Why Sell on eBay

eBay is one of the biggest online marketplaces in the world, with over 300 million users. Whilst it is not the market leader it once was, it is still a major eCommerce player. In this video, we look at why your business should have a presence on eBay.

Benefits of selling on eBay

  • 187m buyers in 190 countries
  • 20+ worldwide sites
  • Branding opportunities through eBay shops and HTML listings
  • Promote product through advertising
  • Find new customer and diversify sales
  • Use Auction or fixed price listings

Why Search Engine Optimisation is important

SEO is an vital part of any effective online marketing strategy. Organic search results are more trusted by consumers and receive a lot more clicks than ads. Quality content that ranks well for important keywords will be a gift that keeps on giving, while advertising needs constant funding to send traffic to your site.

In summary, the benefits of SEO are:

  • Primary source of traffic. The Google natural search results are the largest source of traffic in every sector (source: Growth Badger)
  • Cost-effective. If managed effectively, SEO is a cost-effective method of traffic generation. The traffic is ‘free’, though there may be costs involved in generating traffic and getting the right advice.
  • Targets researching consumers. SEO gets your business get in front of your target audience as they are actively searching for information. This is the preferred first port of call for 62% of consumers (source: Hubspot).
  • Branding. Visibility on searches related to your business can have a positive impact your brand. Your business can become associated with and trusted by searchers asking questions as they conduct research leading to a purchase.
  • Sustainability. Unlike paid search, organic traffic does cease the moment you stop paying.

How to Accept Payments Online

Electronic payment refers to the mechanism of paying for a product online via a debit/credit card or another electronic payment service. Amazingly, some companies still do not accept payment online, preferring phone or other payment methods. Taking online payment has the following advantages:

  • Convenience for the consumer. Consumers can enter their payment details online instead of mailing or phoning them through to the retailer. This removes steps in the purchasing process, making a purchase more likely.
  • Speed. Online payment allows products to be instantly bought. Internet customers are increasingly expecting a quick and painless payment process followed by a speedy delivery.
  • Efficient payment processing. Electronic payments require minimal manual processing cutting down on the workload. Payment details are collected on the website, processed by a third-party payment processing company and the funds transferred to the business without any other administration.
  • Credit. Paying via a credit card or a buy-now-pay-later service such as Klana enables customers to buy on credit.

Customers expect the convenience and immediate satisfaction which online payment provides. A company that is not offing its customers the opportunity to pay for products or services online is certainly losing sales to competitors which offer a quick and easy online purchasing process.

Options for Accepting Online Payments

There are three main ways of accepting payment for online retailers:

  • Merchant account + payment gateway
  • All-in-one solutions
  • Alternative checkouts, e.g., PayPal, Amazon pay

One way or another, these are usually funded by credit/debit cards, though a bank account can finance third-party payment solutions such as PayPal.

Online Merchant Accounts + Payment Gateway

Before payments went online, offline businesses accepting credit cards required a merchant account with a high street bank to settle transactions and a handheld card machine known as a PDQ to process the payments in-store.

When collecting payments online, a merchant can use a payment gateway (a virtual PDQ) to process payment onsite. They will also need an online merchant account to settle the transactions.

Payment gateways are available from high street banks or separately from third parties. There is a fee payable to the payment gateway and the acquiring bank when accepting payments online. This fee will depend on the volume of transactions and the risk associated with the business.

All-in-One Solutions

All-in-one solutions such as Stripe offer a complete solution for collecting and processing the card details on behalf of the business without requiring an online merchant account or a separate payment gateway to be set up. They can be more user-friendly and fees more transparent as all the processing happens under one roof.

Alternative Checkouts

Worries about online payment security in the early days of the Internet led to the launch of alternative checkout solutions such as PayPal, which enabled customers to pay online without entering their card details. When paying using an alternative checkout, the customer is directed to the checkout provider to complete the payment. Popular solutions include:

  • PayPal. PayPal is the most popular ‘Digital Wallet’ solution. It offers both an alternative checkout solution and an all-in-one solution for collecting and processing credit cards.
  • Amazon Pay. Amazon Pay is a payment solution from Amazon where customers can use the payment details they have stored in their Amazon account to make online payments.
  • Apple Pay. Apple Pay is a payment solution available on apple devices where customers can use stored payment cards to make payments.
  • ShopPay. The payment system used by many Shopify merchants in their integrated Shopify checkout.

