Planning Your E-Commerce Website

What you need to know before you hire a developer

When you decide that you want to make an e-commerce website, there are a lot of decisions to be made. You need to know what you want to sell and be prepared to present your products to the world. In addition, you need to make decisions about shipping. You will need to collect sales tax and remit the collections quarterly. Last, but not at all least, you need to make a commitment to ongoing marketing of your e-commerce website. This article explains what you should consider before you hire your web developer.

If you aren’t sure that making an e-commerce website is right for you, take a look at our E-Commerce Alternatives. If you are trying to choose among the options available to you, check out WooCommerce vs. Shopify, where we outline our experiences with both options.

Product Information

To create your e-commerce website, you will need the following information about each of your products:

  • Product Name
  • Product Description: On WooCommerce, there is an opportunity for a short description and a longer description. If you will be relying on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for website traffic, a long description will help Google index your products for search results.
  • Product Photos: You will need at least one photo for each product. WooCommerce and Shopify allow you to have a gallery of photos for your product.
  • Product Price: Each product will need a price. See the section on Shipping Strategies below. If you are going to offer free shipping, then you need to incorporate the price of shipping into your product price.
  • Product Categories: If you have more than a dozen products, then you will probably want to place your products into categories. For example, if you sell indoor widgets and outdoor widgets, by using product categories we can create a page for only indoor widgets and only outdoor widgets.

Shipping Strategies

As a seller, you know that free shipping is not really free. You need to decide how to pass shipping cost on to your customers. In addition, the cost of shipping varies based on the product weight and the distance shipped. Because of this cost factor, you may want to choose to only ship to the continental US. This avoids the cost of shipping across borders or overseas.

Here are some common shipping options:

  • Free shipping: Build the cost of shipping into the price of your product. This is the easiest option to implement, but doesn’t give you the option to vary the shipping price by region. Even so, if you don’t offer free shipping, you could lose sales to
  • Flat rate per item sold: With this model, you can set different flat rates by region. A flat rate can be a flat dollar amount or a flat percentage. For example, you could set the shipping cost to be 20% of the product cost. This model works well if your website sells a items with similar weights and dimensions.
  • USPS or UPS actual calculations: With WooCommerce plugins you can calculate the exact cost of shipping your product. In order to use one of these options, you need to know the dimensions and weight of each product. When the customer makes the purchase, the website will calculate the exact amount for shipping based on the customer’s zip code using the dimensions and weight you entered. (I have never had a client take this approach, because of the hassle of adding in all of the weights and dimensions.)
  • Combinations: A nice combination of the above approaches is to offer free shipping to the continental US, and flat rate shipping of 20% of the purchase price to other areas you can ship to. One client I support offers one flat rate for states near her, and a higher flat rate for states farther away.

Sales Tax

Sales tax laws are a moving target. Depending on where you live, you will most likely need to collect sales tax and send in payments quarterly. For most states, you only need to collect sales tax for the state you are operating in. I am in Minnesota, so if I set up an e-commerce website I need to collect sales tax from customers in Minnesota but not in other states. Once your sales tax is set it, your e-commerce platform (Shopify or WooCommerce) will automatically collect the sales tax and provides reporting for you to file with your state.

Some states have exceptions for certain types of products. In Minnesota, there is no sales tax on food and clothing.

Marketing Strategies

The most difficult part of creating an e-commerce website is the marketing. “Build it and they will come” is generally not true for e-commerce.

Social media is the lowest cost way to market your e-commerce website to the world, but it can take some time and significant effort to build an audience. We can ensure the product is ready for social media using the Open Graph (OG) meta data.  On WordPress, the Yoast plugin makes it easy to create your Open Graph data for social media. If you prepare your products using the Open Graph meta data, your product postings on social media will provide links back to the website for purchase.

Other ways to market your products are to sell at local markets or directly advertise the availability of your products.