Updated on February 3, 2016
WooCommerce can automatically determine similar products and show them, providing customers with a quick and easy way to view other products.
If a customer has easy access to more products that pique their interest then they are likely to:
- Spend more time browsing your store,
- Have a better experience using your store, and
- Ultimately buy more products.
For example, an unconvinced customer may see what it is they are looking for in the related products and proceed to purchase it.
WooCommerce determines which products are related by looking at their categories and tags. If certain products share a large number of categories and tags then they will be deemed related and appear on each other’s product pages.
Setting up related products in WooCommerce
To set up related products you must first already have created the products. You can see a list of your current products by going to the products menu on the left hand side of the admin screen. If you have not created any products and are unfamiliar with how to do so, you can find out how to on the WooThemes website.
Once you have some products set up you are ready to start optimising them. To start, hover over one your products and press the “Edit” button.
On the right hand side of the page you’ll see two boxes, one labelled “Product Categories” and the other labelled “Product Tags”.
Within the “Product Categories” box you will see any categories you have already created. If there isn’t a category relevant to the product you’re editing, then you can add a new one by clicking “+ Add New Product Category”. You should try to create categories that are fairly general so they can be applied to multiple products, like the ones shown below.
Products aren’t restricted to having just one category, you can give each product as many categories as you feel is necessary. Once you’ve added any categories you’d like to apply to the product, you can tick the boxes next to their names to assign them to that product.
In the “Product Tags” box you can enter as many words as you’d like to tag the product with. Tags are usually more specific than categories, and will often only be used on a handful of products. They should describe what the product actually is and some of its features, as shown in the example below.
Once you’re happy with the categories and tags you’ve applied to the product, you can save your changes by clicking the “Update” button in the top right hand corner.
Repeat this process with each of your products, until they all have categories and tags assigned to them.
You should now have everything set up for related products to work properly. Assuming that your theme supports them, you should see several related products when you view any of your products. WooCommerce will pick the products that have the most categories and tags in common with the product you are currently viewing.
If your theme does not automatically insert them into the page, however, you can use the following shortcode within a product’s description to enable related products on that product’s page.
[related_products per_page=”12″ columns=”3″ orderby=”title”]
Currently the only way to determine which products are going to appear on a particular product page is to visit that page on the front end and see for yourself. There is no way to see which products are related from the back end.
You don’t have control over which products appear as related products. If you had a product that you really wanted to appear on a particular product page then you could instead use an up-sell.
An up-sell is similar to a related product except it will always display on a particular product page regardless of any categories or tags it may have. You can find out more about up-sells and how to set them up on the WooThemes website.
Posted on January 26, 2016
Many WooCommerce websites don’t use product tags effectively. Why is this? Perhaps many users add tags as an afterthought. But this would be massively understating the importance of product tags.
So let’s start at the beginning…
WooCommerce provides two ways to distinguish related products. These are known as product categories and product tags. As the name suggests product categories are used to categorise your products. So, for example, if you were selling camera equipment, you may have a product category of cameras and one of accessories. Product Categories are hierarchical, so you can create a tree-like structure that users can filter through for more specific results. Product Tags are used to tag a product with a term that can relate to multiple, otherwise, unrelated products.
An example of this would be that if you had a black coloured camera in your cameras category and a black coloured camera case in your accessories category, you could tag both products with black to show they share that characteristic. Then if a user clicks that tag, they’ll be taken to a page with all the products tagged with black.
Your product tag should mirror the way a book incorporates its index
A great way I’ve heard product categories and tags described before is in terms of a book. When you open a book, you’ll often find a contents section at the front, listing either chapter titles or section headings for ease of finding certain information. This is in essence the purpose of a product category. When you turn to the back of the book, you’ll often find individual terms in an index with page numbers making it easier for you to find key phrases in the books content. This is what a product tag should be used for.
Why are product tags needed?
There are 3 major benefits to using tags:
- Tags can be used to add an extra way for your users to navigate your products on your website,
- WooCommerce’s Related Products feature relies on tags and categories,
- They can also be used to help boost your search engine rankings.
1. Tags can improve site navigation for your customers
The way a user interacts with your site will determine whether they purchase from your or from another seller. Adding product tags makes the experience of finding products on your site much better and more streamlined.