These solutions have an easy sign-up process and offer competitive commission rates. As well as supplying an excellent service to retailers, these payment solutions also improve the user experience of making payments online. With more sales happening online, the alternative checkout experience has some advantages for users:

  • Quick. The customer’s details are stored, so no need to re-enter every time they make a purchase.
  • Uniform experience. Checkouts come in a vast range of shapes and sizes and can be confusing for the user. Alternative checkouts provide a consistent experience which increases conversion.
  • Fraud protection. Alternative checkouts offer increased security.

The familiarity of alternative checkout such as PayPal reassures the customer that their money is safe and can reduce abandonment. This is a big problem with up to 80% of customers going through part of the checkout process without completing the transaction (source: Bolt).

Fraud

Whilst online security has improved, fraud is still very much a worry, especially as fraudsters are moving online with the shift from offline to online commerce. It pays to understand:

  • Tell-tale signs that fraud might be occurring (see below)
  • The processes you can set in place to detect fraud.
  • Under what circumstances you are covered against fraud

Below is some general advice for avoiding fraud online:

  • Beware of telephone orders. 3-D Secure and chip and pin mean that online and in-person transactions are now much more secure. Telephone orders do not have this level of protection and so are targeted by fraudsters.
  • High-risk shipping address. Unfortunately, some locations, e.g., West Africa, are known for their fraudsters.
  • Unusually large orders. Be suspecious if you receive an unusually large order from a new customer, especially if it is a popular, high price item.
  • Changes to the shipping address. Fraudsters initially enter the card holder’s address so fraud systems will not catch them before contacting you to change the address.
  • Unusually large number of overseas orders within a short time. For example, if you receive 50 orders from customers outside your market within a few days, but you usually only receive two international orders per month.
  • Orders from different customers with the same shipping address. Criminals often place orders from several stolen cards and ship the orders to the same address.
  • Overpayments. Fraudsters will often overpay and then ask for the overpayment to be returned through a bank transfer. Always repay via the original payment method.
  • Strange combination of items. If a customer orders multiple of the same thing, be suspicious.
  • Undue haste. Fraudsters will try and get an order quickly before it can be inspected closely.
  • Suspicious email address. Real customers are more likely to use email addresses that has their name. Watch out for email addresses created without due care, like ‘knh$$yro123456@gmail.com,’ or undeliverable emails.
  • Different delivery and billing addresses. Whilst there are legitimate reasons why shipping and billing address would be different, sending to a different address is less secure.

Credit/Debit Cards Risks

Due to privacy restrictions, merchants know surprisingly little about the card transactions they are accepting. When a card transaction is successful, they will have access to the following information:

  • 3D-Secure. Whether this card passed the 3-D secure test
  • CV2. Whether the CV2 code was successfully entered.
  • Billing address match. Whether the numbers in the billing address entered match those on file
  • Country. The card issuer and the country of issue.

When setting up their payment system, merchants will need to decide the level of risk they are willing to accept when taking payments. For example, it is standard to accept card payment only where the CV2 code was correctly entered. This, however, is not obligatory. The stricter the test, the more transactions will be rejected. There will inevitably be some false positives, so exercise common sense.

When selecting a payment processing system, ensure that they provide a fraud alert system that will help your business find orders that need to be rejected or reviewed. Stripe, for example, provides merchants with a fraud score for each order based on its subjective assessment of the risk. The merchant can create rules around this score, e.g., < 50 always accept, 5-100 review, over 100 reject.

Seller Protection on Alternative Checkouts

One of the benefits of alternative checkout solutions such as PayPal is that their scale enables them to have sophisticated fraud detection systems. Typically, both the merchant and the customer will have a level of protection against fraud and a dispute process for when things go awry. However, it pays to understand the conditions of seller protection. For example, The PayPal Seller Protection Policy requires:

  • Proof of delivery. Protection is only available for items sent via a tracked service.
  • Delivery address match. The order must be sent to the address given at the time of purchase.
  • Tangible goods. The item must be a physical good to be covered.

