With most of the UK now stuck at home, the effects of the lockdown are likely to be felt most keenly by small retail businesses. Except for certain essential outlets, all shops throughout the country are currently closed. In addition, the vast majority of the population must stay in their homes in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Clearly, this emergency situation leaves retailers somewhat in the lurch. Neither customers nor staff are able to visit stores and bills will keep coming in, presenting a serious problem to many UK companies. The saving grace here is that the Government will pay 80% of workers’ wages for businesses that keep them on throughout this period.

However, it is possible for small retailers to survive – and possibly even thrive – during this difficult time. In the total absence of sales through brick-and-mortar stores, now is the perfect time to take your business online by setting up an ecommerce site. With the right approach, you can turn this period of adversity into a long term advantage for your company.

 

Setting Up an Ecommerce Site

In times gone by, the process of establishing an online store was much more complicated than it is now. It’s now much easier to set up an ecommerce site, particularly if you’ve already got the rest of your retail company in order. Before taking any action, though, it’s vital that you do your research, choosing the right domain name registrar, web hosting service, and content management system (CMS) for your business.

Purchasing Your Domain Name

Even as a small business, it’s recommended that you purchase your domain name from the outset so that it becomes a company asset. If you manage it well, your website will begin to rank for keywords on Google and users will find your business this way. An established site that features highly for important terms on search engine result pages (SERPs) is valuable in its own right.

In any case, purchasing your site shouldn’t be too expensive, with some providers offering .com domains for as little as £0.99 per year. Should you receive a quote that’s much higher than a yearly rate of £10-15 for a domain name alone, check that you’re not buying a bundle with add-ons you don’t need.

Given that your business is established, choosing your domain name should be straightforward. The best-case scenario is that yourbusinessname.com or yourbusinessname.co.uk is available. If not, you may have to get a little creative. The most important aspect of domain name selection is to choose something that relates clearly and logically to your existing brand or business, but it also helps to have a short URL; remember that facebook.com was originally thefacebook.com.

Choosing a Web Hosting Service

Once you’ve bought your site, the next stage is to choose a web hosting service. In practice, many registrars also include a hosting service in a package with the domain name (all of the mainstream UK-based registrars offer such bundles). If you’re completely new to managing a website, this is the best option to go for.

It’s possible to get a better price overall if you purchase your domain and hosting service separately, but this is a lot of extra work. In the current climate, you would be better off getting your ecommerce site up and running as quickly as possible.

Finding the Right CMS

You’ll use your CMS to upload and edit the content of your site once you’ve taken your business online. As such, choosing the right option is an important step in your journey towards setting up an ecommerce site. There are many different CMS platforms to choose from, some of which are free to use.

The most popular CMS for both ecommerce and content-focused sites is WordPress, a free and easy way to manage a business website. The platform is compatible with a wide variety of open-source ecommerce plugins such as WooCommerce that can help you with the process of establishing and running an online store.

If you haven’t purchased a domain and hosting, WordPress offers a comprehensive ecommerce experience package that takes you through the entire process from selecting a domain name to taking your site live. Bundles like this are more expensive than carrying out each step separately but save you a lot of time.

Of course, there are plenty of other options if WordPress doesn’t appeal to you. We won’t explore the other CMS platforms in detail here, but you’ll find that there are tonnes of resources about choosing the right platform online. Whichever CMS you decide on, make sure that it’s capable of providing an ecommerce function!

 

Building Your Ecommerce Site

Once you’ve got the fundamentals of your site in order – with a domain, host, and CMS – you’re ready to start building your site. Before you create any pages, however, you’ll want to plan things out thoroughly and have a good idea of how you want the site to be structured.

Site Architecture

The first step towards organising your site is to plot out the site architecture: beginning with the homepage, you’ll need to decide on your product categories and establish the order in which they appear in your main navigation bar.

Start by drawing out your site architecture with a pencil and paper. It should look like a decision tree diagram with the homepage at the top, underneath which are categories and subcategories (and then products). Alexa has created an excellent resource that will help you with this, which includes the helpful diagram provided below.

A diagram showing the fundamentals of ecommerce site architecture from Alexa
The basic layout of a website’s architecture (from Alexa)

Of course, your architecture will depend on the products that your business sells. As a clothing retailer, for example, you might want to have categories for men, women, children, and brands. The next level down would be subcategories within these, such as t-shirts, jeans etc. The choice of categories and subcategories is entirely up to you, but it’s a good idea to take a look at a range of examples from within your industry to get some inspiration.

