Shoe for sale online Creating an e-commerce shop can allow you to expand your audience beyond local customers, which benefits businesses locked down due to COVID-19 and growing businesses in general. — Getty Images

Due to COVID-19, more people are shopping online than ever—census data shows that e-commerce sales were up by more than 36% during the third quarter of 2020. So if you’re thinking about launching your e-commerce platform, now is the time to do it.

[Read more: 8 Small Business Trends That Are the New Normal]

What is an e-commerce platform?

An e-commerce platform is an application that lets businesses sell products online. It has tools that allow you to manage your site, business operations, sales and marketing.

These platforms make it easier to run your business by providing website hosting, secure transactions and integration with other business tools.

When it comes to hosting your e-commerce platform, you can choose from two options:

  • Self-hosted: Magento and WooCommerce are examples of a self-hosted platform. With a self-hosted platform, you are responsible for finding hosting and managing software updates. This is more costly and time-consuming, but it could be the right choice for established businesses that need more customizations.
  • Cloud-based: Shopify and BigCommerce are examples of cloud-based platforms. Cloud-based platforms are typically easy to set up and they manage the installations for you. These platforms are good for beginners who want a simple way to set up a website and online store.

What should you look for in an e-commerce platform?

  • Cost: Most e-commerce platforms charge a monthly fee and offer different tiers of service. Make sure to compare pricing among different platforms so you’ll know what your monthly costs will be.
  • Easy setup: You want a platform that’s easy to set up and design. Many platforms come with simple design tools, such as pre-made templates and drag-and-drop features.
  • Security: Customers won’t use your site if they feel like their information isn’t secure. Many e-commerce and website platforms have built-in security features, like SSL verification.
  • Integrations: Look for a platform that integrates with other business tools you use. For example, you want a service that integrates with your social media and email marketing tools.
  • Mobile-friendly: According to Statista, mobile e-commerce sales are expected to reach $339 billion by the end of 2020. So you need an e-commerce platform that is mobile-friendly and shows you how your site looks on mobile devices.
  • SEO-friendly: 43% of e-commerce traffic comes from organic Google searches, so you want a site that ranks well in search engines. Look for an e-commerce platform that’s SEO-friendly and will help you drive traffic to your site.
  • Customer service: Before you choose an e-commerce platform, read user reviews to see what kind of customer service the company provides. Quality customer service can make a huge difference if something goes wrong with your site.

[Read more: How to Build a Mobile-Friendly E-Commerce Website]

Many platforms come with simple design tools, such as pre-made templates and drag-and-drop features.

Tips for setting up your store

Every business has different needs, and there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for setting up your e-commerce store. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you’re setting up your store:

  • Free trial: When you’re considering platforms, look for sites that offer a limited free trial. This will give you time to explore the platform and decide whether it’s the right fit for your business before committing long-term.
  • Customers: Who are you trying to attract with your e-commerce page? The answer to that question will inform the design and setup of your site. Pick colors and designs that match the products you offer and don’t be afraid to use a pre-built template. And make sure to include well-written product descriptions and high-resolution product photos.
  • Contact information: Your contact information should be located in a place where customers can easily find it. Include an email address, phone number and online form that customers can fill out.
    It’s also a good idea to include links to your social media channels and product reviews. Detailed contact information lets customers know that you care about the user experience and welcome opportunities to engage with them.
  • Point of purchase: Make sure that every product listed on your site has a functional purchase button. And make sure that all of the purchase and shipping options listed are consistent across the appropriate products. Implementing third-party payment options will make payments more accessible.
  • Maintenance: Keeping your site updated and running smoothly is crucial to the continued success of your e-commerce site. Outdated information or technical issues could turn away potential customers. Fortunately, all of these issues and more can be avoided with regular site maintenance.

[Read more: How to Drive Traffic to Your E-Commerce Store]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published December 16, 2020