International Transactions

Making products available to international buyers is a fantastic way to increase sales, and accepting local currencies increases the conversion rate. Payment service providers differ in how well they support multi-currency transactions and the fees they charge. Check:

  • Currency support. Some payment gateway will make additional charges to accept payment in foreign currencies.
  • Conversion rate. What is the conversion rate used?  The conversion rate used may often be hard to find and uncompetitive.
  • Multi-currency transfers. Can the provider transfer currency into a foreign currency account?  Frequently a currency trader account will give a better conversion rate. Examples include Payoneer and World First
  • Additional fees. Are extra fees charged for cross border transactions?

PayPal, for example, will only allow funds to withdrawals in the default currency of the account and at a generous spread above the spot rate. It also charges a cross border fee on top of its usual fees.

Choosing the Right Payment Option?

Offering multiple online payment options increases satisfaction by improving the customer experience. On average, customers use 3.6 different payment methods for their monthly bills (Source: Annual Billing Household Survey).

What is an Amazon Repricing and how to use it? With BQool

In our second online seminar with BQool we look at repricing best practise. Repricing is the practise of dynamically changing prices to order to maximise Buy Box percentage. Sellers can alter prices manually but unless you have a very small number of product it is best to automate the process.

There are a lot of variables to set, and it is it can be difficult to know where to start. In this video we discuss the important of repricing, repricing practise and BQools ‘cool’ AI repricing which improves performance whilst taking the pain out of repricing.

Questions:

  • Why is repricing important
  • Is repricing just a race to the bottom
  • What are the most important factors to consider when repricing?
  • How important is price? Is being 0.01 cheaper enough?
  • Who should a merchant reprice against?
  • Should repricing consider a merchants feedback and fulfilment method?
  • Should shipping be taken into consideration I.e. Should the landed price be used?
  • What best practice does BQool recommend?

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Vital ECommerce Website functionality

It would be too much to spec out a website here fully, however, here is an (incomplete) list of functionalities which all good eCommerce website should feature.

Site Speed

Site speed has a massive effect on the conversion rate, and you should aim to maximise your website performance. Website conversion rate drop by an average of 4.42% with each additional second of load time (between seconds 0-5) (Source: Portent). Furthermore, Google has found that 53% of visits are abandoned if a mobile site takes longer than three seconds to load.

Your site’s speed also affects your natural search engine performance, with Google using site performance as a significant ranking factor. From 2021 Google will be using website performance, which it refers to as Core Web Vitals, in its algorithm (Source: Moz).

SEO Friendly

As discussed in Chapter 4, natural search traffic is a significant source of customers. However, eCommerce sites differ in how easy they are to configure in a search engine friendly way. Platforms provide different support levels for important SEO features like Robot.txt file, XML sitemaps and metadata. Also, hosted platforms like Shopify allow no access to the hosting environment and site architecture, some of the most significant ranking factors.

Mobile Friendly

Over 50% of internet traffic now occurs on a mobile device (source: Statcounter). So, your site’s mobile friendliness should be a primary consideration when choosing a platform and a website template. With a responsive website, content adapts to the device which is accessing it to provide the most user-friendly experience.

High-Resolution Images

Shoppers want to see multiple product images and lifestyle shots of the product in use. Studies have shown that bigger, higher-quality images which are zoomable increase the conversion rate (source: VWO). Furthermore, having more than one image doubles the conversion rate (source: eBay Labs).

User-Friendly

Your website should be a pleasure to use and convert browsers into buyers. 76% of users say ease of use is the most important characteristic of a website (Source: Hubspot). Your website should help shoppers find what they want quickly and provide them with a seamless checkout experience. To improve the usability of your site, consider the following:

  • Categorisation. Take care to organise your products into a simple, logical structure.
  • Checkout. The checkout process should be short (preferably one page) with a clear indication of progress and no surprises like additional costs. The checkout page is especially important for optimising conversions and reducing cart abandonment.
  • Guest checkout. Forcing customers to create an account will put some people off unnecessarily.
  • Shipping cost. Rates should be clearly stated early in the buying process.
  • Site search. Site search is a popular website feature but often performs poorly.
  • Related items. Showing users other products they can buy will increase basket size and average order value.

