Buying and selling products used to be simple. Retailers kept stock, and a buyer picked an item and paid for it. Over time, open marketplaces turned into shops dotting our streets and sprawling suburban malls. The customer experience was, for all intents and purposes, relatively easy.
Commerce has evolved to keep up with demands, technologies, and different buyer behaviors. Today, buying has never felt more democratized and specific to consumer needs. It has moved online to become ecommerce and it's scattered all over our devices: buying a t-shirt on Instagram, loading up your cart of home goods on a brand’s website, checking out merchandise listed on your favorite band’s Facebook page, or calling up a retailer to place something on hold.
Are you thinking of starting an ecommerce business or taking an existing business online? Here are seven ecommerce basics to help you be successful.
1. An ecommerce platform you can rely on
Choosing the best ecommerce platform is one of the first and most important decisions you’ll make for your online store. Your ecommerce platform is essentially your online store builder and central command center, so make sure you find an affordable platform that also offers reliability and the business features you need to run a smooth operation.
There are two main types of ecommerce platforms:
- Third-party marketplaces: Platforms like Amazon and Etsy offer tools to build your own branded storefront within their respective ecommerce ecosystems. These are often more affordable but have higher fees and fewer customization options.
- Online store builder: Online store builders allow you full customization options to build and launch your own branded storefront, independent of any third-party marketplaces or platforms. Shopify is one of the best ways to build online stores, as it has tools for small businesses getting started, as well as the scalability to grow with you.
When it comes to choosing the best ecommerce platform for your small business, look for reliability, scalability, and ease of use. Ecommerce brand Old World Kitchen chose Shopify as its ecommerce platform when it made the move to its own online store from Etsy and in-person sales. Now, the majority of its sales come from its Shopify website.
Compare ecommerce platforms
2. A standout brand and site design
Today’s shoppers care about more than price point and a single transaction—they’re looking to support and build relationships with businesses that align with their values and personal identity. This is where branding comes into play.
Remember: your brand is more than just visuals. It’s important to create guidelines for voice and tone as well. After developing your brand, you’ll need to convey that identity through your website. Beyond the messaging and look and feel, your site design should be easy to use and navigate for website visitors. The best ecommerce sites combine functionality with beauty.
With a website builder like Shopify, you can do both to create the best website design. When building your online store, choose from a variety of Shopify ecommerce themes—some paid and some free, each with its own unique benefits for particular niches. You can also use the free logo maker to create your own logo with brand colors and fonts.
Learn more: Use the free business name generator to help you choose a name that suits your brand.
Health and beauty brand Golde is an excellent example of strong branding and website design that strikes the perfect balance of creativity and utility. Its consistent use of colors, fonts, visuals, and voice create a strong, distinctive brand that resonates with its target customers.
3. Eye-catching product photography
Ecommerce photography is a core component of every online shopping experience. These photos are meant to replace the in-person experience of seeing, touching, trying on, smelling, and otherwise physically interacting with a tangible product. Online shopping removes this option, so beautiful product photography takes its place.
While you can take product photos with a smartphone, it’s usually best to go the professional route—be it in-house or outsourced. You can also streamline your product photography workflow with various tools and apps.
Anima Mundi Apothecary has an excellent mix of plain background product shots and creative styled shots. It also uses lifestyle product photography on its website and other digital channels.
4. A smooth user experience across devices
While a great website with beautiful product photos is important, there are a few ways you can optimize post-launch. The key is to create a consistent customer experience across all channels—your website, third-party channels, physical retail, email, social commerce, and anywhere else shoppers interact with your brand. This could also include your own mobile app.
Allbirds has a mobile app that allows shoppers to try on its products virtually. The user experience on the app is aligned with the experience shoppers have with the brand on other channels.
You’ll also want to pay some extra attention to your website. Look for ways to improve product pages, reduce site speed, and optimize for more search traffic. It’s also important to ensure your website is not only mobile-responsive but mobile-optimized. On mobile, images should render proportionately, text should be bigger, and the layout should suit a smaller screen. After all, there were more than $362 billion in mobile commerce sales in 2021—a figure expected to exceed $710 billion in 2025.
You don’t need a website to optimize your digital selling channels. With the Shopify Starter Plan, you can sell on social media in minutes, powered by Shopify’s industry-best checkout experience—and it includes mobile optimization.
5. Frictionless checkout
Your ecommerce store must provide a way for customers to check out efficiently. A fast, frictionless experience will lead to more customers completing their checkout, and possibly even returning to purchase products in the future. Think of a smooth checkout experience as the ultimate goal in commerce.
