Ecommerce 101: How to start selling more online

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Every year, global revenue from online sales goes up. Between 2016 and 2017, worldwide ecommerce sales increased by 23.7%, up from $1.9 trillion to $2.35 trillion. By 2020, experts predict that global sales will have reached a staggering $4 trillion. If your business has yet to launch an online shop, you could be missing out on your cut of this lucrative market. To help you get to grips with the ins and outs of ecommerce, we’re taking a closer look at what exactly ecommerce is and why it’s so important to the modern business landscape.

Ecommerce 101 - Hero image of coffee shop owner behind counter on the phone and two clients at a table

What is ecommerce?

The definition of ‘ecommerce’ or ‘electric commerce’ refers simply to any business or commercial transaction that takes place online. These transactions can take place between businesses (B2B), businesses and consumers (B2C), or between consumers (C2C).

Typically, companies create specialist online shops to sell their products. These shops can be custom made by a web developer, built on a template using a platform like Shopify, or they can be part of a bigger online retailer like Etsy or Ebay. Secure online payment portals allow customers to purchase goods securely and then products are either shipped to the customer or downloaded straight to their device.

Why is ecommerce important?

Ecommerce is growing both in terms of total revenue and as a percentage of total retail sales, and shows no signs of slowing down.

Statista's 2018 report shows that in 2017, ecommerce sales accounted for 10.2% of all retail sales worldwide, and is predicted to increase from 7.4% in 2015 to 17.5% by 2021.

Although brick-and-mortar stores still make up the majority of retail sales, they are only expected to grow by 2.8%.

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ADVANTAGES OF E-COMMERCE

Customer reach

One of the most important aspects of ecommerce is that it can help to broaden your customer base. Unlike brick-and-mortar stores, online shoppers are not restricted by geography or opening hours. Online shopping is a way of attracting new business from all around the world and allows customers to shop at their complete convenience.

Scalability

When it comes to online shops, e-retailers are not limited or constrained by space, location and rent inflation, which can be the case for many brick-and-mortar stores. One of the many benefits of ecommerce sites is the ability to add and remove products quickly and seamlessly. This scalability allows businesses to expand and increase the variety of goods and services they sell, without the potential hassles that come with upscaling a physical location.

Customer Information

When customers make a purchase online, it gives businesses the opportunity to gain important information. Both retaining old and obtaining new customer information, such as their age, gender and location, allows businesses to constantly change and improve their customer personas. This in turn allows them to better target their products and improve their marketing campaigns.

If you are planning on collecting and storing customer information, you will need to ensure that your business complies with the new GDPR laws.

How to choose an ecommerce platform that’s right for your business

In order to determine which ecommerce platform is right for your business will depend on your individual business needs. As not every business will have the same requirements, and with so many things to consider, it's crucial to do your research before you dive in.

Payment Processing

Ultimately, ‘payment processing’ is the automation of an electronic payment transaction that happens between a merchant and a customer. It is hugely important to secure transactions where customer data is being processed by using a secure payment processor. Not only will this ensure that your business transactions run smoothly and professionally, allowing you to focus on the running of your business, it will increase trust between you and your consumers as they will will be able to shop in confidence knowing that their data is secure.

Do your research before selecting an ecommerce platform payment processor to ensure that they have a number of suitable payment gateway options.

CardConnect has a complete range of APIs that allow businesses to securely accept a wide-range of credit, debit and alternative payment options, all of which can be seamlessly integrated with your software systems.

SSL

SSL or ‘Secure Sockets Layer’ is an industry standard that ensures all data that is passed between a web server a browser remains private. SSL is used by millions of websites in order to protect their customers online transactions.

The website URL in the address bar at the top of the page will either begin with ‘http’ or ‘https’. The ‘s’ denotes that the connection between your computer and the website is secure. SSL is very important when it comes to an ecommerce website, as it tells the consumer that this website is safe and their information is protected, preventing potential data breaches.

Do your research to find out whether your chosen ecommerce platform offers SSL as a service.

PCI Compliance

One of the most important parts of operating your business online, where goods are bought and sold, is to ensure that you meet the requirements of the PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard). The use of secure online payment processing allows a business to safely handle cardholder data during all credit card transactions, preventing fraud and security breaches.

Do your research to find out whether your chosen ecommerce platform is PCI compliant.

eCommerce 101 - Security shield with checkmark with connector lines coming in and going out representing PCI compliance CardConnect uses a pci-validated, point-to-point encryption (P2PE) system which ensures customers have the most secure checkout process. All of the shopping cart systems that are compatible with CardConnect’s gateway are PCI compliant.

Do You Need a Developer?

There are many different ecommerce platforms available that use simple no-code required templates such as Shopify, BigCommerce and WooCommerce. However, if your business requires a completely bespoke and customisable online store, then you would need to find a web developer who can design and implement this for you.

Design your website

When considering the design of your website, there are a few best practices which will help you streamline the customer experience and performance. eCommerce 101 - illustration of a website mock up representing the act of designing a website

User Experience

A badly designed website, or a website with poor user experience, can be detrimental to online performance and customer loyalty. When a customer encounters difficulties on your website such as slow loading pages, products with missing information or incorrect pricing, they are likely to leave your site for a competitor who have taken the time to ensure their user experience is seamless. Your user experience should be your top priority, so investing in a professional developer, and using an experienced designer to create a seamless visual design, flow and functionality will make your website stand out. Always remember that your website is your ‘shop window’, so make sure it looks the part.

Content

The type of content you have on your website is very important. It should be topic relevant, very high in quality and well written. Google is a highly intelligent search engine, and knows the difference between high and low quality content. Google use H tags to understand the structure of the text on a page better, therefore the formatting of your content should be properly optimized, ensuring the correct use of HTML headings elements, and never duplicate copy, as this can have a very negative impact on your rankings.