Internationalisation

More of the e-commerce business is occurring internationally, and the strongest growing markets are outside the west. It is becoming easier to sell to these platforms through your website as advertising platforms such as Google ads work worldwide. For example, Google shopping now operates in 94 countries, accessible from a single Google account.

International sales are a significant opportunity for your business, and shipping to the major markets (Europe, North American, Japan, Australasia) is straightforward. Whilst you will get some sales by offering international shipping options and having your site in English and your local currency, the conversion rate will improve by localising your site to the users’ language and currency.

Multiple Payment Methods

Providing choice on payments is about appealing to as many customer preferences as possible and ensuring that people do not abandon purchases because they cannot pay in the way they want to. Research has shown that 6% of shoppers had abandoned carts due to a lack of payment options (source: Salescycle). Credit/Debit cards are the most popular, but other payment forms such as PayPal come in a close second.

User-Generated Reviews and Feedback

Rating services such as Trustpilot, Feefo and Reviews.io have become ubiquitous, and 57% of consumers will only use a business with a rating of four or more stars (Source: Brightlocal). Reviews and other user-generated content such as product reviews provide ‘Social Proof’ of a business’ reliability. Having some negative reviews can often be positive. Products with no negative reviews are seen as censored, and shoppers will assume the positive reviews are fake.

Choosing an eCommerce Shopping Cart

Building an eCommerce enabled website requires selecting the software to manage the process of making online sales. The software is referred to as shopping cart software.

Shopping Cart Software allows site visitors to select one or more items for purchase and place these in a virtual basket. When they wish to finish shopping and pay for their chosen items, the customer is taken to an online checkout, where the software calculates a total for the order and adds any additional charge such as shipping and taxes. Finally, the software collects payment details securely and informs the customer that the transaction is complete.

A shopping cart is the nuts and bolts of running an eCommerce enabled website, and the choice of cart should be decided by a business’ requirements and online marketing strategy. This section will look at the factors influencing selecting a cart and each solution’s pros and cons.

Types of Shopping Cart

All-in-One vs Self Hosted

As mentioned in the previous section, Shopify is an all-in-one shopping cart solution, meaning that it is an easy-to-use solution managed and hosted by the company that created it. All you need to do to set up your store is sign up and configure the account. You will need to install and manage your shopping cart with all the complications for a hosted shopping cart.

Whilst hosting a shopping cart gives the merchant more flexibility and control, all-in-one solutions are better for most sellers. Major multi-national companies now use solutions like Shopify to manage their eCommerce businesses.

Free vs Paid

When setting up a shopping cart, an important choice is to buy a commercially available cart or use an open-source solution. Open-source software is developed by volunteers and is free to use. Open-source shopping carts such as Woo-Commerce provide a cheap way for businesses to start selling online and offer most of the functionality provided by comparable paid for solutions.

The obvious advantage of open-source carts is that they are free, making them attractive to small businesses and start-ups. However, whilst the software is free, the lack of support may mean that open-source solutions take longer to install and set up, and you are on your own if something goes wrong. That said, there is a vibrant community of developers and professional services companies around most open-source solutions, and help is never too far away.

For commercially available software, there will be an initial setup fee and an ongoing license fee. However, for this money, the software vendor should provide good documentation and telephone support level. Particularly useful when something goes wrong, and immediate help is needed.

The decision between free versus paid shopping cart will depend on requirements, timescale and technical expertise. Business with-in house technical expertise or with particular needs may want to investigate an open-source solution. However, if technical skills are in short supply, it may be best to opt for an all-in-one solution that will provide much-needed support.

Bespoke Vs. Off-the-Shelf

Off-the-shelf products are unlikely to fit all the requirements of every business exactly. For this reason, some companies choose to develop their own cart software to ensure that their needs are met. Do not approach this lightly, as software development can be a difficult and expensive process. Thing to consider when comtemplating a bespoke solution:

  • Cost. It is more expensive to develop a bespoke cart than use an off the shelf solution.
  • Timescale. Whereas an off the shelf cart can be set up in a few hours, building a bespoke cart may take months.
  • Support. If a bespoke cart breaks or if you need modifications, typically, only the original developer will be able to fix it. On the other hand, commercially available carts often offer high support levels and are used by a community of developers. The more people who use a cart, the more it will have been road-tested, and the bugs ironed out.