Checkout process optimization involves addressing the top reasons why shoppers abandon their carts:
On Shopify, Shopify Checkout is already optimized for speed, conversion, and customer experience, and you can offer accelerated checkout methods like Shop Pay, which lets customers checkout 60% faster and results in up to 18% higher conversion rates from returning shoppers.
S’wheat, a brand of reusable water bottles, uses Shop Pay to optimize its checkout experience. “We offer Shop Pay because it’s quick, secure, seamless, and accepts all major card providers, so it makes things a lot easier for everyone,” says Sophie Gibson of S’wheat. “The majority of our transactions are through Shop Pay, with the other 10% or so through PayPal.”
Additionally, Shop Pay installments allow shoppers to opt into buy now, pay later (BNPL) options—meaning they can pay for their purchase in smaller increments, ideal for products at high price points.
6. Fast and reliable order fulfillment
Today’s consumers expect to receive products faster than ever before—60% expect deliveries within two days, and they’re not afraid to shop around to find it. You can provide two-day shipping with Shopify Shipping if you don’t want to install any apps or pay additional fees.
Shipping challenges remain in a post-pandemic world, however, and it’s a problem not expected to go away in the near future. It’s no surprise that shipping and manufacturer delays, as well as shipping costs, are the top supply chain concerns brands have for the next year. This is an important area for brands to consider and optimize, because fast and convenient order fulfillment drives customer retention.
You can implement new technologies to help predict, plan for, and even prevent disruptions in the future. Early adopters of AI-powered supply chain technology can improve logistics costs by 15%, inventory levels by 35%, and service levels by 65%.
When supply chain challenges are outside of your control, diversify. This could mean spreading out your warehouses and fulfillment centers to optimize for fast shipping in different regions. This is the approach taken by home goods brand Parachute, which has even added its brick-and-mortar stores into the mix. “We’re thinking about things like making our stores mini-distribution centers, where we have the room to help support our distribution center,” says founder and CEO Ariel Kaye. “Multi-warehousing is something brands will look into so they’re able to be closer to customers.”
You might also hire third-party fulfillment services. Diversify by working with a variety of companies so that when one partner has an issue, you can work with another partner on your roster. You can do so with the Shopify Fulfillment Network, which streamlines returns and product storage in addition to ecommerce fulfillment. A hybrid solution—a combination of in-house and third-party fulfillment processes—can also work well.
7. A formidable ecommerce marketing strategy
Marketing your business is the final—but one of the most important—steps to your ecommerce strategy. You’ve spent all this time creating your brand, designing a beautiful site, and setting up the back end—now it’s time to share it with the world.
There’s an abundance of digital marketing channels and tactics to explore, so it’s easy to feel overwhelmed at first. Some of the basics include:
- Email marketing. Email is one of the few channels where you truly own your audience—and you’re not susceptible to ever-changing algorithms or bidding wars. Use Shopify Email to create strategic campaigns and automations to deliver directly to your customers’ inboxes.
- Social media marketing. While social media marketing and ads may be declining in their return on investment (ROI), social commerce is on the rise—so it’s a good idea to maintain a presence here.
- Influencer marketing. Work with micro-influencers who have a similar audience to yours to promote your brand. This serves as a form of social proof.
- Brand collaborations. Find complementary brands to partner with through Shopify Collabs, a database that can connect you with millions of brands. For example, if you sell jewelry, you might find a handbag, shoe, or clothing brand to collaborate with.
- Target marketing. It’s important to get to know your audience and build personalized marketing campaigns around their interests. Shopify Segmentation will give you the insights and tools to do so.
- Marketing automation. You can use technology to set “rules,” and automatically trigger campaigns when those rules are met. For example, if someone abandons their shopping cart, you might send an automated abandoned cart email. You only have to set the automation up once, but it will continuously run.
Ecommerce basics FAQ
What is ecommerce?
Ecommerce is the act of selling physical or digital products online.
What are the different types of ecommerce?
- B2C (business-to-consumer)
- DTC (direct-to-consumer)
- B2B (business-to-business)
- C2C (consumer-to-consumer)
What is an ecommerce platform?
An ecommerce platform is a tool that allows merchants to list and sell products online. Your ecommerce platform is essentially your online store builder and central command center. Choosing the best ecommerce platform is one of the first and most important decisions you’ll make for your online store.
How do you start an ecommerce business?
- Find product opportunities and choose what to sell
- Thoroughly research your competition and write a business plan
- Choose a logo and name and set up your online store
- Choose your shipping strategy and set ecommerce sales and marketing goals
- Launch your business