Carefully considered use of tags can make a great user experience when browsing your site. You should use tags as a way to create a “customer journey” and provide guidance through your shop that will not only help the user traverse your products, but will also generate more business. Think about the way a big retail chain influences the way you move through their store by use of signs, product positioning and layout of the shelves. You can achieve the same results online as the retailer does in-store using product tags.
A user could be browsing for camera lenses, and is may encounter the following screen:
Looking at the tags, they may notice that there are other lenses available with 83x zoom and decide to have a look. You have just enhanced their experience with the tags you have created.
You should also look to add an area to your site where you can display these tags to users, such as a tag cloud widget. Tag clouds are great because they are designed to make the tag’s text size bigger the more it is viewed. This can give users a great way to look at popular tags and see what the rest of the crowd is liking so much.
2. Tags are used by WooCommerce’s Related Products feature
WooCommerce’s related products feature provides a mechanism for creating cross-sells between products that share the same tags or categories.
This is built into WooCommerce as standard. It depends on the theme that you are using as to where the related products will be displayed on your site, but a common place is on the individual product pages. See image below for an example.
This adds another way in which the user can traverse the different areas of your shop giving them a better experience overall, and giving your shop a chance to sell more.
3. Tags can increase search engine rankings
When you create a tag WordPress automatically generates a page for you. As this page is shown as a link on the product’s page, this has created a semantic link between the two.
Putting it more simply, every tag has a page and on that page you’ll find every product with that tag. And every one of those products has a link back to the tag page linked by the name of the tag. This is great for Google!
See the example below and how the term “black” relates these products:
A word of advice: Don’t overdo it!
Another mistake I’ve come across before when browsing WooCommerce sites is overusing the product tags. When you have too many tags on your site this can actually take away all of the benefits of using the tags in the first place. For example, if you were to go to an online shop and find there are 40 different tags relating to a single product, you are not likely to check each of the 40 tags to see if there are other products that relate to this one. If you were to reduce this number to 4 tags, a user is much more likely to use these tags as they are more readable, clear and precise.
Stick to the “seven plus or minus two rule” which states that humans on average can remember between 5 and 9 items. What does this have to do with product tags? Well if you use more than 7, you may be using too many.
As you can see from the example, a lot of tags have been used here and the effect it’s had is that now, the importance of each tag individually has been drastically reduced. The idea is not to flood your products with tags, but to tag relevantly so that end users will find use from them.
When creating your tags, try to think like you are creating an index for your site. Tags can help impress upon your visitors that your website understands the way they think. If a user believes you are in tune with their thought process, they are more likely to trust and buy from you.
Tags are seriously underutilised. The more tools you have in your toolbox, provided you use them effectively, the more those tools will help you to achieve your goals.
Updated on January 21, 2016
A stock keeping unit, more commonly known as an SKU, is a unique identifier associated with a product. They are usually formed of a mix of letters and numbers but can consist of just one or the other.
SKUs are commonly used in businesses that deal with selling products of any sort, whether this be physical stores or eCommerce stores on the internet. Unlike serial numbers that a product may have, SKUs are created and allocated to a product by the seller and not the producer.
What is an SKU used for?
As previously mentioned, an SKU is used as a unique identifier for products that a business carries. They are usually shorter than a product’s full name allowing for quicker inventory management and data entry on a store’s system. Since they are unique it is easy to pinpoint an exact product using an SKU, whereas product names can be very similar and can lead to products being confused for each other.
An example might be a customer phoning a store to place an order for a product. If the product did not have an SKU then the customer would have to specify which product it is they wish to order by its name. If the store carries multiple products with similar names or descriptions then there may be some confusion and the customer may end up receiving a product different to the one they thought they ordered. If the products had all been allocated SKUs, however, then the customer could simply read out the SKU. Since SKUs are unique, there is a smaller chance of the customer’s order being misunderstood and a better chance that they will end up with the product they ordered.
Picking good SKUs
- Make sure that none of your SKUs begin with a zero. If an SKU begins with a zero then it is not uncommon for some software to either ignore or completely remove this zero. As a result, beginning an SKU with a zero can be very problematic and so you should avoid doing this if at all possible.
- Keep your SKUs fairly short. SKUs are meant to be easy to type identifiers.
- Don’t purely use numbers. Using letters in SKUs can help give some context as to which product it is associated with. For example 0118-999 does not provide any clues as to what the product actually is. An SKU such as HAT1-BLU, however, implies that the product is going to be a hat in the colour blue.
