E-commerce is booming.
In fact, early projections suggest the industry will cross the $1 trillion mark or the first time in 2022. Primarily due to Covid-19 restrictions, consumers worldwide turned to online shopping when brick-and-mortar retail was no longer an option. Though many physical retailers have opened their doors again, as shops and businesses continue to navigate the pandemic, browsing and buying online is not only here to stay, it’s poised to continue to grow.
For product-based businesses, having an optimized and user-friendly e-commerce option for your customers is essential for staying competitive. From defining your product and selecting the right sales platform to choosing a shipment carrier and tracking your goods, e-commerce can be a lot to handle. Whether you’re already selling online or not, Werkbot, a leading web development agency, has created this guide to help you strengthen your e-commerce strategy.
Electronic commerce, commonly referred to as e-commerce, is the buying and selling of goods online. There are four main types of e-commerce:
- Business to Consumer (B2C)
- Business to Business (B2B)
- Consumer to Consumer (C2C)
- Consumer to Business (C2B)
Each type of e-commerce is associated with a variety of possible transactional relationships, including:
- Digital products
- Physical products
Define Your Product Type
As advances in technology continue to broaden what’s accessible on the internet, e-commerce has become about more than just tangible merchandise. Now, e-commerce deals in physical products, digital goods and services, time, tickets, and more.
Physical products are the most straightforward type of online sale. Businesses stock tangible goods and make them available online, selling on a per-order basis and shipping them to the end-user. In 2021, electronics, apparel, and furniture sales dominated the physical-product market bringing in a whopping $484.39 billion for the industry.
Digital Goods and Services
Digital goods and services are intangible items or experiences sold and delivered online. Common examples include music, movies, TV shows, access to exclusive content and resources (like MasterClass or Photoshop), e-books, and more. Digital goods sales can be one-time purchases (as with e-books) or on a recurring subscription basis (like Netflix).
Benjamin Franklin said, “Remember, that time is money….” Those selling their time online know it to be true. Online consultants, therapists, doctors, and other experts can book digital appointments and sell those spots to consumers, turning time into a valuable internet commodity.
Offering tickets online allows event-goers to secure their desired spots in advance of the occasion. It also enables venues and booking agencies to reach a much larger audience, improving the chances of a sold-out event.
*Pro Tip: Because customers don’t have access to online goods before purchasing, it’s essential for businesses to accurately and honestly describe their products and services. Strive for at least a 150-word product description (with photos when possible) to give potential buyers a clear and comprehensive idea of what they can expect to receive. In general, thorough product descriptions offer an additional layer of transparency and help with search engine optimization (SEO).
Pick a Platform
The best e-commerce platform for you is going to depend on numerous factors. However, there are a few that stand out, due to flexibility, compatibility, and usability:
- Silverstripe (This is what we use for many custom e-commerce sites)
While you’re in the selection process, be sure to consider:
- How flexible templates and layouts are
- If you want a content-forward or product-forward shopping experience
- The platform’s integrations with couriers, payment gateways, and email services
- The amount of experience you have with digital marketing
If you’re looking for a plug ‘n’ play solution to get started, consider Squarespace or Shopify. Both are easy enough to build on your own while also being robust enough for developers to go in and add custom features when the time comes.
Conversely, if you’re building a substantial online storefront with a multitude of features, types of customers, and shipping options, consider choosing a platform that a web developer can tailor to your specific requirements. In this case, aim for Silverstripe or BigCommerce.
Finally, if part of your overall marketing strategy is content creation, then you’ll want to consider Shopify and Silverstripe. Both platforms offer a variety of user-friendly templates designed to make your content look clean, and are optimized for desktop and mobile devices. However, you may want to note that Shopify won’t allow for as many customizations around your specific processes.
Know Your Shipping Options
Once you’ve determined what you’re selling and which platform you’re selling from, it’s critical to consider how your goods will make it to your consumers. Whether you’re prioritizing local drop-offs or moving products internationally, getting your products into your customers’ hands is the top priority of any e-commerce transaction.
Standard shipping, sometimes called economy or ground shipping, is the cheapest and most basic method for transporting goods. For national deliveries, standard shipping typically moves the product from Point A to Point B in 3-10 days.
If you plan to ship products internationally, you may need to keep a few more considerations in mind.
Be sure you understand customs laws for the country you’re mailing from and to. Doing so will avoid inconvenient delays and ensure your package makes it to the customer on time. Should you need assistance understanding these regulations, sites like export.gov can help guide you through customs clearances.
International shipping means a lot more travel time for your package, increasing the risk of damage during transit. Be sure to package your goods appropriately, accounting for the possibility of bending, breaking, and otherwise damaging the product.
