How to start your e-commerce business from scratch

Written by: Samantha Wolhuter

Are you looking to start your very own e-commerce business from scratch? Well, the algorithm Gods have been good to you as they have led you precisely to the right place: in the trusted hands of your friendly tech wizards of WeAreBrain

We develop innovative technology solutions to help global organisations empower their digital transformation to face the fluctuating challenges of modern business. By doing so since 2014, we have learnt a thing or two about how to transform an e-commerce business idea into a fully-fledged, profitable online business.

Why e-commerce? Why now?

The estimated number of e-commerce websites is currently between 20-24 million worldwide – and it’s growing every day. According to the latest figures, e-commerce revenues are projected to grow to USD 6.54 trillion in 2022, almost double from 2019. Online shopping is one of the most popular online activities worldwide. The reason for this is two-fold: first, the number of people gaining access to internet-ready devices increases each year, effectively growing the market. Secondly, it is just too easy to browse and shop online these days. 

E-commerce figures for 2020. Source: Statista

What these stats and figures show is that there has never been a better time to launch an e-commerce business. In this article, we will outline all the necessary steps to get your online webshop up and running in no time. But before we start, let’s settle on one thing: how to spell e-commerce correctly (spoiler: it’s e-commerce). 

Ready to get started? Here is our step-by-step guide on how to start your own e-commerce business from scratch.

Quick guide:

  1. Definition
  2. Concept
  3. Development and Project Management
  4. Pre-launch
  5. Launch
  6. Post-launch

1. Definition

Before you begin creating your e-tail empire brick-by-binary-brick, you first need to identify the motivating reasons why you are doing so in the first place. Are you simply wanting to get rich and famous, or do you lean more toward adding value to the world?

Neither motivations are right nor wrong, but just be honest with yourself about the reasons behind why you plan on pouring in so much time, sweat, and tears into your new project. When you find your why, the what’s and how’s will soon follow. From this, you need to set out your clearly defined goals and objectives for what you want to achieve and how you plan on accomplishing them.

Goals and objectives

Your business goals and objectives should align with the industry you are hoping to penetrate. In this case, you should focus on the crucial e-commerce KPIs: Active Monthly Users, Conversion Rate, Customer Lifetime Value, Customer Acquisition Cost, Churn Rate, and Monthly Revenue Rate. These KPIs will help guide you throughout your journey, providing a North Star for you to follow at every step of your journey. Without these important e-commerce KPIs, you are simply stabbing in the dark.

6 e-commerce KPIs you can track.

Brand guidelines 

Your e-commerce platform is the life and soul of your brand and therefore it is vital that you take the necessary steps to flesh out your brand values. Start by identifying your brand vision and mission as this will be your guiding beacon for most of your business decisions, particularly in the early stages of your business development. Once you have a solid grasp on your brand’s why, what, who, and how, you can begin to create your brand personality and voice. Think of your brand as a living, breathing person: how do they look, act, sound, and operate? Make sure this ‘person’ has all the fun and engaging characteristics of someone you and your audience really want to hang out with.

Research

It is crucial to conduct detailed market research of the e-commerce industry to get a firm understanding of how it operates and which routes you should look to exploit to gain an advantage on your competition. Speaking of competition, it is imperative that you research your competitors and create a detailed business case for your potential venture. Here you will quickly find out if your ideas and objectives are worth pursuing or not, and whether there is a gap in the market for your business to thrive.

Investigating the current e-commerce trends will provide you with insight into what is working in the market and what is leaving much to be desired. The best and most powerful e-commerce brands are leveraging the latest technologies to improve the online shopping experience for their customers, such as live shopping, ship from store, personalisation, and the power of AI and AR. 

6 e-commerce trends for this year and beyond.

User journey

It is important to map out the ideal user journey your customers will follow when engaging with your platform and brand. Start by creating personas or profiles of your ideal target customers (age, demographic, spend cap, likes, dislikes, etc.) to get a deep understanding of how you can make their user journey more pleasant. 

By identifying each persona’s pain points and motivations, you are able to craft meaningful engagement mechanisms for your audience to enjoy while turning them into lifelong brand loyalists in the process. It is crucial to investigate who your ideal customers are in order to cater to their needs and make them feel like your brand is aiming to interact with them on a personal level.

