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Online store website

Why read this? : We review the skills needed to set up and run an online store website. Learn how to define its purpose and strategy. How to plan and manage content, style and functionality. And finally, how you choose between different e-Commerce software platforms. Read this to learn how to get more out of your online store website.

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Online store website

How this guide raises your game :-

  1. Learn how you define your online store website’s purpose and strategy.
  2. Explore how content, style and functionality drive the customer experience on your online store website.
  3. Review the pros and cons of e-Commerce platforms like WooCommerce, Shopify and Adobe Commerce.

There’s 3 different ways to sell online.

Most people start selling online via a 3rd party platform such as marketplaces or print on demand. It’s fast and easy, but you have little control. 

Or you sell via online retailers. That’s more work, but you get more control.

But to get the most control over online selling, you set up your own online store website to sell products directly to customers. This is called direct-to-consumer (D2C) selling. 

D2C means you control the whole customer experience. You choose what your website looks like, what it sells and how it works. You handle the order-to-delivery system. No third parties to negotiate with. It’s all on you. All the benefits, but also all the challenges of selling online.

Person paying for an e-Commerce purchase as they hold a credit card up in front of a laptop

Ready to test your knowledge?

What’s your starting level of knowledge about online store websites? Take the 2 minute, 5 question Three-Brains online store website quiz and see how much you know about online store websites already.

Online store website - where to start

You start by thinking about your store’s purpose. Why does it exist? What’s it going to do for customers? How will it meet their needs? Working this out helps you set the direction for your strategy. It helps you define what your online store website needs to do. 

For example, from the purpose you can start to make decisions on its content and style. What it’ll say. The tone of voice it’ll use. What it looks like. The design principles it’ll use. How it’ll support your brand identity and engage customers. 

Then there’s the site’s functionality. What it needs to do. Process orders. Manage payments. Connect your order to delivery and customer service systems. If it can’t handle these tasks efficiently, customers won’t buy. 

You also need it to capture data. This helps you generate the insights you need to improve the experience. Your online store website has to be dynamic and respond to feedback and changes in shopper needs.

These are the types of questions to work through as you define your store’s purpose and strategy.

Online store website - planning

As per our online store strategy guide, setting up your own online store needs a “full” rather than a “fast” approach to strategy and planning. 

You can launch a store quickly using a template system. But if you don’t plan out who it’s for, what it needs to do, and how it’ll work, it probably won’t sell very much.

You have to answer these questions so your online store has relevant content, looks good, and works efficiently.

This means making decisions on strategy, brand identity and customer experience. The better you do this, the better the shopping experience for your customers, and the more sales you’ll get.

e-commerce planning process - The 5 key steps of the e-commerce process

The online store website in the customer journey

Your online store website is the hub of your D2C experience. It’s where your digital media drives traffic. It’s where interested customers browse products, check prices and make their decision to buy.

Visitors to your site are interested in your products. Based on what they want from online shopping, the site has to offer them the right mix of ease and convenience, range and price comparisons. 

Once they decide to buy, it’s then where they interact with all your back-end systems. Payments. Deliveries. Customer service. Assuming your advertising campaigns and social media activity already drive traffic to your site, what has to happen on the site to convince customers to buy?

e-commerce planning process - 5 key steps in e-commerce experience

Online store website and selling

Your e-Commerce positioning helps you define the selling job to be done on your online store website. From that, you get your :-

  • target audience – who the site’s for.
  • frame of reference – who your competitors are.
  • benefit – what the site needs to offer.
  • rationale – your reason why and reason to believe. 

The “working” of the site, both what the customer sees (front-end) and what systems work behind the scenes (back-end) bring your positioning to life. Get it right, and you convince customers they should buy from your online store website. Get it wrong, and your store just won’t sell. 

Sale sign in white on a red window with outline of a person walking past in the background

You bring the positioning to life in several ways, including :-

Connecting to the customer’s decision-making process

Your online store website has to connect to 2 levels of the customer’s decision-making process. 