- Avoid using special characters. Certain special characters can cause problems depending on the software being used to manage the store. A forward slash (/) for example, can often cause the SKU to be reformatted as a date by some software. Chevrons (> and <) can be interpreted as HTML code, also causing problems. Hyphens (-) are an exception, and can be used to break up the different parts of an SKU. However you should…
- Be consistent. You need to settle on a structure that all of your products SKUs will abide by. For example you my decide that an SKU should consist of three letters followed by two numbers, then a hyphen, and then a further two numbers. Making sure that all your products follow the same structure will not only make the SKUs easier to type but will also make it more prominent if there is a mistake with one.
Let’s take a quick look at an example of what an SKU structure could look like for a shoe shop. The shop could have agreed that the SKU is going to consist of three letters, indicating the style of the shoes. They could have also decided that each one must contain two numbers indicating the size of the shoes. And finally, three letters relating to the colour of the shoes could be added to the end separated from the rest of the SKU by a hyphen.
SAN08-PNK, for example, might refer to a pair of pink sandals that are size 8.
TRA11-BRN could refer to a pair of brown trainers that are size 11.
And DRE10-BLK may be a pair of size 10 dress shoes that are black.
Using SKUs in WooCommerce
Allocating an SKU to a product in WooCommerce couldn’t be simpler. When you are creating a new product there is a “General” tab below the main editor. At the top of this tab is a textbox labelled “SKU”. Enter the product’s SKU in this text box and click the “Publish” button in the top right hand corner of the page.
Once you’ve created some products with SKUs you will be able to see a list of them on the products page. Using the search bar in the top right hand corner of this page you can search through your products via their SKUs. For example…
If I were to search for the term “TST0” with this set of products I would get the following results.
Being able to search via SKUs like this makes tracking product activity and stock for particular items quick and easy in WooCommerce.
Updated on January 13, 2016
WooCommerce is the biggest and most widely used e-commerce toolkit for use with WordPress. One of the most common questions I am asked when dealing with an e-commerce site for a client, is “How many products can I have on my new site?”
In fact the question is flawed: There is no simple single definitive answer. Theoretically WooCommerce can manage as many products as any reasonable site could ever sell, but you could encounter some limitations that are common to any website along the way. Really the bigger concern is usually less to do with the number of products and more to do with the number of visitors. So really the only restrictions lie with the infrastructure behind your site.
WooCommerce can handle any number of products and as much traffic as you could care to throw at it providing it has the correct infrastructure behind it.
Your hosting solution will determine how many products and daily visitors your WooCommerce enabled site can handle. For any new site WooCommerce should be suitable for your needs. It scales well along with WordPress and will handle increases in products well. But as you grow, you could encounter issues with your existing hosting platform.
If you’re intending to have a large e-commerce site, you should look to spend a little bit extra on a better hosting package. Achieving this early will make your life simpler in the future.
As traffic to a site increases, the importance of having a suitably powerful processor in your server increases. A large volume of daily visitors to your site may increase the strain on your CPU.
If you pay for a cheap shared hosting plan your site may slow down periodically because resources on that server are being shared between your website and others. A badly engineered site on the same server may use more than its fair share of resources, slowing down your website, or – worse – cause a server outage affecting your website.
Even a modest hosting plan should be suitable for a small shop’s needs.
A better but more expensive alternative to shared hosting is to purchase a Virtual Private Server (VPS). With a VPS resources are still shared but there’s a better separation between each site. If you are not technical you may need to hire somebody to maintain the server on your behalf.
Or the ultimate but most expensive solution would be to purchase a dedicated server. On a dedicated server your website has access to all of the server’s resources. Again though, this option is not for the non-technical! Hire an experienced systems administrator to manage your new toy.
When you increase the number of products on a site, the memory requirements increase.
If you are using a cheap hosting plan where resources are shared a larger site may find there is not enough memory to meet its requirements. When considering memory requirements it’s worth giving some consideration to a Virtual Private Server (VPS). A VPS works by a host setting up a “container” where a number of resources you have purchased are made available to your website. This is not only good for avoiding many of the issues of sharing resources, but also is easy to upgrade. Most hosts running VPS hosting will provide an online control panel for you to purchase additional memory and add it to your server.
Hard drive space and throughput
The hard drive on a server is where all the data is saved. Any images or files you upload are stored here along with your website files.
