E-commerce is one of the trickier businesses to be in. Unlike many other businesses that rely on specialty in one specific functional area like technology, marketing or logistics, e-commerce requires a mastery in almost all the different functional areas. To compete with the likes of Amazon, an online store must not only enjoy a sophistical tech infrastructure, but also own state of the art supply chain, customer service and marketing teams.
Although this can be a daunting task for a bootstrapped small business, third party SaaS apps help bridge the gap between enterprise e-commerce sites and bootstrapped online stores. This is possible because of two reasons. Most SaaS apps are subscription based. This makes it more affordable for small businesses. What is more, they’re easy to use and implement, even if you’re not a developer.
The starting process of setting up an e-commerce store might look as follows:
- Finding the niche where you believe you can sell your product.
- Setting up the production of your product or the dropshipping process (e.g. with Oberlo or AliExpress)
- Creating your online store by yourself with a SaaS platform or using developer’s help.
In this tutorial, we will focus on the third stage and show you step by step instructions on how to start an online store with the help of SaaS tools.
Step 1: Set up e-commerce website
Getting an e-commerce website up and running is one of the most challenging aspects of the business. The process involves designing a beautiful website that aligns with the industry you are in, creating separate pages for each product in your inventory, integrating your site with payment gateways and making sure that the entire system is safe and secure for your buyers.
Luckily, there are a number of good SaaS apps that can help you with this. Shopify is without doubt one of the most popular apps. This app works great for both small and large businesses and is quite affordable with a starting price of $29 per month. In addition to Shopify, you also have other SaaS apps like BigCommerce, for more advanced e-commerce entrepreneurs or Ecwid for those looking for a way to implement a store within WordPress website. While Shopify is ranked on top because of its ecosystem of designers and developers that make it possible for you to build beautiful sites for all sizes of businesses, BigCommerce is targeted at the developer community.
So let’s look what to remember about when setting up an online store with Shopify:
1. Select and connect the domain
After you register in the Shopify platform, you will be presented with the dashboard, which will guide you through the initial steps of your online store’s configuration. Probably the first step you can and should do is connect the domain where you want your online store to be available.
One option is purchasing the domain through the Shopify which would cost you no less than $14 but would probably be much easier if you’re not so much into technical and internet stuff. Alternatively, you can purchase a domain from a 3rd party provider, which should normally cost no more than a few dollars.
What you will need to do then is to configure the records in the domain settings so that they point to the Shopify servers. This might be a little bit more complicated if it’s the first time you set up your store but Shopify gives you a quite clear tutorial on what records to use and how to go through this process. If everything is correct you should verify the domain and be ready to use it in your store. It might, however, take a few days to become effective so don’t worry if you can’t enter your store using your web address right away.
2. Add the products
Ok, we have Shopify, we have the domain connected, so what now? You should now add the products you are going to sell. Adding products is really simple and you should handle it right away.
Probably, the first thing you would like to put is the picture of your product. You can easily edit colors, shades and other details of the picture within the platform which is really useful. You can also add and format the description of your product. What is quite awesome is the fact that you can very easily put images or even videos on your product page.
To embed a video from YouTube or other online services you need to copy and put the code from the YouTube video page. Formatting is really simple and user-friendly, you can even put the tables into the description, to show particular characteristics.
In case you sell different colors of your products, you can also add separate pictures for different products. Shopify enables you to add an SKU or barcode number which might be helpful for more advanced inventory tracking. We will not be going through adding each product step by step as it’s rather the easy part you should not have any troubles with.
3. Select the theme and customize
Now that you have the products added, you can start taking care of the visual side of your store.
The first thing you will probably want to do is to select the theme of your store. In Shopify, like in most other platforms, you will get several, actually 10 free templates to use and customize.
The free templates are really flexible and well-designed and should be enough for most of you. In our case, we went with the free Debut template. In case you want to purchase other designs, you would need to pay at least $180 which is definitely not a small price for a little piece of enhanced design.
We selected the template so now it’s time to customize it and personalize the look of your store.
In the customization view, you can see the customization column on the left side, where you are going to edit anything that is on the screen. So there are multiple customization options we are not going to discuss, but just to give you a brief overview of what you can actually do in here.
Even though Shopify does not provide an advanced and precise drag and drop editor you can pretty much customize every part of your website, so you can add new sections, customize the background, edit images or add slideshows telling something more about your brand. Of course, you can also customize the colors and fonts so that the store’s outlook matches your brand’s style.
In case the design is minimalistic and you only supply one type of product you probably don’t want the interface and visuals to be overcomplicated, just the most important information and the products available right away on the main page.
You would probably need to customize the look of your store, depending on whether it is a fashion, sports or any other brand. Tailoring the website, at least the one created in Shopify to your company’s needs should not be a problem for you, even without any technical experience.
