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How to Design a Successful Ecommerce Website from Scratch


| By Alexandra Carlton | November 13, 2020

Read our step-by-step guide for how to build and design an ecommerce website, including tips on the best platforms, web development and shipping plug-ins.

Easy step-by-step guide for how to best design and build an ecommerce website

The bricks-and-mortar shopping experience still has a place but if you want to reach new customers your business must move into ecommerce. If you have a product that can be easily shipped Australia-wide, now is the time to start selling online. Whether you plan to design your own ecommerce website or engage a professional, here are a few tricks of the trade to help you start capitalising on the ecommerce boom fast.

Choose the Right Platform

At the outset, many small businesses generally pick the simplest ecommerce platform for a novice to set up quickly, which is often Shopify because of its simple set-up and easy-to-understand interface. But if you’re engaging a web developer, then the less beginner-friendly but more flexible WooCommerce might be the best choice. “WooCommerce requires a more advanced understanding of web development but allows for increased flexibility and seemingly endless customisation options and plug-ins at low or no cost,” says Madeline Avery, founder of Birdcage Marketing, a full-service web marketing and development agency. Still not sure? Avery advises writing a wish list of everything you want your site to do and comparing what each platform offers.

Find a Website Developer

Google “web development” and you’ll be served a list of thousands of web developers and ecommerce marketing agencies. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with options but the most straightforward way to decide which one will work for you is simply to talk to them. Ask for recent examples of success and consider calling one or two of their existing clients to see how happy they are with their services. Make sure the developer or agency communicates well with you from the first conversation, in a way that you understand. After all, if they can’t do that, how will they help you communicate with your customers?

Ensure Your Site Makes Sense in Seconds

An in-depth survey from digital data monitoring giant Chartbeat showed that websites have less than 15 seconds to capture a customer’s attention before they’ll decide they want to know more about your product or click away forever. “Make sure your website clearly states what it is you sell; don’t assume people understand,” says Sarah Hadgkiss, owner and founder of Aruke, an ecommerce website that makes it very plain that it sells “Luxurious Sleepwear for Women”. Similarly, your navigation should be simple and straightforward, with no dead-end links or confusing pathways to sale.

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Invest in Professional Photography

Tips and tricks to build and design a successful ecommerce website

Your products could be gorgeous handmade works of art but if the photography on your site doesn’t make them look that way, no-one will ever know. “We advise clients to steer clear of generic stock imagery and definitely avoid any low-resolution, badly-lit DIY shots,” says Avery. Ideally, she says, your best bet is to invest in professional shots. “Finding a photographer doesn’t need to be expensive; look on social media pages for hobby photographers or photographers-in-training who have the sort of style you’re looking for.”

Focus on Mobile First

Although it’s important your website works well on both mobile and desktop and laptop computers, mobile should be the priority. According to ecommerce data solutions company SaleCycle, 65% of ecommerce traffic and 53% of sales happen on mobile devices, rather than desktop, a trend that continues to increase. “Ensure that the user experience – or UX – is geared more towards mobiles than PCs,” says Anesley Clarke, who began seriously focusing on the ecommerce side of his Dandenong furniture store, B2C Furniture, in 2018, helping it to achieve sustained growth year on year.

Choose the Right Payment Platform

Most people have a preferred way to pay online so giving your customers as many payment options as possible maximises your chance of sale; credit card, PayPal, Afterpay and Shop Pay are just some of the choices out there. Be aware that different payment platforms charge the vendor – you – different percentages of sales, and may even withhold funds until certain sales metrics are met.

Prioritise Shipping

As a rule, Australian customers expect products to be shipped anywhere in Australia, and they want it to be as cheap as possible – if not free. One of the ways you can make your shipping offering more attractive is to absorb the cost of shipping into the product price. For example, a product that costs $19.95 with free shipping looks more tempting than a product that costs $12.95 but has a $7 shipping fee. Another option could be to charge a small shipping fee for a low-value purchase, but offer free shipping at a certain amount (such as free shipping for orders over $100). Different ecommerce platforms have different shipping plug-ins – third party operators that calculate your shipping rates and collect and deliver your parcels such as Sendle or WooCommerce Shipping – so research carefully to decide which one will work for you.

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Keep Track of the Numbers

Want to start selling online? Here’s how to design a successful ecommerce website

Setting up your website is only half the battle. To make sure it’s operating at full capacity, you need to track your sales and keep a close eye on your analytics: everything from the number of site visits to conversion rates, which should be at least 2%, if not more. If something isn’t working – if, for example, you’re getting too many abandoned shopping carts – then you’ll need to make some tweaks. “Making small, incremental improvements should be expected and can improve performance over time,” says Kurt Parziani, Head of Strategy at web design company Assure Digital.

Assist Your Customer on the Journey

If your product has several varieties or styles customers may not be able to instantly understand, consider creating a quiz that helps them to establish which product to buy. Kayla Mossuto, founder of coffee pod website Crema Joe, helps her customers through the buying process with simple questions; asking them what capsule system they use, whether their model of machine is compatible and how they like to take their coffee, as a way to lead them to the precise product they’re after.

Add Value With Content

In retail, it always helps to exceed expectations. Parziani suggests you go above and beyond for your customers so they can dive deeper into your product. “For example, if you’re selling bread flour you might add recipes or video content to help budding bakers be as successful as possible when buying your product,” he says. It’s also worth considering gifts with purchase to make the user experience even more positive.

Prioritise Genuine, Personal Service

A first-timer’s guide on how to build and design an ecommerce website from scratch

“The most effective way to differentiate ecommerce businesses from their competitors these days is to provide good, old-fashioned customer support so that people can have their questions answered,” says Clarke.

Sharon Melamed, who founded online business service marketplace Matchboard, says that can be as simple as making sure your phone number is easy to find on the site. “So much comes out of phone interaction, including revenue opportunities or even heads-ups on things like broken links,” she says.

Help People Find Your Website

After all the hard work you’ve put into creating the best website possible, you want people to find and use it. There are two key strategies you should use in conjunction: search engine optimisation (SEO), which helps search engine platforms such as Google find and surface your website, and investing in digital marketing across channels such as Facebook and Instagram.

Your web developer should be able to help with the tools you need to boost your website’s SEO performance, but there are a few simple things you can do to improve it yourself. Firstly, find out what keywords your customers are looking for when they Google something. For example, if you sell handbags, are people searching more for “handbags online” or “where do I find handbags”? Then, use these keywords frequently on your website, in places such as the headline of your page and its content. You can find the most appropriate keywords and check the SEO rating of a page on free platforms such as SEO Review Tools. Refreshing the content on your page regularly, and having other reputable websites link to your page can also improve your SEO.

Digital marketing will also put your website in front of people who are likely to click. A digital marketing specialist can help you create a strategy to amplify your website on Google or social media channels and the like, through things such as targeted sponsored Instagram and Facebook ads.