In-house vs Outsourced 

In terms of which development route you wish to take, it is important to weigh up the various pros and cons of in-house vs outsourced development. But this goes further than just development, as you can choose to have in-house or outsourced options for all your needs: from development and design, logistics/order fulfilment, right through to your marketing, accounting, and customer service initiatives.

The choice between in-house vs outsourced often comes down to team competence and budget. If you are a lean startup without a massive spending capacity then it may be a good option to hire a few jacks-of-all-trades to handle multiple elements of the business. But often this leads to poor quality output across the board if you don’t have a dedicated team of specialists backing your every move.

This is why we feel that outsourcing your major projects is beneficial as you are led by teams who know precisely what to do (and what not to do) in the e-commerce space. And when you are trying to break into the market you are going to need all the specialist insight you can get.

2. Concept

Now that you have conducted your research, given your brand a personality, and have decided on the setup of your team, you can move on to the concept phase. Here, you will be able to detail the design and development mechanics of your e-commerce platform and ensure all elements work in unison within your platform’s ecosystem before you begin the build.

Tech stack

At this point in your project timeline you ought to be considering the makeup of your tech stack and how you want to power and present your content. Take time to dive deep into the various benefits and drawbacks of what each e-commerce platform offers and see which best aligns to your business model (B2C or B2B). 

Whether you want to build your own platform or go the traditional, open-source, cloud or SaaS route, it is important to ensure that your platform has important functionalities and features to ensure the success of your business. We’ve outlined the pros and cons of the top e-commerce platforms available to help narrow down your decision.

Architecture (advanced)

*Please note that this is more advanced content relating to large enterprises. SMEs should not worry too much about this.

For large-scale enterprises, you may want to consider exploring headless architecture as its omnichannel nature provides a wider scope of sales channels and it’s easy to manage dynamic content publishing. 

Be sure to include microservices into your architecture. Microservices work together with headless APIs, providing increased agility, independence, scalability, and improved system performance. Microservice APIs assist in pushing content across multiple channels.

UX and UI

The gold standard for a successful e-commerce business is to create the most enjoyable and easy-to-use online shopping experience for your customers. A great way to ensure this is by focusing on developing intuitive UX and UI for your website.

Depending on your business model and goals, you will need to decide whether you want to choose a website template or get your platform custom designed and built. The conversation among entrepreneurs and the entire tech world about the benefits and drawbacks of template vs custom has been raging for years, but it comes down to one simple thing: your business requirements.

If you are planning to operate in the SME sphere and anticipate your business needs to remain constant for the most part, then opting for a website template isn’t a bad option. It’s quick and painless, and gets you online in no time. 

Be sure to utilise current webshop best practices to not only keep up with the competition, but also to stay ahead. 

E-commerce websites: template vs custom

However, if you are planning to scale up quickly and compete with large e-commerce enterprises with loads of content, products, and traffic, then getting the professionals to design a custom platform tailored to your business needs is your safest bet.

Security requirements 

If you want to experience any success in your e-commerce business venture then ensuring that your payment gateway is safe and secure is of paramount importance. If your website security is a shambles then so is your entire business: there’s no way around this. There are many payment gateway services available for you to choose from. But don’t just settle on one, give your customers the freedom of choice when it comes to their preferred payment channels.

The best way to establish trust among your customers is to prove that their payment process is safe and secure, and that their sensitive information is protected from nefarious activities. This will have a positive effect on your conversion rate as your customers will shop through your online store with peace of mind, ensuring a pleasant user experience that drives repeat purchases and brand loyalty. 

3. Development and Project Management

Ensuring the success of your e-commerce platform doesn’t happen by chance, it requires meticulous planning and solid project management. There are a number of key factors that make up an efficient and effective e-commerce project management strategy.

Defining your project management route is crucial as it will set the tone for your entire build and development process. Choose from Lean, Agile, Scrum, or Kanban project management styles to see which is best suited to your team and business objectives.

Each project dictates its own project management style, so be sure you understand the pros and cons of each in order to best suit your requirements (i.e. the size of your team and business will affect your project management style). Also, make sure you have a strong Technical Team Leader (TTL) leading the way for the rest of your development team to follow. If you’re a small startup, your team may be small and multidisciplinary so PMs might also be responsible for other tasks. 

Tools

Luckily for project managers, there are numerous tools available to help automate all the automatable e-commerce tasks within each project. These tools help streamline each process in the building process, and of course makes project management more efficient when executing managerial processes from one dashboard. 