Off the shelf eCommerce platforms such as Magento and Shopify are powerful and configurable. A third option may be to develop more or more extensions for these platforms to customise them for your needs.

Stand-Alone vs ECommerce platforms

Whilst platforms such as Shopify and Magento started as shopping carts, their functionality has grown, both of their core offerings and through 3rd party apps, turning them into full-service eCommerce platforms. A whole ecosystem of companies has evolved to develop apps for these systems, including:

  • Channel integration. Integrate channels including Amazon and eBay.
  • Warehousing. Organise your warehouse.
  • Payments. Accept payment via multiple methods.
  • Couriers. Integrate with leading couriers.

If you are looking to grow, an extensible system is a good insurance policy for the future. However, if you are only ever selling a few products through your website, then a more straightforward solution may be more suitable.

Choosing your Shopping Cart

When choosing a shopping cart, many factors will influence the selection. As money and time are limited, the final decision will be a compromise. Factors to consider when choosing a cart include:

Number of Products

Small businesses may wish only to sell a few products, while larger online retailers may have thousands of stock products. A company offering a more sizable number of items (and making more sales) will require a robust cart that can cope with volume sales and has the functionality to allow these products to be organised, queried, and edited more effectively.

Nature of products

Most products will be suited to sale through an off-the-shelf cart with no modifications. However, some products will have specific requirements. For example, digitally delivered products such as software, documents and music will require functionality to allow secure file download. This functionality does not come as standard on all shopping carts. Some products will be difficult to sell through off the shelf carts. For example, products requiring a high degree of customisation, such as flowers with multiple options such as delivery time, card and message to specify, will require a bespoke cart.

Functionality

Off the shelf shopping carts will vary widely in functionality. Before choosing a cart, make a list of the functionality needed and compare this to that present in the available shopping cart options.

Usability

The administration functionality of the cart should be straightforward to use and easy to configure. The backend of many carts is unnecessarily complicated. If something seems like it needs a PhD to run, it will make life difficult eventually.

Technical Expertise

Shopping carts require varying levels of technical expertise. Using a managed service requires little technical knowledge. On the other hand, a self-hosted cart will often require a developer to design and configure the front end (customer-facing) part of the site.

Budget

Shopping carts vary in cost from free (open-source carts such as Magento and Woo-commerce) to tens of thousands of pounds. Increasing the budget will enable a business to get a more closely fitted cart to their requirements.

Plugins, Integrations and Customisation

The more popular platforms such as Shopify and Magento have thousands of extensions available, allowing the system’s functionality to be extended without the need for bespoke development. Woo-commerce is itself an extension of the popular WordPress CMS platform.

If your business has particular requirements, you may need to get some tailored development work done on the platform. Carts will differ in how easy this is the achieve.

Shopping Cart Design

The front-end layout of a shopping cart is referred to as the template. Most carts will come supplied with several standard templates and by altering the code of the template the look and feel of the shop front can be changed to reflect a business’ branding. Popular carts such as Shopify and Magento have thousands of off-the-shelf templates available at a reasonable price (£50 – £200).

It is worth investing in an attractive website and not just sticking with the out of the box design. Having a slick design and a good user experience is one factor that makes one online business stand above the rest.

Interview with Jason Russell from Magentity

Magenitity (www.magentity.com) is a leading Magento specialist Agency. I caught up with the founder Jason Russell to talk about eCommerce and tackle one of the trickiest questions in eCommerce – Magento or Shopify?

  • Tell me about Magentity
  • Magento or Shopify?
  • How is website speed best measured?
  • Now that websites are becoming more templated, how do eCommerce companies differentiate themselves?
  • What are the most successful eCommerce companies doing?
  • What has inspired you recently

Watch the video on youtube or check out the podcast version

Interview with Jamie Ridell Founder of Escaping Gravity – Global SEO Agency Ecommerce Odyssey Podcast