First, there’s the functional level. This is driven by information and how the site works. For example :- 

  • What the products are and what they do – images and product descriptions of features and benefits. 
  • Information about sizes, colours or formats if relevant. 
  • If products are in or out of stock.
  • Price, discount and payment options. e.g. volume or loyalty discounts, and subscription offers.
  • Delivery information, options and costs. e.g. areas you do / don’t deliver to, express delivery options, free delivery for orders over a certain value etc.
  • Ways to ask questions e.g. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), Contact Us details, terms and conditions etc.

Then, there’s the emotional connection your online store website has to make with customers. This comes from its style and enhanced elements of its content and experience. You aim to bring your brand identity to life by showcasing your :-

Creating your user experience

Together, the functional and emotional connections create the User Experience for your online store website.

Of course, the challenge is that different shoppers want different things. You have to create multiple user experiences which shoppers can navigate themselves. You want your site to make it as easy as possible for shoppers to find what they want. 

The easier way to find out what shoppers want is to ask them. For example, do market research and test prototype versions of the site with them before you launch it.

Use their feedback to refine your insights. Customers experiencing the site for the first time will have no bias, so you’ll get the most honest and direct feedback from them. 

It’s also worth creating a customer segment profile to describe your ideal customer. Create a journey map of the steps they go through before they buy. Use this to look for the insights you need to deliver a great user experience.

For example, those who know what they want look for :- 

Customer Experience Journey Map
  • an easy-to-use search function.
  • clear, logical category and product pages. 
  • quick check-out and repeat order options.
  • saved payment and delivery details. 

Those who want to “browse” first are looking for appealing and informative supporting information such as :-

  • “how to” guides.
  • inspiration and ideas such as video content or customer reviews. 
  • comparison tables. 
  • links to relevant external websites.

Remove e-Commerce friction points

Another key part of making it easy is removing what are called friction points. These are anything which gets in the way of what the customer wants to do. 

For example, you want a purchase to require the least amount of clicks. In general, the more ‘clicks’ a customer has to make, the more likely they are to abandon the purchase. So, you aim to eliminate friction where you can.

For example, not allowing guest checkouts is a friction point. If you force customers to create an account to buy, it adds friction and puts some customers off. 

Person sharpening the blade of an axe on a grinding machine

Recent research shows guest check-out is chosen about 20% more than the logged-in check-out when both options exist. So, you should allow guest check-out unless you’ve good reason not to.

As per our how to get more sales online guide, there are also options like subscriptions and CRM programs where you can offer added value or convenience. These can help remove friction from the buying process.

Content, style and functionality

With all that in mind, and as per our website planning guide, let’s move on to what customers experience when they land on your site.

You assume your digital media like search, social and display has done its job and driven traffic to your site. Shoppers know your store exists and what it sells.

But when shoppers land on your online store website, their main experiences are then driven by the site’s content, style and functionality. Or in other words, what it says, how it looks and what it does. 

Online store website - content

Website planning - website experience

Your online store website content is anything the customer reads, watches or interacts with on your site. Online store website content usually has to cover product, selling and brand. 

Product content

As per our how to get more sales online guide, each product page covers, at a minimum the product name, product imagery and product information. This tells the online shopper they’ve found the right product. 

That seems obvious, but there are some technical factors to consider when setting these up. 

Product naming

First, you should make sure the product name is included in the page URL. You should also make sure it’s set as a focus keyword. This helps with your SEO by making it easier for search engines to find the page. 

How to get more sales online - 3 key basic of a product page - product name, images and information

Then, think through the naming hierarchy of products on your site. If you’ve many products, group them into relevant categories. This makes them easier to organise and navigate. You can have high-level categories and sub-categories to make it easier.

For example, “Men’s” might be one category. And “Men’s T-shirts” a sub-category.

Product images

Next, make sure your images are well set up from a technical point of view. You’ll most likely upload .jpg images into your online store website Media Library or your product information management system.

These should “fit” the space where they’ll appear. They should be sharp enough to look good and allow the shopper to zoom in. But they can’t be too large a file size or they’ll be slow to load. You need to look for the sweet spot of file size vs image quality. (Around 100Kb per image is about right). 