Responsive Design / Mobile Optimization

Google is gearing up for it’s ‘mobile-first index’, which is going to have a huge impact on SEO. Mobile-first indexing means, simply, that the mobile version of your website will be the starting point for what is indexed first in their search results. This then becomes the basis on which Google will determines website rankings. Google ranks websites higher if they are optimized for use on mobile, therefore the lack of a mobile-friendly experience could impact negatively on the rankings of your site.

Now, more than ever, ensuring your site is responsive, and easy to use on a smartphone or tablet is paramount.

Trust and Security

Improving the security of your site can help improve consumer confidence. As previously mentioned, there are some new European data protection rules, known as the GDPR, which came into effect on 25th May 2018. If you intend to collect or use customer data, you first need to ensure that you comply with these regulations. In general, this means asking customers to ‘opt in’ to receiving updates and emails, and if they do ‘opt in’, how you are going to ensure the safety and security of their information.

Reviews and Ratings

A reported 63% of customers are more likely to purchase a product from a website that has reviews and ratings, whilst driving 18% more loyalty from customers.

Using fake reviews is terrible practice and should be avoided.

Displaying user generated reviews, transparently on your website, not only provides other consumers with tried and tested product information, it also creates an element of trust provides your business with invaluable feedback.

Visuals

Using high quality product photography is crucial for any ecommerce website. Good images and video play a pivotal role in the buying process as they help to form a consumers’ first impression. A study by Live Person found that 56% of customers will abandon the buying process if there is not enough product information available. Providing quality product imagery that include zoom functionality and multiple angles will help to improve customer understanding, increase engagement, and convert browsing into leads or sales. Image file size can make or break your page loading times, so don’t forget to optimise these, and always correctly label your image alt tags.

Market your online store

Consumers expect fast, efficient and easy-to-use online stores that allow them to move seamlessly between social media, websites and bricks-and-mortar stores. This is known as omnichannel retail, integrating all of your selling and marketing platforms.

SEO

Search Engine Optimisation (or SEO) is a very important part of ecommerce success. According to the Search Engine Journal, around 93% of online activity begins with a search. If your site is not well optimised, it will not show up in search engine results, making it very difficult for people to find your business online.

The content on your website must be well optimised, utilizing relevant keywords, correctly labelling your image alt tags, and using relevant metadata and formatting. Optimizing or implementing these changes will help to make your content stand out. If search engines aren’t able to determine what your website is about, they won’t be able to index it and rank it appropriately in relevant searches.

Google works to ensure that the results it shows come from trustworthy websites. There are a number of ways to improve authority and trust, and one of the most effective ways of doing this is ‘link building’. Link building is when your website obtains links from other external, and ideally authoritative sites. Google sees these links as ‘votes’, the more votes your site has, the more chance it has of being ranked higher.

Social Media Marketing

Social media continues to play an increasingly important role in ecommerce, also known as ‘social commerce’. Social media is a powerful tool, and, if used correctly, offers businesses invaluable opportunities such as getting to know your customers, boosting brand awareness and generating potentially huge increases in revenue. eCommerce 101 - illustration of social media elements, comments, thumbs up, heart and video icons representing social media marketing

Currently, the time we spend on social media outweighs the time we spend eating, drinking and socializing. Word of mouth advertising is one of the most powerful tools a business has, and this is where social media excels. When customers or social ‘influencers’ come across a product or business that has made an impression, they will often share their recommendations with links to the product on their social media profiles. This can have a big impact on increasing brand awareness, helping to significantly raise your company profile within your target market.

Promoting special offers, or simply advertising your business on social media can reach an audience instantly, with an estimated 800 million people now using Instagram.

Integrating social media into your ecommerce website could attract and engage new audiences, increase your potential target audience and expand your online presence.

If you are thinking about selling online, or want to see improvements in your online sales, it is worth taking a look at the opportunities that social media platforms have to offer. Friedman Social Media reported that between 2011 and 2016, social commerce generated more than $78 billion.

Email Marketing

With the introduction of the new regulations set out by the EU GDPR, you should have already adopted a new way of email marketing and the use of targeted data profiling. As long as you are compliant with the GDPR and conduct your marketing campaigns under the new data protection act, email marketing can be a very useful tool for generating repeat sales.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is a fantastic way of stimulating interest from potential consumers.

Create a blog to add regular, fresh content to your website. Blog posts have the potential to provide link building opportunities to authoritative websites, helping to improve your rankings in search engines. Research has shown that companies who blog consistently have 97% more inbound links than those who don’t. One of the most compelling reasons to ensure that your blog is well written and informative, is that it can help make your business an industry ‘thought leader’, encouraging social shares and even further boosting your online presence.

Regularly updating your website shows your customers that your business is constantly evolving and staying up to date with trends. It is also incredibly beneficial for SEO as Google assumes that regularly updated content means that a site is being well managed.

Customer Loyalty eCommerce 101 - thumbnail image illustration of a gift box representing Customer Loyalty

Special offers and deals can help drive traffic to your site as they encourage and entice customers. Make sure that you remove old or outdated products that you no longer sell. If you leave ‘out of stock’ products on your site, customers may become frustrated if they can no longer purchase these items. Keeping your customers happy should be a top priority, so always try to ensure they have the best experience when shopping with you.

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Our retail landscape is going from strength to strength, and will continue to advance in ways we probably aren’t aware of yet. In order to remain competitive in your industry, you must remain relevant, and your ecommerce visibility must reflect this. The advice and guidance we have detailed above provides you with the basic, necessary tools, to help you build a great online store.


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