Jamie Riddell has been at the forefront of Search Engine Optimisation for over 20 years and his latest venture is Escaping Gravity, a Global SEO agency for Challenger brands.SEO was one of the first things which got me excited about eCommerce, so it was great to discuss the latest developments with Jamie.Amongst other things, we chatted about:Over the last few years, paid search results are taking up more space on the SERPs. Does that mean that natural search is less important for retailers?I notice that Amazon seems to appear prominently in the SERPs for product-related searches. Is it becoming more difficult for ‘challenger brands’ to make an impact? Is it a case of the Matthew effect (‘For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.’)Should SEO have a higher ROI than other (paid) forms of online promotion?How important is getting excellent quality links vs creating great content?Google is implementing core web metrics soon, how much effect do you think this will have on retailers, many of which have slow sites What has inspired you recently?
  1. Interview with Jamie Ridell Founder of Escaping Gravity – Global SEO Agency
  2. Interview with Jason Russell from Magentity
  3. Interview with Jonnie Cartmill from Sendcloud
  4. Interview with Steve Jones from Veeqo
  5. Steve Folwell – Founder of Muddy Trowel

Choosing the right Hosting

Once a domain name has been bought, the next step is finding some hosting for your site. A domain name is just an address and does not provide any storage for the interlinked files that make up a website. You need somewhere for your website application to live! There are two options:

  • Purchase some hosting. When building an eCommerce site, you can buy some web-accessible file storage or ‘hosting’ from a web host to make your eCommerce site available online.
  • All-in-one website solution. Website platforms such as Shopify allow the merchant to create their website from the same interface without worrying about hosting the technical details.

Purchasing Hosting

If you wish to manage your own website application, you will need to find a company to host it. A web host is a company with many computers connected to the Internet. These computers hold the application files which make up a website so that anyone with access to the Internet can view them. Hosting services are a widely available commodity, charged on a monthly or yearly fee. Choose your host carefully as they provide the backbone of an online enterprise. A web host must be reliable as if servers are down, a website will be unavailable and shut for business. Look for the following features when choosing a web host:

Expertise in Your Website Platform

Some hosts will specialise in managing specific platforms such as WordPress and Magento. They will be able to optimise the setup for your platform and provide guidance configuration. If they do not specialise in your platform, check that they deliver the technologies needed.

Reliability, Speed and Location

A web host must be reliable and fast. If your website is offline because the host is down, the site will be losing sales, and money spent driving traffic will be wasted. A good web host will guarantee its uptime and look for a minimum uptime of 99%, preferably 99.5% or higher.

If the servers’ location is important, for instance, if you collect personal information, you will need to find a host that can comply. Large hosts may be able to let you choose your server location.

Data Transfer (Bandwidth)

When a visitor views a website, the files that make up the website are transferred to the visitor’s computer and displayed on the web browser. Data transfer refers to the number of bytes transferred to visitors when they browse a website.

When buying hosting, look for details on how much traffic the hosting plan allows and compare that against your current and predicted traffic. As an online business grows and becomes better known, traffic requirements will increase, so check a host’s policy towards additional bandwidth. This will usually be a charge per Gigabyte (GB) over the stated data transfer limit. Be wary of hosts that advertise unlimited bandwidth, as there will undoubtedly be a limit somewhere. The bandwidth you need will also decide the type of hosting you need (see next point).

Type of Hosting

The cheapest hosting is on a shared server, where one server will run many of websites. On a shared server, the performance of your site will depend on the load all the other sites are putting on the host. Shared hosting limits your access to the server, for example, restricting you to uploading files via, preventing shell access, restricting the programs you can run and limiting the amount of database access.

The next tier up is VPS (Virtual Private Server) which is a virtual machine (a simulated computer) running on a server. Hosting companies will run many virutal machines on one server, however performance is usually better than a shared server. If you use a VPS, you should have the skill necessary to perform essential server maintenance and management.

For better performance, you could lease a dedicated server, that is, a physical server leased solely to you but located in the host’s data centre. Another option is a cloud service like Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Microsoft Azure. The significant benefit of cloud servers is that they can scale effortlessly. If you need to cope with a big traffic surge, just pay your provider more money. Whether you go down the decided server or cloud route, managing a server requires a lot of technical knowledge.

Support

An online shop is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and technical issues can arise at any time. For this reason, only choose a hosting company that offers twenty-four-hour support. Many sales happen outside nine-to-five office hours, especially at weekends, and your business cannot afford to wait until Monday.