Top-Level Pages and Features

With your site architecture planned out, the next step is to start creating top-level pages. Lots of users will land on your homepage when they first visit, so designing the look and function of this page is really important. A basic ecommerce homepage should have a main navigation with categories, a search bar, and icons for login and basket at the top of the page.

Below this top section of the homepage, you might add images, text, and links that promote your product lines. Some ecommerce sites also have an ‘about us’ section towards the bottom of the page, but you could create a separate page for this and link to it in the footer, a site-wide component that will be featured at the bottom of all pages.

Before you can add a customer footer like this, though, you’ll need to create the pages that you want to link to. As a minimum, you should create the following pages:

  • About Us
  • Contact Us
  • Delivery/Returns
  • Payment Information
  • Terms & Conditions
  • Privacy Policy

Your footer should certainly include links to these information pages, but you might also add your social media channels and a newsletter sign up once you’re more established online. With all of the necessary pages in place, you can create a customer footer in WordPress by navigating to the Appearance section and selecting a widget (see this guide for more information).

Category, Subcategory, and Product Pages

With your homepage, information pages, and custom footer set up, you’re ready to create the rest of your site, including category, subcategory, and product pages. These are the pages that you want to rank on Google to attract visitors, so it’ll be useful to pick up some search engine optimisation (SEO) fundamentals first – if you’re new to digital marketing, check out the Beginner’s Guide to SEO from Moz.

Create each of the pages that you outlined in your site plan. As you’ll have learnt from the Moz guide, each page should target a unique set of keywords in the copy and metadata. In terms of the design for each page, explore ecommerce sites in your industry to get some ideas. Your product pages should at least contain vital elements such as product descriptions, images, and links to your delivery and payment information.

Ecommerce Fundamentals

Your CMS should take care of the ecommerce fundamentals, but you’ll have to design the add to cart function, a shopping cart page, and a checkout page. These will be pretty basic to begin with, but you can use this resource from the CXL Institute to help you out with making it easy for your customer to make purchases from your site.

Taking Your Site Live

With the fundamentals of your ecommerce site in place, you’re almost ready to take your site live and start selling online. It’s important to test your site out before launching it to ensure that the content is displaying as you’d like it to and the ecommerce function is fully operational. For example, you’ll need to test the process of buying a product from start to finish to see if all of the stages work properly.

Once you’ve done this, go through this helpful checklist to make sure that you’re ready before launching the site. Some points in the article may be too complicated for now (particularly those directed at web developers). Don’t worry, just follow the instructions that make sense to you and try to read up on the areas that you don’t understand. In many cases, as with structured data, you can make the changes at a later date.

The final step once you’ve launched your site is to create and submit an XML sitemap; this is a document that acts as a roadmap of your site, telling search engines where to find all of your pages. This might sound technical, but you can use a free tool like XML-sitemaps.com to create one provided that your site has fewer than 500 pages (WordPress will even do this part for you!)

Set up an account on Google Search Console and link your website to it via the authorisation process. To submit your XML sitemap, click on ‘Sitemaps’ under ‘Index’ and add the URL of your sitemap in the top section. Google should now be able to find the location of all of your pages so they can be displayed in the SERPs.

 

Rounding Up

In an effort to help you take your business online whilst you’re stuck at home, we’ve covered the process of setting up and building a basic ecommerce site. It might take you some time to achieve this, but the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be selling your company’s products online.

Once you’re all set up and selling products, you might want to look into adding some extra features to your site such as a blog and a wishlist functionality. There are lots of more advanced elements you might want to consider at this stage, such as a ‘you may also be interested in’ section on each product page that links through to other product pages.

Whilst guides like this are the only way that Boxtopia can help you out with your digital marketing, we’re happy to help in other ways if you do decide to take your business online. Having converted from a retail store to an ecommerce site temporarily, one of the first things you’ll need is delivery packaging. Contact us today to discuss your packaging needs.

Author: Rowena Perrott

Rowena Perrott is the General Manager at Boxtopia and has over 30 years’ experience in sales. She works with businesses of all sizes across any industry to find the best packaging supplies for their needs.

PLEASE NOTE WE ARE CLOSED FOR MAINTENANCE ON FRIDAY 30TH OCTOBER
Otherwise, despite the current circumstances with COVID-19, Boxtopia remains open for business as usual. We are able to deliver bespoke boxes to anywhere in the country. For more information on our response to the situation, please visit our Coronavirus business update.