Selling products online seems simple: choose a shopping cart, price your merchandise, and watch the sales start rolling in.

In reality, there are a number of critical decisions you need to make before launching a successful e-commerce system. Here are 5 steps to get you there.

  • Organize your products. A surprising number of people who want us to set up an e-commerce system can’t tell us exactly what they want to sell. They’ve never made a comprehensive list of all their products. Before diving into e-commerce, start with the basics. Create an end-to-end product list in a database or Excel file. Include the product name, description, cost, weight, dimensions, and SKU number. You’ll also need product photos for each item. (Tip: Name each jpg according to the product’s SKU number to reduce confusion). Once you can identify everything you want to sell, we can get rolling.
  • Categorize your products. Think about how to organize your products into categories. If you’re a home store selling curtain rods, for example, should they go under Curtains or Hardware? Should a glass bowl go under Room Décor or Serveware? Or both? Choosing categories that reflect where customers will naturally look for products will ease frustration and promote sales.
  • Choose your software. A number of e-commerce options are available; you want the one that best fits your company, products, audience, size, and aspirations. You also need to ask specific questions. For example, do you sell to retail and wholesale clients? If so, your software must feature a tiered pricing structure. Do you sell thousands of different products? If so, you need enterprise-class software … and a sophisticated search feature. Will your customers buy via credit card or PayPal? The list of questions goes on. Answering each one helps us narrow your choices and identify the right system for you.
  • Determine the flow of your cart. The goal is to create a natural flow through your site – one that leads customers from an initial landing page to exactly what they want. To do this, you need to think about how customers would click through your site. What are the broad, top-level categories they’ll start with? (Electronics, for example.) What sub-categories will they expect to see under that? (Cell phones and TVs, for example.) What filters will they to use to narrow those subcategories? (Brand and Price?) Creating a logical flow will help customers easily find and purchase what they want.
  • Choose multiple products vs. a single product with options. Do you have a wide range of products available in different styles? (For example, men’s shirts in various colors, patterns, sizes, and lengths?) If so, you may want to set your cart up to have fewer products with multiple options. In contrast, do you sell products with options (such as color or fabric), but want to highlight the distinctiveness of each one? Then you may want to set each item up as an individual product.

This article should give you a sense of the many questions that come into play when setting up a successful e-commerce system. Before jumping in feet first, find a developer who’s a true e-commerce expert and work through these questions together.

The time you spend up front choosing the right system and configuring it properly will pay off in ease of use and increased sales in the long run.

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