Key Components of an Online Store - dummies

By Jan Zimmerman

Furthering your business’s marketing campaign by setting up an online store involves planning and research. Look at other storefronts, particularly your competitors’. Buy products. Assess not only your competitors’ products and prices but also the ease of using their sites and their customer support, return policies, product quality, order fulfillment, and shipping processes. Try buying from a mobile phone and from a recommendation you find on a social media service.

To get an idea of how a good store operates, study some online stores that are consistently ranked among the best, such as Amazon (pretty much everything), Schwans (food), Drs. Foster and Smith (pet supplies), or Land’s End (catalog/clothing).

Only then are you ready to start building your store. It will share a few standard components with others, such as

  • Product catalog: The catalog component organizes your inventory and presents products consistently. Unless you have only a few products, you generally enter your product list into a database or spreadsheet that includes at least the product name, category, description, price, and photo filename.

  • Shopping cart: Users place their tentative purchases into a cart, which tracks the contents, allows shoppers to delete items or change quantities, and provides a subtotal of the amount due.

    If you have a small store with only a few items, you can use an online order form rather than a cart. Be sure that your developer programs the form to handle arithmetic automatically. Too many people can’t double a price or add a column of numbers.

  • Check stand: This portion of your online store computes shipping and taxes, totals the bill, and accepts shipping and billing information (including credit card numbers) in a secure manner. The check stand or other element of the storefront should issue an onscreen Thank You to confirm order submission and e-mail an order confirmation.

  • Reporting and order tracking: Unless your store is very small, it helps to have easy-to-understand reports on sales, customers, and product popularity. The larger your store, the more store analytics you want. Order tracking allows you, and your customer, to know the status of an order in terms of fulfillment and shipping.

  • Other add-ons: Large, sophisticated stores might interface with inventory, point-of-sale, and accounting systems. They might also integrate with live sales interaction capability, customer relationship management (CRM) systems that track a customer’s experience with your business, or other enterprise-level solutions.

Online shoppers buy convenience and time, not just products.

  • Product: The products that sell well online are not necessarily the same as the ones that sell well offline.

  • Price: You don’t have to price products the same in online and offline environments unless your online audience is likely to come into the store to purchase. Your competition, overhead, cost of sales, and cost of shipping might differ between online and offline stores, just as they might between stores in different physical locations.

    If you decide to keep prices the same, you might need to adjust the price in both channels to maintain your profit margin.

  • Placement: The placement of items on a page determines how much attention they receive and, therefore, how well they sell. Think of your site as containing multiple internal distribution channels.

  • Promotion: You can use onsite promotion, such as internal banners, discounts, upsales, and other techniques to move products and increase sales.