Ideally, you show the product from multiple angles. They should also have alt-text added to their meta description to make them more readable by search engines.

You should also consider using graphic design tools like Photoshop and Illustrator to make the pictures look more professional and appealing. Use these to crop and manage image dimensions, add effects or combine images to make new images.

Product descriptions

Finally, your product descriptions have to work for both customers and search engines.

So start by making the copy clear, simple and readable. Both the words and the typography. If you’re dropshipping or selling via Print on Demand, your suppliers will be able to supply you with basic product details. But bear in mind, other stores they supply will have this same basic information. 

So to make your copy stand out you need to enhance it. Build in your brand’s personality and tone of voice. Link it to key features and benefits you know the customer is looking for. Do your keyword research, and focus on writing clear sales copy. Remember, the whole point of your online store website is to sell. (See also our  successful product page and high-ticket item product pages articles for more tips).

Selling content 

Next, you write the sales copy for the other parts of the site journey and work out what and how you’ll do sales promotions. Typical areas to cover include :-

  • Pricing and payment.
  • Deliveries.
  • Trusted pages. 

Pricing and payment

For example, your sales offer could include discounts or free delivery for purchasing more items or spending over a certain amount. Plus, make clear any extra fees. Online shoppers hate finding “hidden” fees when they check out.

Shop window with two clothed mannequins and three price discount stickers on the window of 50%, 30% and 20%

You should also share what payment options you accept. (credit card, Paypal, After Pay etc). 

Delivery

Include details of how delivery works and how much it costs. You should give an estimate of how long it’ll take to arrive. If your supply chain set-up means you can guarantee delivery times, then push this as a benefit. But in most cases, you offer a delivery window. So, between “x” and “y” days delivery.

Trusted pages

As part of your selling content, make sure your site has About Us, Privacy and Terms and Conditions sections. Though these don’t directly drive sales, they reassure customers. These pages help build trust and credibility.

Add a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section about the products, and your online store website’s service offer. Again, this helps build trust. Plus, it reduces the time your customer service team have to spend answering questions.

Think also about any extra selling content you can test. As per our advanced e-Commerce techniques article, there are many ideas you can use like online exclusives, loyalty programs and targeted offers.

Brand content

Finally, you plan how you’re going to brand your online store website. Great branding is critical in e-Commerce.

Your store has to bring your brand identity to life and create an “ambience” which makes it easier for the online shopper to buy.  

This covers many areas. Obvious ones include regular and clear use of tangible brand assets such as your brand logo and colour palette.

But it also includes consistent use of intangible brand assets like your essence, values and personality. These also have to come to life on your online store website. 

Brand identity asset classification examples

For example in your tone of voice. How you write your product, sales and branded content. And in the layout and style of the pages.  Overall, these brand assets help you create a holistic and integrated customer experience.

Style

Your brand content and brand identity drive the overall style of your online store website. You should review each style element of the site, and make sure it’s consistent with your brand style guidelines. Examples would include the colour palette, the typography and any visual design principles you use.

Reviewing the style

Start at the top of the page, and look at each style element one by one. Check how you can make them work with your brand identity. 

For example, on the main navigation bar, you could use your brand colours to show the difference between hovering over a drop-down versus making a selection. You could also use your brand colours to make hyperlinks stand out, as we do on this site. The same goes for borders around content blocks. Call to action buttons. All opportunities to use your brand colours to reinforce your branding. 

Then, there’s the typography in your headlines and your body copy. This should be consistent with all your other communication materials. Not just the font style, but also the font size and weighting. You want all these to make your online store website copy easy to read.  

Next, there is how you use photography, video content and illustrations on the site. These can all help bring your brand identity to life. For example, adjust photography settings like hue, saturation and brightness to create a consistent style. Upload advertising or product demo videos, so the online store website feels more engaging. And use illustrations like icons and diagrams to make it easier to navigate the site. 

Functionality

Finally, on your online store website, we come to the functionality. In other words, what it does. This is how the shopper interacts with the store. For example, when they press a button or fill in a form, they expect something to happen. You have to make sure your systems can handle that expected action. 