Also, consider how much support you will require. A host will answer technical questions, but they will not manage your site, and so if you are non-technical, you may want to consider a managed service.

Security

Your eCommerce site should be secure, and you should make sure your hosting company has proper security in place to protect your server and website. Remember, it will be you who is accountable should anything go wrong.

SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is the industry-standard security technology for establishing a secure link between a web server hosting an online shop and a web browser. This link ensures that all data passed between the web server and browsers stays private. SSL’s working is invisible to your customers, apart from a lock icon that shows that the customer’s data is securely transferred.

To use SSL for a domain requires the purchase of an SSL certificate specifically for that domain. A hosting company should provide SSL certificates or at least support the use of SSL certificates bought from an SSL certificate provider.

Email

Running a business requires a branded email address. A web host should provide POP3 email addresses for the hosted domain, accessed via an email client such as Microsoft Outlook.

All-in-One Solutions

There are a mutiple factores to consider when choosing a hosting company. Building and managing a website is something that requires a lot more knowledge besides basic HTML.

ECommerce platform such as Magento are powerful, but they are challenging to configure and manage. An alternative option is to use one of the leading website builder software platforms, such as WIX, or Shopify, Squarespace. The benefits of these platforms include:

  • Easy to use and set up. These platforms enable businesses to set up their website from one interface and hide most of the technical complexity from the user.
  • Templates. A wealth of ready made templates enables attractive websites to be built quickly.
  • 3rd party apps. Shopify and Wix have a vibrant ecosystem of developers extending their functionality through apps.
  • ECommerce platforms. Shopify supports 3rd party apps which enable businesses to sell through other channels such as Amazon and eBay from the same application.
  • Cost-effective. Shopify and Wix business plans start at <£50/month.
  • Payments. Support for multiple payment types, including PayPal and Stripe. Shopify also offers a payment system called Shoppay.

These platforms (especially Shopify) have been growing in popularity and sophistication and now support a thriving ecosystem of users, app developers and professional services.

The disadvantage of using an all-in-one solution is that they are proprietary to a particular company, so it will not be possible to move elsewhere without re-platforming. If your site is built using an open-source system like Woo-Commerce or Magento and you do not like your site’s performance, you can quickly move to another host. A hosted application like Magento is also more configurable, but what you gain in configurability, you lose in usability.

How to choose a domain name

What is a domain?

Each website on the world wide web has an address known as URL or Universal Resource Locator, e.g. http://www.vendlab.com. This is the address that is typed into a web browser to access a particular website. A URL consists of two parts. The first, http://www. determines this is a webpage fetched using the HTTP or hypertext transfer protocol. The second, vendlab.com, is called the domain and identifies a particular website.

Each domain name consists of two parts: the Mid-Level Domain (MLD) and the Top-Level Domain (TLD). The Mid-Level Domain is the vendlab in vendlab.com. This part of the domain name can comprise of 63 characters in .com, .co.uk, .net, or .org domains. Only letters, numbers or hyphens are allowed. No underscores, exclamation marks or dots are allowed.

Every domain name terminates in a top-level domain name (TLD). This is the .com in vendlab.com. Initially, only a small range of options was on offer, e.g..co.uk, .com, .fr but these days a vast range is available.

Domain names are bought from a company called a registrar. A registrar is authorised by ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) to register and keep track of domain names on behalf of customers. Registrars include GoDaddy and Namecheap.

Choosing a Domain Name

Getting the right domain name is becoming increasingly difficult as so many domain names have now been bought or are being hoarded by speculators, hoping to sell them at a profit. It is essential to take time over your domain name, as this is an integral part of your business’ identity and affects other areas like SEO.

Branding and Domain Names

A domain name should be the same or closely related to the website’s name or the business. This is important for the simple reason that when people think of a website, they will think of its name. If the website’s name is also the domain, it will be easy for them to remember. For example, if a website is called Underfloor Heating but uses the domain name underfloorheatinglimited.com, some people will inevitably get the URL wrong.

When launching a new company, the company name’s choice will be based partially on the available domains available. For an established business or one which requires a specific domain that is not available, things may be tricky. The only choice is to try to buy the domain from its current owner (be prepared to pay excessively) or choose a related URL.