E-commerce websites tend to use storage faster than most other types of website so it’s important to ensure you have enough storage for your needs.
On cheap shared hosting plans you share storage with other users on the same server. If another website is writing or reading large amounts of data from the hard drive (“throughput”) then it will cause a slow-down on your website. Better shared hosting plans put fewer websites on one server so that fewer websites are fighting for resources, which will help keep your website nimble. A better solution is to use a dedicated server where your website does not have to compete for resources.
The type of hard drive on your plan will also have a huge impact on the speed of your site. Older hard-drives use spinning metal discs to store data. The slower the disks spin the slower it stores information. But there are real-world physical limitations on how fast pieces of metal can be spun before they shatter, so as speed requirements have continued to increase manufacturers have responded with the Solid State Drive (SSD) which contain no moving parts. These can read data an order of magnitude faster than a traditional hard drive, but are more costly to manufacture.
Cheaper plans also often do not provide sufficient storage: E-commerce websites tend to use storage faster than most other types of website so it’s important to ensure you have enough storage for your needs. Keep an eye on your storage usage and upgrade well before you run out of space to ensure your website’s uptime is not affected.
Bandwidth on a hosting platform describes the connection speed between users and the server. With low bandwidth and an increase of visitors to a site, a bottleneck may occur. It’s like taking 30 people at once and forcing them through a door designed for 1 person, all at the same time.
WooCommerce itself should be unaffected by bandwidth, the issue is really with your hosting and not your software. Low bandwidth could create a situation where a website becomes slow or even unresponsive.
As your website expands you may need to periodically check with your host that the bandwidth requirements can be met by the package you own. If not, you should upgrade to a package which can handle the increase in traffic to a site.
It’s like taking 30 people at once and forcing them through a door designed for 1 person, all at the same time.
Analyse the risks as you grow
It is best to analyse whether the type of risks above will affect your website in the future. If you’re intending to have a large e-commerce site, you should look to spend a little bit extra on a better hosting package. Achieving this early will make your life simpler in the future. However, even a modest hosting plan should be suitable for a small shop’s needs.
Really Big Sites
What happens if your site becomes enormous though? With thousands of daily page views come new challenges. Perhaps you need to be able to cope with more visitors than the average server could handle on its own. Or maybe your site needs to have failover capabilities to handle the possibility that a server could fail. There comes a point where the approach to the problem has to change to handle the new demands of the site.
Any website should have a cache on the web server. But for really big sites a cache on the web server alone isn’t going to cut it. You need a dedicated caching server in front of the site. This is another server that handles all incoming requests from the outside world. It forwards requests to the web server if it doesn’t have a copy of that page. On sending the page back to the visitor it also stores a copy to send out the next time somebody visits the same page.
The cache’s job is to reduce load on the server by retrieving from memory commonly-served pages without bothering the web server, allowing the web server to deal with the more tricky one-time requests.
With thousands of daily page views come new challenges.
Your database is critical to your website. It’s possible on a large-scale site that the database may become a bottleneck in your infrastructure. If this situation arises it may be necessary to move the database to its own dedicated server, ideally running on Solid State Drive (SSD) technology.
There are also potential speed improvements to be had by changing away from MySQL and using MariaDB instead. The change is (currently) seamless.
By running multiple web servers with multiple caching servers and multiple database servers it is possible to create a very robust solution that can handle, potentially, any traffic demands simply by adding more servers to the network. Distributing load across multiple web servers reduces the load on any individual server and allows a greater number of requests to be handled.
Load balancing and distribution is, however, a complex subject! You would need a specialist on hand for this scenario. But then only the very busiest of sites need worry about this.
WooCommerce can handle any number of products and as much traffic as you could care to throw at it providing it has the correct infrastructure behind it. A robust infrastructure will host as many products as you could ever desire, but a poor infrastructure may hold you back.
Making sure that your hosting compliments your site will give your business the freedom it needs to grow.
Posted on January 6, 2016
Grouped products, as the name suggests, are a group of products that you’d like to sell together. You can bundle all sorts of products together, regardless of whether they are physical items or digital downloads. Grouping products likely to be sold together provides your customers with a quick and easy way to add a number of products to their basket without having to visit multiple pages. WooCommerce makes it quick and easy to group products together.