4. Set shipping rates and taxes
Right now, when you have the outlook of your store ready, you should focus more on logistics and payments. So assuming you are going to ship your product, you should set the prices for the shipping to be paid by your customers. To make your products even more attractive to your customers, you can set the local shipping for free.
Likely you also want to ship your products to other regions in Europe. This is why you should add new region in the settings so that the Shopify system knows where you’re able to ship the item. We checked that the shipment of 0–10 kg product, should cost no more than $15, so this is what we’re going to enter into the system. Right now, when the customer e.g. from Germany orders the product, an additional shipping fee of $15 will be added to the billing.
But what about the taxes? For example if the VAT tax rate is 23%, so this is what we need to set in the settings so that the system automatically calculates the tax you need to pay to the tax office. Similarly, when you will be selling to Germany, the same tax rate will need to be applied if selling directly to the customer. The taxes are by default included in the pricing you add in the product’s information but you can change this option e.g. if you’re located in the US, where the sales tax is always added as an additional payment.
5. Set up the payment system
So you set products, their pricing, the shipping details and tax rates, you already know how much your customers will need to pay for our products. But how are they going to pay? This is why you need to set the ways customers can pay for your products.
This might differ significantly between different e-commerce platforms, so you might better check the payment integrations of various e-commerce software at pickSaaS.com. In Shopify, any other type of payment than Shopify payments which is the native payment system of the platform will bear a percentage fee to be paid from our sales.
Unfortunately, Shopify Payments is only available in the selected countries, in Europe, it’s limited to Great Britain and British Pound currency so you’d need to check if it can support your currency. Alternatively, you can use PayPal as the payment option (it’s especially popular in Europe and US). As a result, your customers can now pay at the store through credit card or a PayPal wallet and 2% provision is going to be charged on your sales.
You can also set additional payment methods depending on the ones which will be suitable for the location of your business so it’s worth to consider to give your customers a few alternative options.
6. Customize checkout and add legal information
So far, you have customized the main part of your store but what about the checkout process when the customer decides to purchase your product? You can customize it in the separate section under “Checkout” settings. Here, unfortunately, the customization is very limited and you will only be able to tailor some content as well as logos or graphics displayed during the process.
It even lets you generate this content automatically which is not a recommended way. For your store to be fully secure from the legal side, a lawyer’s help might be required.
Shopify also gives you the option to create custom pages to be presented on your homepage, so you can use it to present all the legal documentation on your home page as well. You’d need to copy the content, create new pages and add the pages to the website’s footer which can be customized in the navigation menu. Well, your website definitely still needs to be polished but at least right now it has most of the elements required to make the business running.
Step 2: Set up inventory and shipping
There are two vital components to inventory management – the cost of shipping and the shipping duration. Amazon, for instance, offers free shipping on a number of product categories and some of these also qualify for overnight shipping. This presents a terrific buying experience to customers. As a startup e-commerce store, you may not really have the luxury to offer competitive shipping amenities.
There are however certain SaaS apps that can help you build a sophisticated supply chain network for your e-commerce business. Shopify, for instance, runs a service called Oberlo that allows users to set up partnerships with suppliers to allow them ship products directly to the customer. Called dropshipping, the process can help bring shipping costs down dramatically.
So what does dropshipping mean? It means selling online the goods which belong to somebody else and are going to be delivered by somebody else.
Once you start receiving orders from customers, the next step is to start delivering them. The shipping segment is quite fragmented and a courier that is cheapest for one location may not be reliable for another destination. This is especially true for international orders. Also, each order needs to go with an invoice, product label, and so on.
Fortunately, there are a few SaaS apps that deliver the goods here. SaaS tools like ShipStation can help you find the cheapest and most efficient way to deliver while other tools like Printful can make it easy for your store to print labels and invoices that need to go with every order.
Step 3: Set up marketing and implement basic software for the start
1. Marketing software
The next step in launching an e-commerce store is establishing marketing processes. Online stores typically advertise over two channels – Google Adwords and Facebook Ads. Facebook Ads are also integrated with Instagram. If you sell products in an industry like fashion or travel, Instagram is a lucrative channel to find customers and Facebook Ads can also help with this.
How to find the right marketing channel?
Before you start your marketing campaign it is worth to do your homework and spend some time thinking and researching where is your audience. For example, if you’re running an online store selling stylish socks like happysocks.com, it might be probable that your customers — teenagers or those in early 20-ties spend a lot of time on Facebook or Instagram. Also, they might be interested in your product, even if they are actually not looking for new socks right now.
