When the Coronavirus Pandemic was just starting to present itself as a problem, we at WTM began having the same conversation that all other business owners were having. “What would it look like to work from home?”, “How do we support our clients through a mandated shutdown?”, “What clients do we think are at risk?” etc.
Then our leadership posed the question of “What is our industry going to look like AFTER the pandemic?”
It felt a bit existential at the time, but we did have one immediate thought that felt like a moment of clarity in those days: “Everyone is going to want to add Ecommerce functionality to their website.” This hypothesis has continued to prove itself out throughout the year.
An Online Shopping Explosion
Almost as soon as the first lockdown orders were handed down, our clients began requesting the building out, or the further enhancement of their ecommerce features. Our entire industry as a whole is seeing a mad dash to sell online, and that is of course in response to the drastic shift in consumer buying habits.
Reuters saw some very interesting trends during the year, such as:
- Ecommerce sales rose 49% this holiday season even as the overall economy suffered under the pandemic.
- Home decor and home improvement products saw a sharp increase, with the obvious increase in the amount of time people found themselves indoors.
- Even products that saw an overall slump like apparel and jewelry saw a significant increase online.
Obviously, the reason for the immediate increase in online sales is COVID, but things were trending this way for years, the pandemic just shortened the timeline.
Why Should I Invest In An Ecommerce Website?
Taking portions of your business online can seem logistically impossible and a monumental task, despite all the advantages it presents. It’s easy to take a “set it and forget it” approach to your site, but just like a brick and mortar store, the longer you put off needed changes, the more expensive it will be.
Those of us who build websites find ourselves constantly making the case that, while building a website, creating new functionality, or making overdue improvements may be expensive, it’s a cost of doing good business.
In our current climate of increasingly online business, it might be MORE important than that new piece of equipment or service vehicle.
3 Important Factors To Consider For Your Website
In an effort to make the task seem a little less daunting, we wanted to point out 3 things that will help you through the process.
Know Your Business’s Limitations
First things first, it’s important that you be honest with yourself. We are going to give you a few options and resources below and tell you that with a little bit of effort you can bootstrap your way into a functioning ecommerce website. It’s also important to acknowledge and accept the limitations of one’s technological understanding and patience for learning new things.
If you don’t have the free time, ability, and patience it’s best just to hire a professional. The reality of the modern web/dev industry is that there are options for all price points.
Each option comes with its own challenges. Like with anything else, the more you spend, the more you get. So be careful of “professionals” that promise you everything you want for a price that sounds too good to be true. What you will likely get in that situation is a half finished or half functioning site and you’ll never hear from the person who developed it again after launch.
Choose The Right Tool
Before you start, lay out a roadmap of what you want your site to do. In the case of building out ecommerce functionality, that probably starts with “what can we pack in a box and ship?”, but it can become much more complicated
If you’re dealing with an assortment of products that require minor configuration for purchase and are simple to ship, you might want to look at one of the major ecommerce platforms. Here at WTM we lean heavily on Shopify and BigCommerce.
Both platforms have a wide range of services, including:
- CRM integrations
- Inventory management
- Multiple payment gateway options
- Simple page builders (These provide flexibility with how the site looks, and who can update it.)
The major issue with these types of tools is that the platform is proprietary. Once you start needing functionality that isn’t available (ie, complex product configurations or shipping options), you either end up completely rebuilding your site, or paying excessively for custom development.
If your business offers services rather than products, there are options for you as well.
If you want to be able to offer someone training or courses in things like small home repairs or guitar lessons, you might consider a platform like Thinkific. It functions much in the same way that Shopify does in that it has multitudes of integrations and plugins to help you maintain and build courses out yourself.
It’s also set up for easy subscriptions to keep the revenue stream constant. Thinkific does, however, have the same limitations in that it’s proprietary so you may at some point in the future find limited growth potential as your users begin to ask for more robust functionality.
If you’re looking for a similar option on a more flexible platform, you might want to check out LearnDash for WordPress. It has all of the learning module features that you’d expect from an online learning tool, and with WooCommerce you can set it up for billing, CRM integration, and subscriptions. The only caveat here is that it’s got a steep learning curve, so you might want to reach out to a professional to help you set it up.
Get professional web development help from WTM.
Finally we need to talk about the aforementioned WooCommerce for WordPress. It’s the best option for businesses with complex products, inventory systems, or filtering and product selection needs.
We find ourselves in conversations on a regular basis with clients whose businesses are growing rapidly. They are hamstrung by the ecommerce platform they started with, and the conversation always gets down to cost. There is usually a feeling of, “I just wish I would have started on WordPress from the beginning.”
It’s a well worn phrase, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. WooCommerce and WordPress can pretty much get you anything you want. It will cost more, and you’ll need a professional development team to launch it, but it’s future proof.
Once it’s launched there are a multitude of options for maintaining and adding to it yourself.
Consider Your Users
This is the first conversation we have with any client about every type of website. Put yourself in the mind of your current user, but also try and reach forward in the life of your business and think about the experience of the users you will gain as you grow.
Here at WTM, we start off every new website build or large scale website restructure with a user persona exercise. We always say that all decisions should be held up to the question of “which one of our users does this serve?”
For ecommerce, this is particularly important. You have to put yourself in the mind of the person buying and make it easy for them. The main question is: “how easy is it for your users to find the products and purchase them?”
The answer to that can depend on many factors, such as age, type of device being used, and more. Every site should be built with their users top of mind, and if you do this, you’ll see higher conversion rates.
Preparing Your Website For 2021
We want to leave you feeling empowered to go and get it done, whatever that may look like for you. If 2020 has proven anything, it is that if you’re not selling online, you’re already behind.
Every pizza shop that didn’t have online ordering now does, every mental health professional who had never considered telehealth is conferencing online with their clients. It’s the right move, and there are definitely decisions to be made as to HOW to embrace ecommerce solutions, but we’re here to tell you that you definitely SHOULD be.
If you’re ready to start selling online but need help from professional web developers, reach out to WTM. Our web team can design and build the ecommerce functionality you need.