are also options such as PayPal or Google Checkout.
  6. Determine what experience the store will need to deliver to the customer. Will it need to have features such as create an account, wishlists, email to a friend, the ability to process coupons, advanced search capabilities, newsletters…. The list goes on and on.
  7. Once the features a shopping cart will need to deliver are determined, it is time to look for a cart, a web host and a security certificate.
    1. It's important that the type of hosting, shopping cart software and merchant account service selected are all compatible with each other. Some do not play nicely in the sandbox together so be sure to consult with your web developer for helpful advice.
    2. Although a web developer should make helpful suggestions, my recommendation is to never have your developer host your store or choose your shopping cart software for you or develop a custom solution. This ensures that you retain control of all of your intellectual property. It also avoids potential complications if for any reason you decide to work with a different web developer down the road.
    3. In that same vein, I recommond using an open source or licensed shopping cart solution that you will be able to host on your own hosting account. This affords you a greater degree of control over your content, its management and opportunities to customize the software as needed.
  8. More paperwork! Just what you wanted right? ;) It's important to protect yourself and customers by preparing a privacy policy, return policy, warranty and a document that outlines what customers can expect for shipping (if selling a physical product).
  9. Like any other type of website, it is also important to consider how the store will be designed, structured and marketed. Above all, know thy audience. What colors and images should be used? How should the product page look and feel? Will your developer include search engine optimization and submission to major search engines?
  10. Visit competitor stores and take notes! What works well and what doesn't? Does their store offer features you have not considered? What will your store offer that theirs does not?

The more preparation done in advance, the better the end result when it is time for your store's successful grand opening.


Whether you are considering a website for personal or business purposes, a little advance planning goes a long way! My clients have found these resources to be very helpful. Most are a quick read and could save you a lot of time down the road.