Create an online shop for your products. How hard can it be?

Reading time: 6 minutes

If you read our previous post about e-commerce after COVID then you probably don’t need us to tell you again that e-commerce or online shopping is the way of the future. You’ve heard it for years before, and now it has accelerated substantially by the ‘adapt-or-die’ COVID-19 climate. According to World Wide Worx, an independent tech market research group, the portion of e-commerce in South Africa’s retail climate is just 1.4%, compared to the US and China, where it is closer to 20%. So, how do you tap into this market, and where do you start?

Strange as it may seem, it’s not just about having a product and sticking it up on a website. There are plenty of other factors to consider, such as the price point, the delivery options and fees, who will facilitate the shipping process within your business, how your customers will pay and how to market the shop once it’s live. Let’s unpack the process a bit and touch on each of these points. 

What to sell and for how much?

While no one knows your product better than you do, it’s important to do your research about what else is available on the market: what your competitors are selling and for how much. Once you know this, then you should decide whether you will include your delivery fee in the price of the product or charge for delivery over and above the normal product price. In order to make the process simpler, you’ll need to list each of your products on a spreadsheet with prices, descriptions of the products (well-worded and compelling), category, weight, height and width (if applicable) and attributes if your products have variations.

Then you need to consider the images that you have of your products and what your shop might look like. For best results, your product images should be approximately 500 pixels square in web-quality, with a transparent background (if applicable), and showcase the product details in the best light possible. The images should each be labelled with the correct name and be organised according to category. A lifestyle image or two of the products is also necessary to market your products in situ.

How does shipping work?

In South Africa, we can’t rely on the post office, so a courier or collection is the way to go. In today’s world, collection is not necessarily going to be popular unless you decide to use a service such as Pargo where the collection points are controlled and sanitised properly. Choosing a courier is an important step, as your delivery time and cost could make or break your online store service. Make sure you consider the time it is going to take for someone in your business or at your supplier’s business to process the order, create a waybill and notify the courier to collect the product. There are systems and software to make this process easier, but the bottom line is that it’s an additional step that must be costed into the process.

In terms of how to charge for delivery on your website, if it’s possible to absorb the shipping costs or work it into your product price then offering “free delivery” is a big drawcard – even if it’s only for orders over a certain amount. If it’s not feasible then you can decide to either do a flat rate based on the delivery address or you can use a plugin on your website to calculate the delivery fee based on the buyer’s address input.

How do your customers pay? 

Gone are the days where PayPal was the only available payment option! Now there are over 30 payment portals worldwide and more added every year. Fortunately for us, only a few of these options work in South Africa with ZAR, so the choice is easier. Whether you choose to use PayFast, Peach Payments, etc. they all offer very similar packages. Mostly they either charge a monthly fee or take a percentage of the transaction, or both, and offer similar payment options for the customer: credit card payments, instant EFT, Masterpass (offering Zapper), or you can integrate with Snapscan. Whichever platform you decide is the most feasible for your business, our advice is to make it as easy as possible for customers to pay. The ability for a customer to pay with just their phone – to not have to reach into their wallet to find a credit card – is already one less barrier to getting that sale.

Choose your platform: WooCommerce vs Shopify or Squarespace

Lastly, once you have all your information ready to go, you need to figure out which platform you want to use to build the online store. We are often asked to describe the differences between the available platforms and there are many, each with their own pros and cons. However, you only need to do a simple search to find that WooCommerce powers 29.13% (and counting) of all online stores on the Internet in 2020, followed by Squarespace Online Stores with 18.84% and Shopify with 10.82%.

It is important to understand the differences between the platforms before diving in. While WooCommerce is a (free) plugin or add-on to a custom WordPress website, Squarespace and Shopify are both out-of-the-box solutions which can be set up easily using their user-friendly platforms. It’s really important to make the distinction that a WooCommerce shop built on WordPress is hosted on your own server, i.e. you have complete control over the cost and location of that server (the website hosting company). In addition, with WooCommerce you can choose to customise your store however you would like and can use any of the 30+ payment portals which integrate with WooCommerce to accept payments.

On the other hand, both Squarespace and Shopify are hosted on their own servers, i.e. you pay them a monthly fee to borrow their software and that means you have to stick to their customisation limits and payment options which are more limited. In the case of a South African online store, these limitations could make or break your business. For example, currently Squarespace only offers two payment methods, Stripe or PayPal, neither of which integrate with South African banks (at the time of writing this) and therefore it is expensive to convert from another currency to ZAR when receiving money for your goods sold.

In the case of Shopify, while it’s a great solution to get a quick online store up and running, once you start to need more customisation (such as discount codes for your customers, wish lists, integration with your accounting software, integration with local shipping companies), each of these integrations costs money to set up and sometimes adds to your monthly subscription fee, eating up your profit margin.

For those and many other reasons, our shopping platform of choice is WooCommerce. Most recently, we’ve built new online stores on WordPress using Elementor and WooCommerce which gives us best combination of customisation with the ease-of-use of a page builder to make beautiful online stores. Keep an eye on our social media pages for showcases of these new projects.

Marketing your online store: get your customers to buy!

The advice sometimes given to start ups stating: “if you build it, they will come”, is a misnomer. You can build it, but they may have no idea it exists. The difficulty is not all in building the online store – it’s how to find potential customers and then how to convert them. For this you need a solid marketing strategy, audience research and personas, a good brand story and an advertising budget.

So if you’re ready to get stuck in and build your online store, give us a call and let us help you take your business to the next level.

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