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Top tips for starting your online business

Chris Mattingly, Co-Founder of Queen’s Square based ecommerce company Blublot, gives the low-down on moving traditional businesses online.

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“The recent cold snap and subsequent impact on high street sales has made a lot of businesses consider online sales as a backup to their business. At Blubolt we provide powerful ecommerce solutions to retailers around the world, and here I am going to share some of my tips for creating a really strong ecommerce platform with you.

When you decide to create an ecommerce site, your first thoughts are likely to be around how that site might look and function, and how much it is going to cost you. Initially, scoping out what your competitors are doing online will show you what works, and what doesn’t. You should consider what you might do to emulate or improve on your competitors sites, and how you’re going to convey this effectively to your chosen agency.

Prioritise your requirements using the MoSCoW method – ‘must’, ‘should’, ‘could’, ‘won’t’. What can and can’t you live with on your new site and how does this influence timings and cost. Use these requirements to set a realistic budget. Bear in mind that a full-solution eCommerce site doesn’t just include web-design, it often includes complex technical requirements that take time to build.

Next, find an agency that understands your business and your goals. This needs to be a long-term decision, not just a ‘fire-and-forget’ one-time build. Choose an agency that is passionate, not just about your business but about what they do and how they’re pushing boundaries. There is no one size fits all agency, they come with varying strengths and specialities and you need to consider how these fit with your business needs.

Most agencies will require a detailed, well thought out ‘Request For Proposal’, commonly referred to as a RFP. When you receive quotes back compare them carefully – don’t just go for the cheapest – eCommerce solutions vary dramatically in cost. Consider how much you really need to invest to see a return.

Consider how feature-rich the solution you’re being offered is ‘out of the box’ and how much you will need to commission as bespoke work. Also consider whether you should separate out the design and technical development of your new site – it is common for design agencies to partner with technical solution providers to give a complete solution.

Technically, consider how the new site will integrate with other systems you use. It might need to integrate with your accounts package or your stock control system. This will add additional expense but will be worth considering from the outset.

Think about how you’ll take payments online. What ‘payment service providers’, or PSPs, does the eCommerce solution integrate with? It is worth negotiating commission rates not only with your chosen PSP but also with your bank.

Consider whether you have the technical resources in-house to manage the new site, and any training your team might need. It is also important to understand early on the amount of control you’ll have to maintain your site, and how much you’ll have to rely on your agency. Make sure you’re given enough control to be able to regularly update key marketing and catalogue content without having to rely on someone else to do it.

Plan the marketing of your site into your overall strategy. Be realistic – if you’re starting a brand new eCommerce site it isn’t going to revolutionise your business overnight. Acquiring customers and traffic takes time and hard work.

By focusing on your marketing from the start of the project you can consider how people will find your site, how you’ll engage in online/offline marketing activities and how you’ll entice customers to come back. You might need to think about how your eCommerce site fits with your physical shops – does the platform support core features like ‘Click and Collect’ for example?

Finally, as with any major project, think about how you will analyse your data. The platform needs to allow access to the basics of the data you collect to allow for effective marketing. You need to be able to easily determine which are the most popular products, who the most loyal customers are, or what your total sales are.”

Queen’s Square based Blubolt was founded in 2006 by Chris Mattingly and Maxwell Lamb, and has grown to become a major player in the eCommerce sector with a proven track record of producing high end eCommerce sites.

About Katrina

Founder of Pepper PR & Marketing, a company specialising in marketing and event management for the digital and tech sector. On the BathSPARK organisation team and involved in running the SPARKies, the south west's best tech awards.

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