As online shopping steadily takes over the global retail market, nearly 15% of sales take place online, and that number is steadily increasing. If you want your small business to be a part of this coming wave, it’s absolutely crucial that you have a well-developed ecommerce website.
A well-developed ecommerce website doesn’t just look visually enticing. If executed properly, it will translate into real sales and profits for your ecommerce business by streamlining the order process for customers and building brand equity that can carry your business forward.
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What is ecommerce website development?
E-commerce website development is the process of creating and building online platforms that enable businesses to sell products or services. It involves designing and developing user-friendly interfaces, integrating secure payment gateways, managing product catalogs, and implementing features to enhance the overall shopping experience for customers.
- Website design
- Product catalog
- Shopping cart
- Payment gateway integration
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Mobile responsiveness
- Customer service
The goal of ecommerce website development is to create a user-friendly and secure platform to sell online. This builds trust with browsers and leads to higher sales and conversions.
How to develop an ecommerce website
A successful ecommerce website development process involves a number of steps varying in scope, from articulating your company’s identity in a digital context to building the site itself.
1. Establish your brand
You’ll want to determine your target audience and tailor your ecommerce project to meet their needs and tastes, from the style of photography to the level of detail in product descriptions. Finally, you’ll want to come up with a snappy business name—something memorable and unique that effectively translates your brand’s objectives.
2. Buy a domain name
You may also want to consider domain name availability when choosing your ecommerce business’s name. Buying a domain is an easy process with Shopify, but in-demand domains can sometimes go fast—if the domain you want is available, try to get it while you can (you can opt for a short-term contract of a year or two, in case you’re not fully committed).
An easy-to-remember and eye-catching URL can drive traffic to your ecommerce site, and increase brand awareness, so you may want to check to see what URLs are available before settling on a company name.
3. Choose a hosting platform
Once you purchase your domain, you can get your website up and running by choosing a website host (preferably one with an ecommerce platform) to host your site as well.
Some hosting services are barebones—you have to design and build the website yourself—and others offer pre-built website designs optimized for both desktop and mobile viewing.
4. Design your site
Beyond a memorable logo and eye-catching color palette, your website design should effectively communicate your business’s goals.
Pay special attention to designing a navigable online store, with easy search and filtering options, as this is your ecommerce site’s core functionality. A disorganized website design or a frustrating checkout experience can result in lost sales and a decline in brand reputation.
Take Kulala, a sleep brand, for example. Its website has aesthetically pleasing design elements, including a well-chosen color scheme, clean and modern typography, and consistent styling throughout the site.
Kulala’s clean, uncluttered design helps visitors focus on the products and information. Simplicity often involves removing unnecessary elements and keeping only what’s essential.
5. Determine how orders will be fulfilled
Which ecommerce fulfillment strategy will you opt for? In-house fulfillment, dropshipping (ordering items direct from suppliers on customers’ behalf), or third-party logistics (fully outsourced fulfillment processing)?
These will inform your capacity for orders, and consequently, how you design your site. If you’re relying on a third-party logistics service, for example, and they have a standard delivery time window, you’ll want to be sure your ad copy adequately informs customers of when they can expect to receive their shipment.
6. Build and launch your website
You may wish to save on web development costs and use an ecommerce website builder like Shopify to create your own website in a prefab method—dropping pre-coded content blocks and image placeholders into a site-building interface.
If you have a little more cash to spare, you can still utilize a hosting platform like Shopify, build your website with a developer separately, and then migrate the site over.
Once you’ve built your website, it’s time to launch it. But before you do, you’ll want to thoroughly test it to ensure everything works correctly. Test all of your site’s features, loading speed, mobile responsiveness, and the checkout process before launch.
Set up tracking with Google Analytics or a similar platform. That way, you can monitor your website’s performance and make data-driven decisions to improve it over time.
7. Maintain your site
Your ecommerce website will need to be regularly updated to reflect changes in your stock and product line and any promotions you’re running.
You may find that your website’s design doesn’t have the functionality you or your customers need, or that aspects need to change based on customer feedback. Unlike brick-and-mortar shops, ecommerce sites can be changed with a click of a button.
With Shopify’s drag-and-drop builder, you can easily update your website to make changes.
A successful ecommerce website is never truly “finished”—it’s an ongoing project that grows and evolves along with your business.
Qualities of successful ecommerce sites
There are several key elements any successful ecommerce website should contain—from the back-end coding and security to its clickable features and checkout flow.
A successful ecommerce website will have an excellent user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design. Basic requirements of good UI/UX in an ecommerce context include filters that allow customers to identify their desired product or range of products efficiently, a search bar, clean design, and legible copy.
Take the Gymshark website, for example. It’s clean, easy to navigate, and intuitive. The navigation is clear and simple, allowing people to easily find the products they’re looking for. There’s also a search function for quicker, more specific queries.
The website is fully responsive, meaning it adjusts well to various screen sizes, including mobile devices. Given the increasing trend of online shopping, this is a crucial aspect of user experience.
Gymshark uses clear and visible CTAs, guiding people on what to do next. Plus, the checkout process is simple and straightforward, with minimal steps, reducing the chances of cart abandonment.
Good online security
The security of your ecommerce store and any data it processes and/or stores is paramount. You are handling customers’ sensitive financial information, including credit card numbers and mailing addresses.