The domain should be distinct. If a potential customer search for a brand name and is presented with several similar alternatives, it will not be easy to find the right site. Similarly, do not be tempted to choose a domain name similar to a well-known business, as this has the potential to confuse and annoy customers.

Keyword vs Branded Domains

When buying a domain, a business can choose whether to create an original brand for their company or use a domain that contains keywords relating directly to their products. An example of a keyword domain would be mortgage.com, while a branded domain would be google.com, facebook.com or zavvi.com.

There are advantages to either approach. Keyword domains have search engine optimisation benefits as the domain refers directly to the products for sale on the site. By choosing a domain that includes targeted keywords, you may rank higher for these keywords and benefit from additional traffic. However, simple keyword domains are challenging to obtain for a reasonable sum. Branded domains, on the other hand, can more distinctive and more straightforward for customers to recognise. Branded domains also allow companies more freedom to use their imagination when choosing names.

A third way is a combination of these two approaches. Combing a brand name with a keyword gives the advantages of brand recognition and keyword inclusion. Examples include arenaflowers.com for flowers and hellobabydirect.com for baby products.

Keep it Simple

A good name should be impossible to misspell. Avoid the following when choosing a name:

  • Hyphens. It is easy to miss hyphens when typing a name.
  • Numbers. Names which use numbers are difficult to remember. The domain name auctioning4u.com is easy to misspell as auctioningforu.com or auctioningforyou.com
  • Plurals. If a domain name is not available, do not be tempted to buy the plural. A high proportion of your traffic will be lost to misspelling.
  • Hard to spell words. Making your domain name hard to spell is asking for trouble. Test a domain name out on some potential customers and see if they can correctly spell it.
  • Short. Domain names can be a maximum of 63 characters, but to make your name easy to remember, keep it short and use proper words.

Choosing the Top-Level Domain

The .com top-level domain is the default domain for many Internet users. However, using a country level domain can have search engine benefits. The best advice is to choose a domain name available in both .com and your country-specific domain.

Do I need a website to sell online?

The growth of online marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay means that it is entirely possible to build an online business without having a website. Many brands on Amazon are known as ‘FBA brands’ as they only sell through Amazon FBA. Online marketplaces should be part of every online retailer’s marketing mix as they have a lot going for them:

  • Easy to set up. Little or no technical ability is needed to sell on online marketplaces.
  • Massive, international customer base. When selling on a website, a seller must generate their traffic, but you get access to their enormous audience in exchange for a commission on marketplaces.
  • No upfront fees. Most fees are charged on a commission basis, with no listing fees.
  • Secure for buyer and seller. The marketplace takes charge of vetting buyers and seller and accepting payments, providing both sides with peace of mind.
  • Support for sellers. Marketplaces offer added services such as postage which helps merchants to run their businesses.

However big marketplaces are, they are only part of the eCommerce ecosystem. Whilst online marketplaces are a fantastic way to start selling online, they have distinct disadvantages:

  • Restrictive policies. When selling on marketplaces, the seller is bound by marketplace rules. These can restrict certain otherwise legitimate behaviours
  • High fixed fees. Amazon charges 15% and eBay about 12% of every transaction
  • Customer communications. Marketplaces typically prohibit their merchants from marketing directly to customers, so opportunities to encourage repeat business opportunities are limited. You do not ‘own’ the customer.
  • (Too) Highly customer focused. One of the reasons why customer like marketplaces is that they are highly customer focused. Consequently, they make it easy to return items and dispute transactions.
  • Unaccountable. It is possible to fall foul of marketplaces rules and have your account restricted or closed permanently. If you are solely dependent on marketplaces, that would be a disaster. It does happen. Be afraid.

By launching an eCommerce site, you can open new channels for your business and attract new customers. The table below compares the selling on a website and an online marketplace:

 WebsiteOnline Marketplace
FeesNone (payment provides will charge 1-3%)5-20% eBay 7-17.5% Amazon
MarketingRetailers do their own marketingMarket place drives traffic to listings via its user base.
RisksLowMarketplace closure, delisting or change terms and conditions
Technical requirementsSome technical knowledge needed to set up a websiteLimited knowledge needed