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10 Vital Ingredients for E-Commerce Success

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Due to the availability of turnkey shopping cart software, it has never been easier to create an online store. For this reason new merchants are appearing on the Web at unprecedented rate. Most of these stores will fail, however, due to poor design, planning and execution. This article will discuss ten of the most vital ingredients if your store is to be a commercial success.

  • 1. Strong business plan
    Before you run out and purchase $10,000 of stock, or even setup web hosting, it is vital that you first develop a comprehensive business plan. This essentially involves asking yourself a range of questions, for example:
    - Is there a demand for my product(s)?
    - How much will it cost to get the store up and running?
    - Do I have enough money to make this project a reality?
    - How will I market the site?
    - Where will I store the merchandise?
    - Are there any legal issues I should consider?
    Having a business plan in place will also come in handy when communicating your ideas to a web designer, securing a loan, or setting up a merchant account.
  • 2. Domain name
    Having a domain name is critical if your store is to look professional. Once you have decided on a name you should acquire it as soon as possible to avoid having it snapped up by someone else. Also, Google and other search engines tend to be wary of domain names that are less than a year old. When selecting a name, make sure it isn't too long and that it is easy to remember.
  • 3. Appropriate web hosting package
    Because the nature of the hosting package can impact the shopping cart software you use and the web developer that you employ, it is best to decide on your software and designer first. You don't want to realize later that your host doesn't support the shopping cart you've chosen, or that you can't get a private SSL certificate with your current plan. While getting it right the first time isn't a make or break event, you will need to get a stable plan with adequate storage and bandwidth if your project is to succeed.
  • 4. SSL security
    SSL (Secure Socket Layer) is a protocol that encrypts and protects information that is exchanged between your website and your customers. SSL is most commonly used to protect credit card details. Prior to making a purchase, most shoppers will look to verify that a store employs SSL security. Many shoppers will actually do so without knowing what it really is. Even if you use a third party service like Paypal to manage credit card payments, it is advisable to get SSL security anyway for account logins, etc. While it isn't always a critical feature from a technical standpoint, SSL security is vital if you want your shoppers to trust you.
  • 5. Solid shopping cart software
    Unless you have a substantial budget or have highly unique requirements, it is advisable to install pre-written shopping cart software to display your products and handle customer checkouts. Homemade solutions tend to result in a substantial loss of sales due to a less professional appearance and for not being as convenient to use. Be sure to research your shopping cart software to make sure it supports the features you require and to ensure you can find adequate support for it.
  • 6. Professional site design and layout
    Most online shoppers associate professional site design with professional service. A well laid out, attractive site will improve customer confidence as well as improve the shopping experience. Be sure to keep it simple. Don't include every JavaScript / Flash feature you have ever come across. Also, never use the default shopping cart design. Hire a designer if necessary, preferably one who has experience with the shopping cart software you plan to use.
  • 7. Uniqueness - in products and/or services
    Due to the plethora of online stores, it is vital that you stand out from the crowd. This may be due to the product offered, the selection available, the low prices, or the quality of customer service. If your site is unique, you need to be able to convey that to your visitors.
  • 8. Adequate contact details & transparency
    Your customers must feel comfortable when shopping online. One of the most common questions in e-commerce forums is 'why isn't anyone buying from me?' Often the reason centers on the uncertainty regarding the trustworthiness of the merchant in question. Many people prefer to buy from merchants on eBay because they can view the feedback rating of a member before making a purchase. As a store owner, you will have to find a way to reassure your customer that you are safe and trustworthy. This can include providing a range of contact methods for support services. Another approach is to become approved or rated by an independent service like the SiteTrust Network.
  • 9. Adequate payment & shipping methods
    Customers love convenience. And with a huge range of competing online stores, if they don't like the procedure at one store, they will look elsewhere. Convenience is especially important in the case of impulse purchases, where it is vital that the customer can make a purchase quickly and conveniently.
  • 10. Persistent marketing
    Successful online stores aren't born over night. There is no such thing as 'if you build it they will come (and purchase!)'. You will have to be proactive and persistent in your marketing efforts. If you don't get the visitors you were hoping for through one avenue, look elsewhere. Be sure to be creative in your marketing efforts. Many people find success through participating in online forums or through creating blogs. Be sure to also consider offline promotional methods.

While you could come up with a range of other requirements for a successful online store, without the ten vital ingredients discussed above, your site will be sure to struggle.

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