Creating a grouped product
The first step to creating a group of products is to create the product that will act as the parent to the products. To do this you need to first navigate to the “Products” section of the sidebar as shown here.
Once here, you need to create a new product. This is done by clicking the button towards the top of the screen labelled “Add Product”.
Simply fill in the product’s name and description. Remember that this product is going to be the group of products and so the name and description should reflect this. Once you have added a name and a description, you need to specify that the product is going to be a group. Click on the drop-down box at the top of the “Product Data” section of the page, and ensure that “Grouped product” is selected. I’ve highlighted the location of this drop-down box with an arrow. Your product should look something like this once everything is ready.
Once you’re happy that your group is ready, you can publish it by clicking the button on the right hand side of the page.
Adding products to a group
Now that you’ve created a grouped product, you’re ready to add individual products to the group. This is done in a very similar way to adding a grouped product. Like in the last step, you must first navigate to the products page by clicking “Products” in the sidebar. At this point you can either create a completely new product again, like in the previous step, or edit one of your existing products that you would like to group together.
If you do choose to create a new product then you’ll need to fill in a few basic details such as the product’s name, description, SKU and price.
Now that you have a product ready to be grouped, you need to click on the same drop-down box from the last step, and select “Simple product”. Now select the “Linked Products” tab (highlighted below) from the left hand side. Enter the name of the grouped product you created in the previous step into the box labelled “Grouping”.
Your product is now grouped! Click the publish button (Update button if you grouped an already existing product) to save the product.
You should now be able to see on the products page which products are in which groups. Items that are grouped are indicated with an arrow leading from the name of the group they are in.
And it’s as simple as that. Your customers will now be able to view your grouped products and add the entire group to their basket from one page. This is very helpful in ensuring that visitors to your shop have a fast and efficient experience and will encourage them to come back in the future.
Updated on December 7, 2015
Today is the day. You have created a new, innovative product. You want the product to be seen by the mass market and sell millions of units. But you don’t have a name for the product yet, so you just decide to add a basic name as you think, just like many other online-sellers out there, “It’s just a name”. STOP.
You’re about to encounter one of the most common e-Commerce pitfalls on the web today.
Why are product names important?
Market research has found that product names have significant influence on a potential buyer’s impressions of a product itself.
There is a famous story about Arnold Schwarzenegger when he first moved to live in Los Angeles, California. He started his own bricklaying company with his friend, fellow body-builder, Franco Columbu. Their clientèle were wealthy property owners in the high-end sections of LA. They had come up with an idea to undercut the price of their competition, but despite this, were unable to generate enough business.
Arnold then turned to his friend, who was a businessmen, to get some advice and ideas of how to change this. His friend stated “Your wealthy clientele can’t see the value in hiring a budget-priced crew which may have difficulty with the language.”
The businessman went on to suggest that Arnold and Franco raise (yes, raise!) their prices above the rest of the competition and market themselves as “Specialist European Bricklayers”. That simple change to their business did the trick and they had more business than they could handle.
The pair had found that their clients, who were not willing to pay for cheap foreign labour, would be more than willing to pay for pricey specialist labour.
So, how do you pick the perfect product name?
1. Use information about your target market
Ask questions such as who is my market? What appeals to them? What is important to them? Why would they want my product? You can ask many
other questions, these are just a few examples.
The more you ask, the more you’ll understand the people that you are actually selling to. You can then target your product and marketing towards the people most likely to buy from you.
So lets say you’re selling a dog toy:
- Who is your target market? Dog owners.
- What appeals to them? Dog toys that are fun and safe for dogs, without causing waste or mess.
- What is important to them? Their dog’s happiness and well-being.
Now you have this information, you could target your dog toy’s name to this information e.g. Happy Doggy “No Mess” Chew-Toy.
2. Make sure the product name has meaning
When you’re deciding on your product name, be sure that is has meaning and represents the product itself. When somebody says your product’s name, it is always an advantage if they can build a mental image of your product before they’ve even seen it.
So using the previous example of dog toys, calling the product something like “Doggy fun” would give the customer no idea of what you’re offering. It could be a ball, a toy, a treat or any number of dog related products. Something like the name above, Happy Doggy Chew-Toy, will instantly give the customer an image of a happy dog playing with a chew toy.
Don’t underestimate how a customer’s mental image of a product affects their purchase.
