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If you’re selling a product, you need to have an eCommerce site to compete effectively and service your customers to the extent that they’ve become accustomed to when they buy any products or services online. When you embark on your project, being well prepared from the get go will pay dividends in the long run. Preparation is everything. Here’s five essential housekeeping jobs that I recommend you consider before you start:

1. Do your market research

Find out what your competitors are doing and how they take their customers through the buying journey. From identifying which product to buy, to paying for the goods and receiving a confirmation. What’s good and what’s not so good about the process and what can you learn from them?

You’re used to dealing with your customers every day, so what have they stipulated that they want to see from you? They must be looking for a more streamlined order process, easy navigation, a more modern way of placing their orders and a facility to place their order 24/7.

How are you processing the orders within your business? If mistakes are being made by re-keying order information, then consider an integrated eCommerce solution that will remove the headaches and reduce the number of returned goods.

2. Gather detailed product information

Think about when you’re visiting trade shows researching to add to your product range. You have the luxury of touching and feeling the goods. You can see the various sizes available, check the quality and compare various models. Your online customers are not able to feel and check the quality your goods when they’re browsing, so you’ll need to gather as many product details as you possibly can and make them accessible to your customers on your site – not only does this provide much needed information, detailed product information is great for SEO. And bear in mind, if your customers need to look elsewhere to find the information they’re looking for they’ll probably end up buying from your competitor’s site.

If your eCommerce solution is going to integrate with your ERP system, you’ll already have the product codes associated with your stock, so now is a good time to standardise those codes, elaborate on the descriptions and make sure there’s plenty of detail. Take the time to remove any discontinued products, update incorrect product information – including any pricing errors.

3. Consider the structure of your site

Think about how you would normally search for a product. You want to be able to search by brand, size availability, price, specific features and in stock items. Once you’ve gathered that information, think about how you’re going to structure your site, the main categories and the sub categories and in what quantities your products are available – are you selling a minimum number of specific products? Are you going to sell your products in boxes of six or twelve and as a single item, and do you have various prices dependent upon the quantity ordered? Consider your bulk ordering options.

If you implement an eCommerce system that integrates with your ERP solution, you will have all of your stock stored in the ERP solution so this could save you valuable set up time. You may already have discount structures set up for individual customers that will be able to feed through to your eCommerce system.

4. Collate images of your stock

Because your customers can’t touch and feel your products before they buy, you need to provide them with as many images as possible from as many angles making sure your images are a good representation of your products. Many eCommerce websites have started displaying videos of how their products work or presenting a 360 degree view and/or a zoom option to bring the products to life. If your customers are confident about what they’re buying, you’re less likely to have stock returned.

5. What about the small print?

Before your customers buy from you, they’ll want to know your terms and conditions, shipping and returns policies. Start discussing the finer detail with relevant departments and stakeholders, pulling together the information for your documents. Think carefully about what you’re offering and be realistic. If you’re shipping some of your stock from third parties, you’ll need to communicate that clearly and agree terms with them upfront. Potential customers want to know that you’re a credible company and trade fairly with your existing customers. If you can include testimonials from satisfied customers, now is a good time to start talking to them and asking for quotes on your customer service.