2-Day and Expedited Shipping
Perhaps now more than ever before, 2-day shipping has become a priority for many consumers. Unfortunately, it can be tricky to fulfill for smaller businesses. Companies with successful 2-day shipping guarantees typically have distribution centers around the country, decreasing the distance goods have to travel. But if multiple distribution centers aren’t an option, the high cost of 2-day shipping via courier may not be worthwhile.
Instead, smaller companies might consider offering expedited shipping. Though expedited does not guarantee delivery in a 2-day window, it does ensure delivery more quickly than standard shipping, usually around 3-4 days. At a higher cost than standard shipping–$10 to $20 depending on travel distance–many businesses opt to pass off the cost of that particular convenience to the customer.
If your company has a brick-and-mortar location and generates a lot of local sales, you might consider offering local pick-up. Not only does this option offer your customers a different kind of convenience and flexibility, but it can also save you valuable time and resources that would otherwise be spent on shipment planning and logistics.
Depending on your product offerings, the entirety of your delivery may take place online. For companies selling things like e-books, exclusive web content, or other forms of digital media, it’s likely you can deliver the product (or an access code to that product) directly to the customer’s email. If that’s the case, you’ll want to consider working with a web developer to be sure your goods consistently arrive at the right place.
Choose a Courier
The size and quantity of your shipments may ultimately be what informs your choice of courier. Whether you're hoping for flat rate prices or need priority mail standards, it’s worth considering which mail carrier best fits your needs.
Additionally, you’ll want to consider where your customers are before choosing a courier. Rates may vary in terms of local, state-wide, national, and international shipments, so you’ll want to get clear on where you’re sending the majority of your packages.]
United States Postal Service (USPS)
USPS is typically the cheapest option for standard shipping as there are already established daily routes in every U.S. community. Unlike some of its competitors, USPS delivers everywhere. No matter how remote the location, if your customer has a U.S. zipcode, USPS will get there.
If you need to move merchandise quickly, USPS is also a viable option for 2-day shipping, assuring prompt delivery within that window and a money-back guarantee for late deliveries.
United Parcel Service (UPS)
As one of the primary mail carriers in the U.S., UPS is a worthwhile option for streamlining your delivery services. UPS’s advanced technology allows businesses to integrate shipping and inventory tracking, making it easier to keep tabs on what’s in stock and what’s being bought up. Plus, UPS’s simple return process adds an additional layer of quality control for your customers, ensuring your buyer's happiness and convenience.
As with USPS, FedEx’s broad reach allows for 2-day delivery, guaranteed. Moreover, FedEx gives customers the option of 2-day morning delivery, ensuring packages make it to their intended destination before 12:00 PM. This precision service is critical for any company transporting perishables, lab samples, urgent documents, or other time-sensitive goods.
If 2-day delivery still isn’t quick enough, FedEx also offers cross-country same-day delivery. Though availability is limited for this service, it’s a crucial component for businesses trying to prove reliability to their customers.
Depending on the location of your business and its customers, you might opt for a local or regional delivery service. Be sure to understand the boundaries of any local carrier, and be prepared to coordinate an alternative method for anyone outside that service’s range.
Select a Payment Gateway
A frictionless payment processing experience is essential for a successful e-commerce website. To determine what payment gateway option is right for you, consider its:
- Availability in different countries
- Transactions feeds
- Compatibility with e-commerce platforms
- User experiences
- Usability in high-risk industries (applicable for tobacco, gambling, credit repair, etc.)
Though various payment gateways are available for use, some are more easily integrated into e-commerce platforms, including:
- Google Checkout
- Apple Pay
Many e-commerce CMSs also have built-in payment options. While these gateways provide a more streamlined payment service for your business, remember to check their various features to be sure they meet your needs.
Know Your Tracking and Notification Options
When your customers purchase a product on your site, they can (and should) receive order confirmations and shipping notifications. Typically, e-commerce platforms will send buyers an email with a link to their order details, including real-time status updates. E-commerce brands looking to stay personally connected with their customers can also set up text (SMS) updates.
However, to ensure these order confirmation and tracking notifications work properly, you’ll want to see how your particular purchasing platform integrates with your:
- Shipping service (USPS, UPS, DHL, etc.)
- Fulfillment service (Oberlo, Printful, Fulfillment by Amazon)
- Email marketing service (Omnisend, GetResponse, ActiveCampaign)
If you’re concerned that your current set of digital tools won’t integrate properly, consider reaching out to a web development agency to gain some insights into the best options.
Outsource E-commerce Web Development
The world of e-commerce is only getting more competitive. For that reason, it’s often best to outsource tasks outside of your core competencies.
Between saving hours each week figuring out the latest tech, and minimizing how many employees you’ll need to hire, your time and money savings can be significant. If you’re looking for a company that tailors its services to your precise e-commerce needs, then reach out to Werkbot today.