3. How do you make your product name memorable?
Think of the biggest brands in the world today and look at their product names, such as Coca-cola, Red Bull, iPhone or Playstation. Even reading the names is enough to put an image of that product into your mind. This is because they are product names that are unique and recognisable. The key to any name is grabbing attention. Four useful types of words that can be used for products are:
- Alliteration – repetition of initial consonant sounds in neighbouring words, like PayPal, Krispy Kreme, American Airlines or Weight Watchers.
- Onomatopoeic – imitating the sound the word represents, like Pop-tarts, Coco Pops, Flikr or Twitter.
- Rhyming – The similarity between syllable sounds at the end of two or more words, like Nutter Butter, Smart Start, Tech Deck or True Blue.
- Morphemes – The smallest meaningful unit in the grammar of a language, like FedEx, Blistex or Celebrex.
A product’s name is often the key to its success!
Updated on December 2, 2015
A particularly useful feature that WooCommerce provides is the ability to add featured products. If one of your products is featured, then it will appear anywhere the WooCommerce product widget is used. Many WooCommerce themes showcase featured products somewhere prominent. This can help put several products into the limelight when they may otherwise fade into the background.
It’s fairly simple to feature products, however it might not be obvious to someone who hasn’t used WooCommerce before. But no worries! Just follow these simple steps and you’ll have featured products on your site in no time.
Creating products (If you need to)
To add a new product, click on the “Products” section of the dashboard sidebar.
Next, you need to click the button towards the top of the page labelled “Add Product”.From here you can enter a name, description, regular price and sale price for the new product along with a multitude of other things that all have confusing names. One thing to note is that when creating a product you must give it a unique SKU ID.
Once you are happy with your product, you simply need to press the “Publish” button on the right hand side of the screen.And that’s it, you’ve just created your first product with WooCommerce! For the purposes of this demonstration I’ve just made three very simple products with nothing more than a name and a price.
Now that you have some products, it’s time to feature them. First, you’ll need to click on the “Products” section of the dashboard sidebar. Once there, you will see a table showing information for each product that you have created.
Method 1: Featuring a product from the products table
To feature a product, simply press the outline of a star in the table alongside the product. The outline will then be replaced by a solid star, indicating that the product is now featured.
Method 2: Featuring products in bulk
To feature a group of products at once, simply select the tick box next to any products you want to feature, set the dropdown below the table to “Edit” and press the “Apply” button adjacent to it. A new form similar to the following should appear:From here just change the dropdown labelled “Featured” to “Yes” and press the “Update” button pointed out in the screenshot.
Method 3: Featuring a product from the edit product page
To feature a product from the edit product page, On the right hand side of the page you should see some text reading “Catalog visibility: Catalog/search” and next to it an “Edit” link.
Click this link and some new options should appear, including a tick box labelled “Featured Product”. Tick this box and click the “Update” button.
And that’s it! It’s as easy as that to feature products using WooCommerce. In most instances if you are using a WooCommerce theme then your featured products will be displayed without you having to any additional work! However, if they are not displayed then you can simply add the WooCommerce products widget to your site wherever you’d like them to be displayed.
Adding the WooCommerce product widget
To add the WooCommerce product widget to your site hover over “Appearance” in the dashboard sidebar and click “Widgets”. From there, locate the WooCommerce product widget on the left hand side. It should look like this:
Once you have located it simply drag and drop it over to the “Widget Area” on the right hand side of the screen so that it looks something like this:
Updated on December 2, 2015
You’ve decided to take the plunge and open your own online shop. Great news! But where should you start?
Don’t panic! Read on to find out the right way to launch your new online business. We’ll revisit all of these topics in future blogs, but for now here’s an overview:
1. Choose the perfect name
Selling shoes? Here’s a pro-tip: Don’t use the word “shoes” in your shop title; It will limit you to selling only shoes, forever. Right now you might think you’re only going to sell shoes forever, but trust me a lot can change in 5 years. I rebranded my first company after 18 months. I rebranded my second company after 24 months. I’ve changed the nature of my business several times, but with the new names for these companies I’ve not had to rebrand.
Businesses aren’t static! They keep changing and evolving as time goes on and yours will be no different. So choose a name that will allow you that necessary flexibility.
