So You Want to be a Shop Owner Part 4 of 5

Starting an online business, specifically a shopping cart, has become a very popular thing to do recently. However, most new store owners are misguided in their thoughts of how the process works, make rash decisions and lack the essential understanding and research necessary to be successful in their new online business. This series of 5 posts is designed to serve as a guide for developing your own online store/shopping cart as painlessly and successfully as possible. Welcome to Part 4 Shop Necessities, Integration and Functionality!

So you want to be a Shop Owner Part 4

Every business will have specific integration or custom function they need or want.  This is the stickiest part of developing your online store.  In Part 1 of this series, we had you look at the saleability of you products, in doing so you probably came across some quirks or specific needs you have to effectively sell your wares. Whether its special information passed in orders on checkout, a specific sales report needed to manage your inventory or accounting, a software integration or a different payment method… You will need to accomplish these things to be successful.  A plan is only as good as the execution.

I sincerely hope you identified the custom features and integration you need and measured your shopping cart software against it by this stage of development… Lets assume you have =-)

Most developers will get $50 to $150 and hours to make customizations and functionality changes to your website.  If you have chosen a shopping cart that has packaged or developed modifications which you can install to change the functionality, look and feel then this cost is likely to be lessened quite a bit.  If you have need for all out custom programming, and it will increase your ability to sell products or rank better in organic search… Then make the investment.

We discussed early on some features that historically we know you will need to sell your products effectively and decrease abandonment.  Let dig in to a few of these things that shop owners commonly require from their shopping carts to succeed.

  1. You will absolutely need a good search function for shoppers to find your products quickly and easily and reduce shopper frustration. You search function needs to be very near the top of your website, top left is optimum.  A search function is NO replacement for great navigation.
  2. You will need a category menu to assist shoppers in navigating your products in a logical manner. While I can appreciate the desire to “stand out” or “be different” this menu is best suited on the top or top left.  Right hand menus just aren’t as effective, as we have long trained visitors to look in “normal” places for the menu options.  Does your menu need moved?
  3. Does your store have the ability to properly apply sales tax in your region/state and any distributors zone as well?  There is no headache like the IRS if you do not handle your sales tax collection properly.
  4. Is your coupon and discount functionality suited for your products or do you need additional tools like quantity pricing or special prices for special shoppers?  This is likely to be a job for your shopping cart developer.
  5. Does your store and checkout contain language that leads shoppers to believe they “have to” create an account to shop with you? Fix this now, trust me.  You see, even if the fact is they must create and account, the language does not have to scream the fact at them.  Use terminology like “shipping information” or “billing information” to reduce your shoppers anxiety about creating yet another web account.
  6. How many pages or clicks does it take for a shopper to checkout with a product? This needs to be a few pages as possible, and you development money is well spent on optimizing your checkout.
  7. Are your product pages laid out correctly? Is there a proper “call to action”? Can shopper easily locate the “add to cart” button?
  8. Will you be able to integrate your payment processing yourself, or does your developer need to do this for you?  Do not settle for accepting JUST Google Checkout or PayPal, proper credit card processing will greatly increase your sales and rate of conversion.  Honestly, don be scared, its not that difficult to get a merchant account & gateway going for your shop.  In many cases you can additionally process all or certain credit cards types cheaper than PayPal or Google Checkout. You web developer should be able to advise you on your options for credit cards processing and the integration involved for your shopping cart software.
  9. Is you shipping functionality going to do the job or does it need “tweaked”?  Remember, shoppers have been long burned on pumped up shipping charges on eBay and other similar shopping platforms, so you need to get this right to convert shoppers in to sales.
  10. Are the systems in place for order and inventory management going to be effective enough for your business, or do you need added functionality here?
  11. Do you have effective statistical software installed to tracks sales, conversions, visitors and other site metrics? You absolutely NEED a proper Analytics Solution for your web store… Not optional if you intend to be successful.  It doesn’t have to cost a great deal of money at all… Google Analytics is not only free, but highly effective statistical and conversion tracking software.

All in all, I hope your are feeling pretty confident at this point that your choices thus far have been well informed and good decisions.  I have one piece of additional advice to pass on at this point…

You will NOT be successful in your web store, JUST because you have one.  Your shopping cart, like any other business, requires a high level of commitment and maintenance from you.  You must have your finger on the “pulse” of your business at all times, no matter who is managing it.  Lastly, you must be prepared to make a proper reinvestment of funds to your website for technology improvements, maintenance, proper hosting and many other marketing opportunities as well.

Stop by Monday (8/18/2008) for the final part of “So You Want to be a Shop Owner” series wrap up called “Got My Store in Development, Now What?” See you there!