How To Build An Ecommerce Website is a very big question and a subject that will take more than just a single article but let’s start with some basics and move on from there.
Why do you want to build an ecommerce website?, Why Not Just Sell On Ebay or Amazon?
It may seem almost a flippant question but do you need one? Presumably you already have a product to sell. Could you not just sell it on Ebay, Amazon or Etsy?
Ebay is incredibly easy to sell on, it’s got a huge number of buyers just lined up continually browsing, looking for things to buy with their credit card in hand, so has Etsy, but on a smaller scale. Amazon of course is enormous, the biggest selling platform on the planet, so why not use it?
In reality most people asking how to build an ecommerce website have already used at least one of these platforms to kick start their online sales and are now looking to move on to their own ecommerce store, but why is that? Why look to move from the bustling world of the online giants?
Over the past 15+ years I have built a number of ecommerce sites but I started the other way around I built my ecommerce site first and then supplemented it with sales through Amazon and Ebay. Notice I say supplemented, that is because I have always sold more through my own website than I have through those sites, so I know why you would want to have your own online store.
There actually several reasons but the first and most obvious one is that Ebay and Amazon charge you tell sell through them, and why shouldn’t they?, they have built their sites up over decades to the stage they are at now, and if you want to tap into their customer base then you will have to pay for it. Today with Ebay’s new Managed Payments system I pay them around 15% of every sale. That covers the cost of listing, selling and payment processing. The balance they pay into my bank afterwards. I don’t actually sell on Amazon anymore it became pointless as their A-Z returns system and fees and numerous seller requirements made it too expensive as in my balance they have an imbalance between looking after their customers and looking after their sellers and to some extent Ebay are heading down the same route. So one reason is that Amazon and Ebay have become a little too greedy and a little too hard to work with.
But to access their massive customer base isn’t it worth putting up with that? The fees, yes maybe, the seller hoops and hurdles, yes maybe as well. But there is another more important reason to wanting your own ecommerce site and I mentioned it earlier.
I sell more products through my own website than I ever did through Ebay and Amazon combined, and that’s why you too should have your own site. You see the problem is that the big boys are way too crowded now. There are thousands of sellers all selling the same thing often mass produced in China, these sellers buy them in bulk cheaply and list them for sale, but they are all clamoring for the same buyer in the same place, all having to undercut each other to get the sale. Imagine you wanted to buy a new saucepan and you went into your town centre and every single shop sold saucepans, you would be stuck for choice but either buy on price or quality, but each shop has both. That’s what it’s like selling on Ebay or Amazon, there is just too much competition. As I said I have dropped Amazon and will probably do the same with Ebay very soon. To give you a comparison. I currently list around 70 products on Ebay, on my own website I list just 43 products. I do no paid advertising at all apart from the occasional Google ad, but hardly ever. I make as many sales through my own website in a day from those 43 products as I do in a month on Ebay from 70 products!
Now you might quite rightly ask why I don’t put all 70 products on my website and virtually double my sales? That is a good question and I could do that, but it wouldn’t double my sales, it would reduce them. The reason why is that my website is designed around a fairly specific niche, once you start to broaden that niche with other things, you start to erode your niche, and as you do that you start to lose your specialist status in Google and begin to lose your ranking and visitors. So once you know your product niche, keep it there, build all your focus on it and become one of the market leaders and not just a general trader. Walmart, Ebay and Amazon can get away with it, little private old you and I cannot, so build your online niche and become a name for that product.
Which brings me to the next reason why you should have your own ecommerce website. It is because you can build your brand and become an expert in it. On Ebay and Amazon your brand is virtually irrelevant and they could close you down as quickly as you got started and then it would all be over. Having your own ecommerce website puts you in control, not only in control costs but of your destiny. One thing that you need to bear in mind is that it takes time and determination make a success of any website especially an ecommerce one. So make sure that you build it alongside whatever else you are doing right now. Keep doing what you are doing as you build your new online sales platform. So now that we have explored the why let’s get back to the how,
How to build an Ecommerce Website
To be here researching this question have to assume that you aren’t a professional website designer and the good thing is that you don’t have to be. I’m not, I couldn’t design a paper bag, but I have built countless ecommerce websites over the years selling everything from t Shirts to bedding as well as vintage items and corporate workwear. Of course you could pay a website designer to build one, I’ve done that before now. The most expensive one which cost me a 5 figure sum was a complete disaster from the minute it was launched, I replaced that with one that cost me a tenth of that and it was vastly superior in every way. But if you are going to build it yourself then you are probably going to go one of two ways, either WordPress and Woocommerce or Shopify. These two between them have a huge percentage of the marketplace.
What is the difference between Woocommerce and Shopify?
Woocommerce and Shopify are similar but also very different. They are both very much do it yourself ecommerce packages but to choose between them comes down to a balance between cost and your own technical ability.
What is Woocommerce?
Woocommerce is an ecommerce plugin that you use with WordPress. It is very flexible and gives you lots of options and add ons and is completely free. So from a price point you are on to a winner. As it is a WordPress plugin, you need to understand how to build a WordPress website and then you add the plugin just like any other WordPress plugin. We cover how to build a WordPress website elsewhere but once you have installed and activated the Woocommerce plug in you then need to go through some settings, for example you need to be able to take payments. WordPress and Woocommerce come this thousand of possible plugin, most are free but some you will have to pay for. If you only want to take payments by PayPal then it costs nothing to set up the standard PayPal payment module and only a few moments of your time. However if you wanted to take card payments then first you need a merchant bank account (A business bank account that is used to receive online payments), then you need a plugin to process those payments. On my website I use SagePay as my payment provider. The SagePay plugin for Woocommerce cost £79 per annum, so not too expensive. The set up can be a little complicated buy give yourself a little time and you should be fine.
Once you have your payment processors in place you can start adding products. It is relatively simple, of course you need product images and descriptions and know your selling price. You can create categories, with subcategories inside them. Because Woocommerce is free open source software creating your online presence is more hands on and takes more time but the costs involved are lower. In fact other than your time, you can have a Woocommerce shop created for no cost at all, other than the initial buying of your domain name and paying for your hosting.
What is Shopify?
Shopify is much simpler to set up than Woocommerce but costs a little more. It is a complete package that includes hosting. You don’t even need a domain name if you don’t want one but it kind of partially defeats the purpose of building your own online brand of your website is called something like www.justwidgets.myshopify.com. So please do get your own custom domain name. You can do it from within the Shopify set up. Just like with Woocommerce you can choose a nice theme for your website and add categories and products. As I said Shopify is more expensive, for a start there is a monthly fee that starts from just $29 per month, but can go up to $299 per month. The more you pay, the more features you get. Shopify even have their own payment processing which has a similar cost to other providers, you can use another provider but if you do they will still charge a small percentage on top of that payment providers fees. There are also lots of add ons that you can choose to add features and flexibility to your Shopify store buy bear in mind that each one can have it’s own annual fee, which of course can soon mount up if you are using a lot of them.
So it comes down to a balance between cost and ease of set up. If you are technically minded and want to keep the costs down go for Woocommerce, if you are less technical and don’t mind paying more then choose Shopify.
I cover other aspects of setting up WordPress and Woocommerce elsewhere.
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