2. Choose the perfect logo
You might be tempted to design your own logo or get your friend’s daughter’s boyfriend’s sister to design one for you. Unless you – or your friend’s daughter’s boyfriend’s sister – is a designer, STOP. Even if you or they design a great looking logo there are more considerations to the logo than just whether it looks pretty in the graphics program. It needs to work well when printed, and it needs to scale well on the computer, and it needs to be legible at smaller sizes on a computer screen. Hire a designer to do the job properly or your logo will become a sore point sooner or later.
3. Plan out what you’re going to sell
This might sound obvious, but it’s the step most people forget! It’s not enough to dream about having a shop, you need to know precisely what it is you intend to sell and you need to sit down and write the descriptions for each of those items. Doing it as you go along once the website is in place will prove a hard slog. You need to have some great copy written and ready to go for each product, know how many products you will sell and in what variations (if any). You need to have high quality product photos ready for each and you need to have collected all of these things together in one well organised place for ease of insertion into the website when it’s ready.
Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure. -Confucius
4. Don’t forget about shipping
One of the first questions I ask when building an e-commerce website is “what are the shipping costs going to be?” And invariably the answer is “we’ll figure that out nearer the end of the project.” In turn that invariably becomes a nightmare for me at the end of the project, when it transpires that the customer hasn’t really given this matter any real thought and I end up having to create a complex solution to their shipping cost dilemma.
I am a huge fan of “KISS”: Keep It Simple, Stupid, and in my eyes there are two very simple ways to set up shipping: Flat rate, or “free”. Sure there are many other shipping models, but they’re generally not easy to set up. Sometimes they’re very expensive to set up. Sometimes they’re close to impossible to implement on a small-scale shop. But flat-rate or “free” are both very cheap and easy to set up.
Now keep in mind that, really, there’s no such thing as free shipping. “Free” here really means “we’ve shifted the cost of shipping onto the price of the product”. It might not work for every shop, but should work nicely on the vast majority. Simply take the £3.50 you were planning on charging in shipping costs on that £35 product, and shunt it onto the product cost to make it £38.50: Job done. Every time you upload a product you simply add the shipping cost to the product cost. Customers don’t have to worry about shipping costs, you don’t have to worry about the effort of setting up shipping. Everyone’s a winner!
Alternatively charge a flat-rate fee regardless of your products’ sizes and shapes. Work out what the average shipping cost per product is going to be, add a bit, and then make that your flat rate fee. Let’s say that your shop is mostly going to sell items that will cost about £1 to ship, but the occasional item might cost £4. Work out the ratio of items you expect to sell (you can always change your shipping prices later if you get it wrong) and then work out what the average shipping cost is going to be. If your average shipping cost weighs in at, say, £2.50 then add a bit to be on the safe side and make your flat-rate shipping fee, say, £3.50.
5. Understand your legal requirements for reporting income to HMRC
Many people assume that they don’t need to report their online earnings to HMRC, but an online business is still a business like any other and you are still required to inform HMRC of your income. HMRC has a whole bunch of information on how to get started:
If you fail to register as self employed you could be liable for some hefty fines and criminal proceedings, so make sure you get it right. Hire an accountant if you need to!
6. Work out how much to charge for each product
Pricing is sometimes considered a black art, and there are a great many ways to price your products. But the main criterion to keep in mind is:
How much does it cost me to create or buy the item I am selling?
“Cost” here does not always refer to the transfer of cash from one place to another. Cost includes time, materials, lost opportunities, etc.
Once you’ve worked out your base cost for the product you can then work out what sort of margin you want to add. And from there you can add on any costs of sales you need to concern yourself with.
If the figure you arrive at is too high to sell the product then you need to consider how you can reduce the amount it costs to produce the item, or whether it is worth selling. If you can’t compete in the marketplace then you’re not going to last in the marketplace. But remember that a quality product is worth paying more for and a great many companies sell products on the basis that they are more expensive than the competition’s cheaper alternatives. Take Apple products for example. Apple sells products on the premise that they are of a higher quality and therefore worth paying a premium for.
Are your products higher quality than your competitors’? Or are you selling the exact same thing at an inflated price? Give this some serious thought as the future of your business will depend upon it.
7. Learn how to take great product photos
Great photos sell products. Bad photos will be a barrier to a sale.