Best practices for ecommerce customer security include adequately password protecting your site and all other sensitive accounts (don’t use easy-to-guess passwords), and employing “transport layer security” (TLS), “secure sockets layers” (SSL), and HTTPS authentication—programs that authenticate and encrypt links between customer computers and your site. You can also ensure all company devices are outfitted with antivirus and anti-malware software.
Ecommerce sites like Manitobah add a layer of security by encrypting customer data. They prove it by displaying a padlock icon beside the store’s URL, and using a URL that starts with https://, which indicates a TLS certificate has been issued.
Shopify provides free TLS certificates when you buy a custom domain on Shopify or transfer a domain to Shopify.
Great mobile experience
Internet users are spending more and more time on their phones. It follows that online shoppers are spending larger shares of their browsing time on mobile devices too.
Implementing responsive design is a great way to optimize your site’s mobile experience—automatically reformatting your desktop site for a mobile screen. Most do-it-yourself web design services, like Squarespace and Wix, offer responsive design by default; and any web designer you hire in 2023 should have the up-to-date skills to provide this design functionality at your request.
Colurpop’s mobile site is well designed and fully responsive, providing an optimized experience for mobile users. All elements of the site fit well on smaller screens, and the website’s functionality remains intact.
It features an easy-to-use navigation system, making it simple for customers to explore different product categories and find what they’re looking for.
The mobile site also loads quickly, providing a smooth and enjoyable shopping experience. Slow loading times can frustrate users and lead to potential customers leaving the site, so this is an important aspect of a good mobile UX.
Search engine optimization (SEO) enhances your products’ visibility, and ultimately sales (known as conversion rate), by causing your site to rank higher in search engines.
You can utilize different content strategies and techniques to achieve this, such as adding certain keywords to your site’s copy or product descriptions to get your site ranked higher than your competitors in search results related to your products.
Quality product photos
Photos are the main way customers visualize what you’re selling. They help build trust in your products and make the shopping experience better, which can increase sales.
Imagine two online stores, both selling the same product at similar prices.
Store A uses grainy, poorly lit images taken from a smartphone. The details of the product are unclear, and there’s no option to view the product from different angles.
Now consider Store B, Homesick, which uses beautiful product photos to showcase its candles.
The lighting is perfect, highlighting the product’s features. Customers can view the product from multiple angles and see the finer details.
If you don’t have the expertise or equipment to take high-quality photos, consider hiring a professional product photographer. They can help highlight your products in the best possible way.
Smooth checkout flow
A frustrating checkout experience can result in lost sales. If customers are forced to endure long, complicated sign-up processes before purchasing their items, they may give up on the purchase entirely. Consider adding a guest checkout feature, which allows customers to make purchases with minimal input on their end (and with less data).
For customers already signed up to your site, whose credit card data is already stored with you (securely!), you might consider adding a one-click checkout feature to further expedite the process, instead of going through the traditional loaded shopping cart method.
You can also integrate third-party payment options, like Shop Pay or Apple Pay, or allow customers to quickly sign up by linking their Facebook or Google accounts.
Options for building an ecommerce site
There are a few options for building ecommerce websites. Let’s go over them to determine which is best for you.
- Ecommerce website builders: Platforms like Shopify are perfect for beginners and those who want to get an online store up and running quickly. It’s user friendly, requires no coding skills, and comes with built-in ecommerce features like payment gateway integration, SEO tools, and inventory management.
- Content management systems with ecommerce plug-ins: WordPress with WooCommerce, for example, can be a good fit for businesses that have robust content needs like blogging or complex site structures. You’ll need some technical skills to handle these platforms, especially for customization, but they offer this functionality through plug-ins.
- Open-source ecommerce platforms: Platforms like Magento and PrestaShop are highly customizable and scalable, making them suitable for larger businesses with specific needs. They allow you to have full control over your website, but demand more technical knowledge to set up and maintain. Often, open source platforms require you to manage hosting and security.
- Custom-built websites: Building a site from scratch with a web developer or agency gives you the highest level of customization and control over your website. It’s the most expensive option and requires the most development time.
The best choice will depend on your size, budget, technical expertise, the time you can dedicate to website management, and your specific needs. Consider all these factors when choosing the best option to develop your ecommerce website.
How to work with an ecommerce website developer
Working with an ecommerce developer can make the process more efficient and effective. You can hire a freelancer or work with an agency on marketplaces like Shopify Experts.
Here are some tips for working with ecommerce web developers if you go that route:
- Communicate your project’s scope, including your objectives, target audience, desired functions, and timeline.
- Give them as much detail about your brand as possible, including the products and services and the experience you want to create.
- Discuss your budget upfront to ensure it aligns with the developer’s rates.
- Provide detailed feedback throughout the process, but be open to their ideas and suggestions.
- Discuss your options for updating and maintaining the website once it’s live.
The key to working with an ecommerce developer is clear communication, collaboration, and planning ahead. With those elements in place, you’ll end up with an ecommerce site that supports your business goals.
If you need help finding a developer, browse Shopify Experts to hire one focused on making your Shopify store a success.
Your ecommerce business starts with a website
Developing a successful ecommerce website—one of the most integral aspects of developing your ecommerce business—is not a task to be taken lightly.
It’s critical you evaluate all of your business’s needs and goals before sitting down to sketch out a design and launch plan—because virtually every decision you make, from your domain name, to whether or not you choose to hire a third-party developer, will depend on these benchmarks.