The most popular and easy-to-use project management tools available are Jira, Trello, Asana, and Figma. Each has its own benefits and hindrances according to project and team type, but you are sure to find all you need in one of these options. As long as it streamlines processes and provides transparency across all departments, you’re on the right track.

4. Pre-launch

To help get your pre-launch game on point, it is important you nail the essential pre-launch processes required to ensure a smooth build-up to your official launch.

Testing

Once you have successfully built a working prototype of your new e-commerce website, you need to make sure your website is functioning correctly. The next step is to conduct a series of tests to see if your website’s design and functionality meet all the requirements necessary for it to operate smoothly in real-world scenarios. Conduct a series of User Acceptance Testing (UAT) to investigate if your website software is working correctly and performing to your business objectives. A QA engineer can do this by conducting various test cases and test configurations.

Migration

If you already have an existing platform and you are planning to transfer your content and data to a new one, then you will need to undergo the migration process. Once you have sourced your ideal enterprise e-commerce platform with a SaaS option for a customisable API, it’s time to map out your functions, integrations, and third-party apps you want to keep and remove. Investigate each touchpoint of your new chosen platform to uncover inconsistencies and areas for improvement from your legacy system.

5. Launch

Once you have completed all the necessary planning and development steps, it is time for the really exciting part: your platform launch! At this stage of the project, all of your pre-preparation and iterations will have already been completed, so all there is left to do is gather your core team to watch your team lead hit the go-live button and celebrate this important milestone. 

Now that your e-commerce website is live, what’s next? If you are thinking the job is over you couldn’t be further from the truth. There is still so much to do: developing an e-commerce marketing strategy to attract customers is the next logical step. Leveraging the most important e-commerce marketing channels and their respective best practices to drive traffic and conversions to your online store is paramount at this stage. No customers = no business.

6. Post-launch 

When it comes to the post-launch stage of your e-tail enterprise, there is a long laundry list of items and processes you need to handle if you want to ensure your checkout page is continuously booming. The first few days and weeks after launch is make or break time: any issues left unresolved will drive users away for good at a time when you are trying to attract them. This is why e-commerce post-launch support is so crucial.

Support

The post-launch stage involves data reporting, on-going development and optimisation, technical support and hypercare. Specifically, the objective of the post-launch period involves close monitoring and evaluation of all features and functionalities of your platform, such as technical support, on-site training, handling of customer service queries, and data integrity. The goal is to establish a smooth functioning system that your users know how to navigate and enjoy doing so.

Marketing

Don’t think your marketing initiatives are over, this is the time where you want to be attracting as many new customers as possible to hook their brand buy-in loyalty. If you want to know how much of an impact your marketing is garnering, here is a helpful guide on how to measure the true value of your marketing initiatives. If you need help attracting customers to your e-commerce website, then make sure you leverage some of the top digital marketing trends to help you land your brand messaging with real audience impact.

Customer Experience (CX)

Creating the best and most enjoyable customer experience is crucial for any e-commerce business looking to attain longevity in the e-tail industry. Today’s savvy consumers choose where they shop based on the brand experiences they receive before, during, and after purchase. Customers want to feel a connection to their favourite brands which is why great CX has become an important competitive differentiator.

Thankfully, you are able to see the extent of your customers’ enjoyment when engaging with your brand using valuable metrics: Customer Effort Score (CES), Net Promoter Score (NPS), Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) and Time To Resolution (TTR). When used as a guide to address customer needs, these metrics will help you shape and deliver incredible customer journeys.

Summary

Although appearing to be a daunting task at first, we hope that we have shown that creating your very own e-commerce website from scratch is not too difficult at all. Providing you have the upfront motivation (your why), then the means in which you tackle your project (what and how) will quickly make the entire project enjoyable and easily accomplishable.

Creating your own e-commerce website should be a fun and exciting experience, one that has the promise of success waiting on the other side if you handle the entire project intelligently. By following each of these steps you and your team will be well positioned to create your very own e-tail empire. Good luck!

Get in touch

Are you in need of specialist e-commerce development guidance, from conceptualisation and development through to pre- and post-launch marketing rollout? Get in touch with us to find out how WeAreBrain can power your e-commerce business solutions.

(Visited 135 times, 1 visits today)
Last modified: July 15, 2021
Author info
Samantha Wolhuter
Sam is in charge of writing a big portion of WeAreBrain’s creative content. She is a digital nomad always on the go, inspiring us with her words from some of the world's most beautiful locations.
Close