It’s as simple as that. If you’re not providing good quality, high resolution, large images of your products, then you’re not going to sell your products. Too many times have I been told by a customer that they just have to “make do” with their poor quality images because that’s all they have. No! You can pick up a digital SLR camera for next to nothing these days, go second hand if you have to, and take the photos yourself. There are generally two schools of thought on product photos:
Some people love the cleanliness of the white background, or “isolated”, product image. Rows and rows of clinically laid out products stacked together. The uncluttered, unfussy look helps to give your product photos the limelight ensuring that the customer isn’t distracted by items in the background of the image.
However some argue that the plain background has become too clichéd, too sterile, too boring and even a little passé.
Lifestyle product photos
Currently gaining traction in the online retail world in a big way are “lifestyle” product photos that show the product actually in use in a relevant setting. A company that sells dresses might show a lady at a party wearing the dress. In the photo is not just the dress, but also the model, jewellery that enhances the dress, other models wearing different clothes, wine glasses in their hands, and a table of canapés in the background.
A company selling dog leads might have a picture showing a lead on a dog with a cheeky face who is covered in mud, a tennis ball at his feet.
Someone selling soap might show the soap adorning an ornate bathroom.
A seller of soup might show the soup in a fancy bowl in a rustic kitchen with cream being stirred into it and a hunk of crusty bread next to it.
Which should you go for?
The choice is yours! But I’d recommend studying what your competition are doing. If your competitors are all using lifestyle photos then there’s a good chance that they’re doing that for a very good reason.
And never forget that you can always upload multiple images showing the product isolated on a white background as well as having lifestyle photos of the item in relevant settings.
8. Learn a little about search engine optimisation
If you don’t know what “SEO” or “search engine optimisation” is, then stop right now. Go read up on it, get an idea of what it is and how it works. It’s simply too complicated and broad a subject for me to cover here! The take-away here is that your shop is not likely to succeed without SEO and SMO (“Social Media Optimisation”). It’s not just a buzz-word, it’s absolutely essential stuff. Remember that there’s a lot of bunk out there that has been written about SEO. There is also a lot of outdated content on the topic, since SEO is a science that simply keeps evolving.
The one fact that has never changed in SEO is that “content is king”. It’s a phrase you will hear endlessly for a single good reason: It’s correct.
Write good content, lots of it, and keep promoting that content to the right people for your sector, and your site is bound to do well. It’s as simple as that.
9. Consider other marketing strategies
Often, and especially in the early days of a new business, SEO alone is not enough. It takes time to get noticed by Google, so in the meantime you need to consider other marketing strategies. Some might be free (word of mouth, networking events, asking for referrals from friends and family), some might be very cheap (attending fayres and conventions, leafleting), and some might be expensive (Facebook or Google AdWords advertising). You need to have considered the options and decided which are right for you and your shop.
If you’ve not given some thought to marketing, or not prepared a budget for marketing, then your shop is most likely doomed to fail. No business has ever succeeded without some form of marketing.
10. Make sure you’ve got the cash
Starting a business of any kind is an expensive endeavour. There are many expenses along the way: Try to consider all of the costs you will incur, find out how much they will cost or estimate them as best you can, and make sure you’ve got at least that much cash available. Ideally you want a nice big buffer of cash to eat into after the initial costs. And keep in mind that you won’t be making hundreds of sales from day one. A business plan can help you estimate how much cash you will need in the bank before day one.
11. [BONUS!] Decide on your exit strategy
The majority of businesses don’t succeed, that’s the honest truth. Should that be a reason not to try? No! Many of the success stories out there were try number 2, 3 or 4.
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. -Thomas Edison
However in order to turn a failed business into a second attempt you need to be prepared with a robust exit strategy. This should allow you to be able to close down your business should it not go according to plan without losing your house or your car.
When I started my first company my exit strategy was simple: Minimal investment into the company, boot-strap it from my limited resources, and ensure that the company was registered as an LTD to limit the risk to my personal finances if anything should go wrong. That way the biggest loss I could incur was to simply lose the limited investments I had made into the company to begin with.
In the case of a shop a lot of your assets will probably come in the form of stock. This should definitely feature in your exit strategy! Can you sell the stock on? Where would you go to sell the sort of stock you are holding? Who would potentially be interested in buying it?
Consider all of your options. Hopefully you will never need it, but having it there will make you more confident going into the new venture and give you the strength you need to throw yourself into the day to day running of your new business opportunity.
These are just my thoughts. Your thoughts may differ. Let me know in the comments section if I got anything wrong or missed anything out.