This makes Facebook Ads a perfect marketing channel for starting the campaign of your online store. How do Facebook Ads work? They enable you to select the group of your potential customers, based on their nationality, age, interests or even specific Facebook profiles they like and target them with an advertisement presented in a news feed. Setting up a Facebook campaign takes time but spending a few hours or days on learning its basics might bring you a really worthy reward in future sales. If you need a hefty guide to running Facebook campaigns, you can find it here.
Another marketing channel you can use is AdWords, which are simply the advertisements presented in the google search results. You set up the keywords which will trigger the advertisement to appear only to the people looking for particular product. So for example, when somebody types “buy stylish wallet”, you can set up google to view the ad of your e-commerce store with branded wallets on the first page of google results.
This might be especially useful for dropshipping businesses where you mostly care about people who already are in need and search for particular products. And what is even cooler, you only pay for a click (CPC — Cost-per-click), meaning you don’t spend money for those only viewing your advertisement and not visiting your website. The cost, however, differs depending on the popularity of keywords you want to target so if you sell very popular and competitive products like smartphones, it might turn out that this marketing channel is not profitable for your business.
Nurturing your target audience is a vital aspect of your marketing strategy in e-commerce. Marketing automation tools like MailChimp and Drip have free starter plans that helps e-commerce marketers build a list of prospective buyers who they can nurture and convert into paying customers. In other words, using SaaS apps like MailChimp costs nothing to a startup e-commerce store and is thus a big boost to your marketing ROI.
The other aspect of marketing involves building loyalty and increasing conversions. Luckily there are a number of SaaS apps that can help you here. For example, an app like ReferralCandy can help you setup a referral program for your customers. There are also SaaS apps for setting up coupons, reaching out to users who have abandoned their carts, display popups and so on. Depending on the e-commerce platform you choose, many such tools are available as easy-to-install apps from the native app store.
2. Customer support software
You want your customers to value your service.
Customer relationship and user experience play a big role in improving the ROI on any e-commerce operation. As we have pointed out earlier in this article, e-commerce marketing relies heavily on nurturing your prospective audience into paying customers. This is a gradual process that involves building customer relationship and by offering a great customer experience.
A study published by EConsultancy found that live chat offered the highest customer satisfaction ratings among all communication methods. According to this report, over 73% of customers expressed satisfaction over live chat compared to just 61% among customers using email and 44% among those who used a phone to talk to the business representative.
As always you can browse through numerous live chat solutions which integrate with Shopify but one of them which is well integrated into the platform and is perfect for managing e-commerce businesses is LiveChat.
After the registration, you simply need to download a LiveChat’s application in Shopify store and that’s it, you’re ready to chat with your customers. LiveChat gives you options to customize the chat window visible on your website as well as provides the unique functions for e-commerce businesses, enabling you to measure the direct impact of your chat conversations on sales.
From a marketing ROI perspective, live chat tools are fantastic for online store businesses. For one, they do not require the same kind of capital investments that phone-based support channels do. Also, with live chat, an agent can converse with multiple customers simultaneously and this improves support productivity. In addition to this, live chats increase customer satisfaction and these factors together help improve marketing ROI significantly for e-commerce businesses.
3. Analytical software for your store
According to Carly Fiorina, Former CEO Of HP
The goal is to turn data into information, and information into insight.
Starting an online e-commerce business is not only about buying and selling. It is also about optimizing the way your store works and measuring your marketing efforts and results. A good first step for doing this is implementing analytical apps to measure your website’s activity.
The main app you can install at your kite store is Google Analytics, which will give you insight on who your visitors are, where they come from and what activity they’re performing on your website. After creating a Google Analytics account, you only need to copy the tracking code to the Shopify platform and you’re ready to go, you can now check the information about your website’s visitors and details about conversion, meaning the percentage of visitors that turn into a paying customer. Additionally, Google Analytics offers special e-commerce tracking functionalities which can also be activated in the Shopify menu.
Another app you can use is Hotjar — a free app which will enable us to track the detailed behavior of each and every visitor. So you can use it to actually see the video recordings of the behavior of our users. The installation is not the easiest one but if you follow the Hotjar’s guideline is manageable as all you need to do is to copy the provided code in the appropriate places in the theme’s HTML and in checkout settings.
Then, you’re ready to go and you can start seeing what visitors do on your website. Additionally, you can also analyze which areas of your store are most often clicked, which gives a huge insight into any changes in the layout and the design of your website.
E-commerce is a challenging industry to be in and as the owner of an online store, you will be required to wear multiple hats at the same time. SaaS based tools discussed in this article can not only help you set up and manage all these various functions with ease, but also bring down the cost of operations thus significantly boosting your ROI.
Do you own an e-commerce business? Share your favorite SaaS tools and apps in the comments below.
Now that you have the store ready, it’s time to make it grow. Check how to use software to grow an already operating store in the below guide:
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