SoftwareBY RabIT software engineering · February 14, 2020
So you’re either considering to, or have already started a custom Ecommerce website development project. First off, congratulations! Now we need to make sure you have all the necessary information to make your new website a success.
Statista’s projections estimate that the Ecommerce industry will be worth $4.5 trillion by 2021. Competition is becoming more intense as new players enter the market for a piece of that considerably-sized pie.
Despite how easy some people make it seem, developing an Ecommerce website from scratch can prove challenging, depending on product category and targeted markets.
I would say it’s only worth to start an online store, if you have a strong knowledge about your customers and the products you’d like to sell to them. It is also a big advantage if you already have a physical store before the Ecommerce website, so you have a large customer base who will provide initial feedback you can use to make it more attractive for new clients.
To make your custom Ecommerce website stand a chance, we recommend you to follow these steps:
1. Online competitor research
Chances are someone has already started selling products similar to yours online. By this point you should always expect to have competition and make the necessary precautions before investing into Ecommerce website development.
Before you start analyzing the competition, you need to determine your own business profile, as well as a detailed customer persona. Write down what customer needs your business is equipped to satisfy, and all the aspects that make it different from companies in the same space.
Do your best to create a detailed description about people who you expect to buy your product (or are already buying your product offline). Who and where are they? How old are they? How much are they willing to spend? Where do they search while shopping online, etc.
Once you know where you stand on the market, it’s time to do the digging. Search for similar competitors on sites like Amazon or Google Shopping. Examine the user experience of their Ecommerce website, pricing strategy, buying funnel, etc.
Subscribe to a few newsletters and follow their social media pages to learn about how they communicate with their audience. You can even try to order something from them, to experience the complete delivery process.
2. Choose the right Ecommerce platform
During competitor research, you should come across a few different Ecommerce platforms. This can also help you decide which one you’d like to adapt yourself.
First off, you need to decide if you want to use an Ecommerce website builder or have your development write the code from scratch.
The main advantages of using a website builder are lower overall development costs and a shorter time-to-market period. However, using these SaaS solutions can come with a high monthly fee, so costs can easily build up over time, especially if you want to scale your site later on.
Building your Ecommerce website from scratch gives you maximum flexibility, control and allows for easier scaling. Not to mention you don’t have to deal with support every time something goes wrong. This usually makes the development process longer and more expensive early on, however.
If you do decide to go with an Ecommerce builder, here are some good options to consider:
3. Prepare design mockups
While most ready-to-use Ecommerce builders provide free website templates, you should consider creating custom design to make it stand out even more.
I’d recommend hiring a professional web designer who has deep knowledge about user experience and modern user interface builds as well. There are also plenty of talented freelancers you can easily hire through sites like Upwork or Guru.
When it come to Ecommerce design, remember these key aspects:
Load speed – This is the most important factor that impacts online shoppers’ user experience today. According to Smart Insights, 57% of visitors will leave your site if loading takes longer than 3 seconds. About 80% of them will likely never return to your site again.
Responsiveness – Site elements must display properly on all screen sizes, in all browsers. Also make sure that your designer follows mobile UI best practices.
Clear and visible call-to-actions – Your Ecommerce website design should help customers effortlessly complete their purchases. Your CTA buttons should have clear, concise text, and eye-catching design.
High-quality images – As much as you want to improve load times, pay attention that your images don’t appear low-quality or pixelated. Use JPG image formats for multi-color images, and PNG for simple images. You can also use formats like WebP or JPEG XR, but they aren’t supported by all browsers.
4. Choose payment gateway API
Payment API integration is an essential part of any custom Ecommerce website development project. It is crucial to select a gateway that fits both your business’ and customers’ requirements.
These APIs help you manage credit card payments and bank payments, and also play a key role in tracking orders and maintaining customer lists. They also help protect both online vendors and shoppers from fraud and information breaches.
We recommend using acclaimed gateway APIs such as Stripe, Square or PayPal. Our own team uses Stripe the most during development projects, but Square is also a good alternative. It is popular among small vendors with a physical storefront as well as an online store.
5. Develop planned features
By this point you should be able to picture your ideal Ecommerce website and compile a list of feature requirements. You will need this to ask for initial project estimations from development teams. Include as much detailed information as you can in order to get an accurate estimate.
When you start looking for development companies for custom Ecommerce website development, you need to think about how much money you can afford to invest in it and ideally how much time it should take them to finish the project.
Be sure to reach out to at least 5 different teams, and compare offers, clarity of communication, and whether they have proper development, quality assurance and project management processes set up.
If you know someone with an IT background, or a reliable consultant, involve them in the selection process as a third party to make sure you choose a capable team.
It is crucial for you to stay in constant communication with the developers, because they will need your input and feedback throughout the project. Someone from your internal management team should be assigned to follow the development process and make sure the completed features are in line with your expectations.
When it comes to custom Ecommerce website development, scalability and security are extremely important. Site architecture and databases must allow for easy expansion to be able to grow together with your business. This might require the use of cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS).
We also recommend to include penetration testing during the development process to discover potential vulnerabilities and protect future customers’ sensitive information.
6. Quality assurance & usability testing
QA testing should be an integral part of the custom Ecommerce website development process to make sure all features work error-free. Unit testing, automated testing and code reviews should be carried out continuously throughout production.
It might require some extra effort from the development team, but it would take much longer to correct coding errors later on, when critical errors start to appear.
Usability testing is also crucial to see if your Ecommerce website is easy to understand and navigate for your potential customers.
7. Import product content & write creative
The job of your website creative is to make an immediate impression, and really draw customers in. Your chances of converting visitors are much higher if you manage to tell an engaging story that appeals to their imagination and gets them excited.
