Setting up shop: 7 essential tools for building an online store from scratch
If you’re wondering when to start selling online—now is the time!
Thanks to a plethora of tools and technology on the market today, it’s never been easier to start building an online store. Not to mention, online sales have increased to 52 percent of all retail sales and look set to rise even further in the next few years.
Whether you’re starting a business for the first time, or you’re a traditional brick-and-mortar retailer looking to make the leap online, here is our list of essential e-commerce tools that will make your startup journey a lot easier.
1. E-commerce platform
Typically, you will have two options: an out-of-the-box website builder or an open-source self-hosted one.
Out-of-the-box solutions, such as Shopify, BigCommerce and Volusion, provide a full toolkit for creating and operating your website, including hosting services and domain names.
It’s worth noting that these platforms offer low technical barriers to entry and are easy to design and manage, making this option more suitable for online sellers starting out for the first time.
An open-source self-hosted platform such as Magento or WooCommerce requires a certain level of technical know-how, or a developer on hand. That said, you will have far greater control over your e-commerce site, including the ability to easily add plugins, extensions and additional features.
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2. SEO tool
Selecting a platform is only the first step in building an e-commerce store. To start growing your business online, you need to set up each of your pages for search engine optimization (SEO). This will determine where you rank on Google, Bing and other search engines and will bring traffic to your site. Gaining organic traffic with SEO is the most cost effective means of advertising online.
Make sure your site is optimized by using an SEO tool such as Moz, SEMrush or Ahrefs. These tools help you conduct keyword research, improve your search traffic, track growth, build reports and offer suggestions for outranking your competitors.
3. Analytics software
The insight you can collect about your visitors will show you how to grow your online store.
By integrating analytics software into your website from the get-go, you can keep tabs on who your visitors are, where they came from, which pages they are viewing and, more importantly, how you can improve your site to increase conversions.
Google Analytics provides you with that invaluable information about your customers and helps you measure how much revenue your website generates. Not only is it free, it also offers a huge amount of support and resources to get you set up and make the most of the platform.
Other analytics tools worth considering include Kissmetrics and RJ Metrics, both of which have the ability to provide an even more detailed analysis into your website’s performance.
4. Email marketing software
Email marketing is a huge driver of both website traffic and sales conversions. But while there are some obvious advantages to having your own e-commerce store, something it doesn’t offer is a ready-to-buy customer base.
That means you need to put the wheels in motion early on to build a mailing list for your business and choose a suitable email marketing platform.
MailChimp, HubSpot, DotMailer and Constant Contact are just four of the many emailing marketing platforms available today. It’s important to keep in mind that each one will have slightly different offerings in regards to functionality and reporting capabilities, so it’s crucial to do your research and test these platforms out.
To help you get started using email for your business, including choosing the right platform, building an email list and knowing which types of e-commerce emails to send, we put together a free training series including actionable tips and advice.
5. Social media management
Twitter and Facebook are great platforms for engaging with potential customers, generating both brand and product awareness and, even better, driving traffic to your site.
Social media requires time, dedication and regular posts to keep your followers engaged and interested. Save yourself some time and automate!
This is where social media management tools such as Hootsuite or Buffer come into play. Being able to schedule posts across all your social channels—and analyze their performance—removes the need to manually post throughout the day and frees up a substantial amount of your time.
6. Order and inventory management software
Think about your company’s growth potential from the outset: Regardless of whether you’ve decided to start selling on your own website, or you’re simply testing the waters with an online marketplace, you will eventually want to grow your business across more than one channel.
The important thing to remember from day one is that scalable growth relies on the use of an inventory management system. In other words, without an automated system that can manage your inventory, orders, shipping, listings and other e-commerce tasks, you will waste precious time and put your business at risk of human errors like overselling.
Some inventory management software providers offer a free version designed specifically for e-commerce startups. With Linnworks’ free Community Plan you can list up to 50 SKUs across three channels, while also benefiting from full access to the system.
7. Customer support software
Whether you’re a small startup or a Fortune 500 company, customers expect near-immediate responses to their queries or complaints at all times of the day. But for the vast majority of online businesses, it’s not feasible to have someone on hand 24/7.
By investing in a support solution such as xSellco’s e-commerce help desk software, you can fulfill customer expectations for timely communication, no matter the hour, with an automated, human-like response.
The advantage of using xSellco is that you have everything in one place. Every message includes a complete view of your customers, their order details, shipping status and more, so you can send fast, personalized responses in two clicks. When you are ready to scale your business, xSellco can connect you to every marketplace, online store and social media. Plus, the help desk makes it really easy to communicate with international customers.
Bottom line, it all comes down to what’s best for you and your business. There are plenty of website builders out there, but each of the tools outlined above plays an important role in creating a successful e-commerce store that’s scalable across multiple channels.