For example, a “learn morecall to action button that takes you to the right content. A “contact us” link that lets them send an email or message if they have a specific question. Email sign-ups and links to check their account details. 

And of course the most important “function” of an online store website. The sale itself. When the customer buys, your responsibility to them changes. For a start, they’re giving you some of their personal data. So, you must make sure your handling of that data complies with data privacy and legal considerations. See our digital data guide for more on these.

Probably the most important “function” of selling, is payments. As per our functions of e-Commerce guide, your site will need to connect to a payment gateway to handle this. This is an online portal which securely manages transactions between buyers and sellers. They charge a small fee per transaction. It’s also used to manage refunds and prevent fraudulent transactions.

Payment gateways - hosted or embedded

Payment gateways can be hosted or embedded. 

With hosted solutions, the customer is taken to a secure online page, separate from your website to make the payment. They add and validate their details on that page, and then they’re returned to your online store website. 

With embedded solutions, the code from the payment gateway is embedded into your check-out page. The same things happen in the back-end, but the customer sees it as all happening on your site. That’s generally a better solution as it’s simpler to not switch between sites. 

Woman holding credit card near a macbook and typing in her details

However, embedded solutions can be more technically challenging. They have to “fit” into the set-up of your check-out page. Payment gateways normally provide “how to” guides for both options.

Connection to other e-Commerce systems

Once payment is approved, it triggers actions in other systems.

For example, it has to be processed through the supply chain system. That system makes sure the product is picked from the warehouse and sent to the customer. 

This has to synch with the inventory system to make sure you don’t run out of stock. The inventory system tracks how many items are “in stock”, and triggers a reorder for more stock when you hit your minimum stock level.

The delivery also has to synch with delivery company tracking systems. For example, if they attach a tracking code to an order, so the customer can track its progress. That number has to be sent from their system to the customer.

You also need your online store website to feed into your marketing data set-up. For example, using Google Analytics to track website visitors and behaviour. But, there are many other ways to track and measure performance. For example, you can add tags to advertising and work out which drives the most sales. You can add pixels so you can re-target shoppers who visit but don’t buy.

You need supply chain and IT skills to set up and maintain these systems. Check out our D2C challenges article for ideas on how to get those teams on board. 

Build your online store website

There are over 350 different software platforms which support e-Commerce. You’re not short of choice. 

Which you choose to build your online store website is driven by your business needs, expertise and budget. The cheapest and easiest ones to use usually have less functionality. If you want more features and sophistication, you have to choose a more expensive platform.

Let’s look at 3 of the most popular options – WooCommerce, Shopify and Adobe Commerce (aka Magento).

E-Commerce software market share

WooCommerce

According to Wapplyzer, WooCommerce is the most common e-Commerce platform with about 45% market share. This is partly down to it being connected to WordPress which dominates the Content Management System sector. If you’re on WordPress and you want to do e-Commerce, WooCommerce is an easy and natural choice. (Our shop is on Woocommerce for example, as this website’s built on WordPress). 

WooCommerce has 8,000 plug-ins+ available via WordPress. These are extra functionalities you “plug-in” to your website to improve the online store. 

For example, there are payment plug-ins for PayPal and other payment gateways. You can add delivery tracking plug-ins and set up printed invoices and delivery slips. And, you can add design and experience elements like Customer Reviews, Wishlists and delivery date and time scheduling. 

Shopify

Shopify was specifically set up to be an easy-to-use online shopping platform. It’s great if your site is purely focused on e-Commerce, and doesn’t need to do anything else. 

Shopify offers 3 packages. There’s basic at USD29/month. The standard Shopify at USD79/month. And, the larger, advanced version at USD299/month. It comes with an App Store, the equivalent of the WooCommerce plug-ins. This has 3,000+ online shopping apps to choose from. These help you manage content, adjust the style and improve the functionality of your online store website.  

Because Shopify is a dedicated e-Commerce platform, many online stores choose it for its focused approach. It’s very user-friendly and designed to be set up and run by non-technical people. 

They have a good choice of customisable templates to set up your online store. You can find apps to add customer reviews, email shoppers who abandon carts, and set up promotional codes. 