Make sure to add:
Visually appealing product photos – Since customers can’t touch or interact with your product online, you must rely on interesting, high-quality images to present them. Upload clean photos and give shoppers the opportunity to zoom in and out and view items from multiple angles.
PowertoolWorld, a popular hardware Ecommerce website even includes short product videos.
Descriptive keyword-rich product titles – Titles also serve as brief product descriptions. Here you need to think like your customers and use words that they would use to search for your products. This will make your site easier to find for search engines.
Creative, engaging product descriptions – Include the most important information your customers would want to know about your products. Write about aspects that make them stand out, how they were made, and why people should be excited to own them.
8. Hosting & SSL certificate
There is a whole plethora of hosting providers out there to choose from. There is no such thing as an absolute best, the right one for you depends on your specific requirements.
When choosing a provider, make sure they fit your business in terms of:
- Security capabilities
- Performance abilities
- Database performance potential
- CMS software compatibility
After setting up your Ecommerce website, you still need to make it secure.
SSL certificates encrypt visitors’ financial data and other sensitive user information. Search engines will also give your site a higher ranking if it is equipped with an SSL certificate.
If you want to get one for your own Ecommerce website, Let’s Encrypt offers free certificates as a nonprofit organization. You can also install SSL certificates through paid certificate distribution websites like DigiCert or Comodo SSL, or directly from hosting providers like GoDaddy.
Having the perfect Ecommerce website won’t provide financial results without enough traffic. Since you are likely only starting out, you probably can’t afford to advertise to a wide audience on every platform.
You need a carefully targeted and efficient content & advertising strategy to reach the right people with the right offer at the right time.
If you don’t have a background in digital marketing, the most obvious solution might be to simply hire a professional agency to take care of this for you. Although, if you’re starting out with a tighter budget, or want to keep your marketing activity in-house, you must come up with an initial strategy yourself.
This is not a marketing-focused article, so I won’t go into too much detail here.
Basically, you have to identify your ideal buyer personas, find ways to engage with them and convince them to take action (buy). You can do this organically through content, or reach them with targeted offers through paid advertising channels (social media ads, banner ads, search ads, etc.).
10. Search engine optimization – SEO
Search engine optimization (SEO) can save a lot of money and effort when starting a new Ecommerce website. If you don’t have to advertise your site, because its the first result in search engines (like Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.), you can achieve a much higher profit margin.
However, if you want to stay on top of the search game, you need to invest into quality SEO development and keeping it up to date. This can be hard, because SEO requirements are always changing.
Developers need to stay in touch with these changes and update your Ecommerce website accordingly. Despite all of this, I‘d say it’s still more cost-efficient on the long run than paying for advertisement.
11. Maintenance and further development
Instead of a linear process with an end point, think of custom Ecommerce website development as a cycle that repeats throughout the software’s lifetime.
Once your team has successfully developed all planned front-end and back-en elements, the work is still not over. There is continuous maintenance work that has to be done in order to avoid feature-breaking errors and keep all systems up to date.
Due to the ever growing competition in the Ecommerce industry, innovation is essential for every business that wants to stay relevant. You must keep in touch with customer demand and evolve your site to be able to satisfy new needs and preferences.
Integrating newly emerging technologies, optimizing new devices and platforms all require extra development work to be done. For example, industry analysts currently predict that voice shopping, AI services and Augmented Reality (AR) will provide the next innovation challenges for Ecommerce website owners.
Photo by Fabian Hurnaus from Pexels
A custom Ecommerce website comes with a lot of advantages and also a few disadvantages for your business.
Here are some of them:
- You’ll have a platform where you can receive and respond to customers’ questions quickly and directly.
- Buyers don’t have to travel to your physical store, which can save them a lot of time and money. Delivery services are often cheaper nowadays than buying the fuel to drive to a store on the other side of town. If you manage to save money for your customers, they might even spend a little extra on your Ecommerce website.
- A big advantage is that you can almost automate the flow of the orders. If your custom Ecommerce website has integrated billing API and delivery service API, it only requires 2 clicks to prepare the invoice and the delivery note.
- It’s way easier to manage product stock and keep descriptions, pictures, names, categories up-to-date because you can see and edit everything in an admin interface instead of writing down the changes on paper.
- You can collect data and prepare statistics reports about orders, outgoing and incoming stock, etc. This way you can discover seasonal buying trends and place more focus on best-performing products to increase your profits as much as possible.
- One of the first that comes to mind is, of course, the cost of development. Hiring skilled programmers to realize what you have dreamed can cost a lot. Especially if want to make your Ecommerce website really stand out with unique features and design.
- Once you start an Ecommerce website, you need to constantly think about new features to improve user experience and regularly update the design of the site, so customers will see that you are taking care of your online shop.
- It’s also a pain to pay every month for the server where your site is hosted.
- It’s harder to show product quality and explain every information about them to customers through the internet. Presenting the items in real life and demonstrating their functionality can be much more effective.
This is our broad outline of the custom Ecommerce website development process. Of course, many details are up to you to figure out, since you’re the one who knows the ins and outs of your business.
We thinks that the process shouldn’t start with the actual development, but with market research and careful planning. Once you have a clear picture of exactly what you need to do, you’ll have much better chances to succeed with development.
If at any stage you feel like you need help from an experienced team, feel free to reach out and ask your questions. Thanks for reading!
RabIT software engineering
RabIT is a dynamic & innovative software engineering company in Santa Monica, California. Our goal is to help startups and enterprises drive growth through technology innovation and make a real impact in their industries.