Even on the basic level, you get technical support and it’s easy to get a decent online store quickly up and running.

Adobe Commerce

Finally, there’s also Adobe Commerce. (Formerly known as Magento). This is a more powerful e-Commerce platform, mainly used by bigger businesses. Because it’s part of the Adobe Marketing Cloud, it easily integrates with other Adobe products such as Experience Manager and Campaign.

It’s more customisable than WooCommerce or Shopify. For example, you can make the front end look exactly like you want, rather than rely on pre-set templates. Plus, if you have to integrate an online store into your SAP set-up, it’s likely to be your best option. 

But this means it’s less beginner-friendly. It’ll require some IT support or technical knowledge. Plus, Adobe charges much higher license costs and fees. Because of the high need for technical support, it’s usually only used by more established online sellers. 

Each software system has its own pros and cons. You pick the one which best delivers against your business needs, expertise and budget.

Online store website - technical requirements

There are also some technical requirements which go with building your online store website. For example, you need a stable and secure hosting service. You have to make sure there’s regular maintenance on the site, and that software and plug-ins are regularly updated.

You should also test regularly for bugs or issues. Check security access levels at least once a year. If the site goes down, you should have clear contact points and service level agreements from your hosting service to fix it quickly. 

You’ll also need to set up a URL for the store. Make sure you use HTTPs, the secure and encrypted version of HTTP.

Data security

Customers share personal information when they buy from you. For example, their home address, email, phone number and credit card details. So you have to make sure you manage this information securely.

These details normally sit in an “Orders” folder in the software system. But, it’s often worth linking them to your CRM database to track contacts and transactions. Because this is sensitive data, you have to make sure you manage who in your business can access this data. 

If you take credit card details directly, you also have to make sure you’re PCI compliant. This is a set of rules and guidelines which protects the privacy and security of online payments. There are different levels of strictness depending on how you manage payments. 

If you manage payments through a payment gateway, the onus is on the payment gateway to be PCI compliant. You still have some obligations, but mostly, they’re compliant on your behalf. For example, credit card data is partially hidden, so your team never have direct access to it. 

Keep improving the online store website experience

Part of the process of managing an online store website is that there are always ways to improve the experience. You should regularly test your online store to make sure it delivers a great shopping experience. Review and analyse your data, and use it to improve the customer experience and win over online shoppers. 

For example, if you’ve high bounce rates or abandoned carts, analyse the site data to work out what’s going wrong. Don’t be afraid to make changes. The most successful online retailers regularly update their sites to improve the experience.

Every store has to start somewhere. Even if that “start” point isn’t great, it can only get better. Check out how Australia’s biggest supermarkets started out selling online, for example :-

Woolworths website from 1997  

Coles website from 1996 

Conclusion - Building a great online store website​ experience

Making sure your online store website works and delivers a great D2C experience is full of ongoing challenges like :-

Your online store website links together front-of-house customer experiences, with back-of-house functions like payments and delivery. It’s your main opportunity to drive a sale with your target audience

Screengrab of Three-brains Shop - headline says "merchandise to raise your game"

Choices you make around content, style and functionality bring your brand identity to life and help convert visitors into buyers. You use the data your online store website generates to keep improving the customer experience. It’s an ongoing challenge to find new ways to attract online shoppers and keep them coming back to spend more. 

Three-Brains and e-Commerce

We’ve worked on many e-Commerce projects and have good experience across strategy and planning, working with online retailers and building D2C stores. We know how to optimise these areas to drive your brand marketing and grow your salesGet in touch to learn how we can support you with our coaching and consulting services.

Downloadable D2C status dashboard

D2C Online Store Status dashboard
Click to download the pdf

Setting up an online store requires you to define your strategy and plan, work out the sales and marketing and also set up the whole operational side of the business including the finances and the delivery / supply chain model. It can be complex to manage.

That’s why we’ve used this project dashboard to great success in the past to have a simple one-page summary of the key actions required to set up and manage a D2C online store. Download it here or from our resources section. 

Powerpoint and Keynote versions of this document available on request. 

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