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Building an Online Store

Ecommerce... Basic Store Design

Whether you intend a pure Internet play (no physical store) or are looking to expand the customer base for your existing goods and services, the e-store consists of a few basic building blocks.

The Index (or Home) Page is the door they come in. It should include at a minimum navigation, contact information, and graphics which provide a visual anchor for your business.

Top Level Pages in an e-commerce site are also called catalog pages. Here will be your merchandise organized by category.

Sub-level Pages in an e-commerce site are also called product pages. On these pages will be the larger image of the product, a description, an options menu (so a shirt can be purchased in "blue" and "large"), and the buy button.

About Us is the page generally used to expound on your business philosophy or to introduce yourself to potential customers. Possibly even to extol your virtues!

Resources this page is about search engine placement... on a bed and breakfast site this would be the "Local Attractions" or "Events" page. But this is an integral part of any business site because these are the pages you can list for free on LookSmart's system. If you don't want to pay to play on the search engines... provide information and they'll let you play for free. What can you add to your site as a "resource?"

  • How to... pages. How to knit a sock. How to plan a wedding. How to pick a bed and breakfast. How to choose the right diamond. How to articles will serve you two ways: they'll punch you up the search engine ladder... and they'll answer questions before they arrive in your email box. If someone does ask a question you've already addressed, you can simply respond with "see our article at http://www...."
  • Links to other people's how to resources. Which, from a search engine perspective, can have the same results... and make you friends at the same time. Everybody loves a free link.
  • You can actually make money at this by including links to suppliers from your affiliate relationships on your resources page. Just make sure the links are relevant. So, for example, on our chicken resource pages "A flock of your own," we include our affiliate links to Lehman Brothers, ebay, and Magazine City. Lehmans sells books on raising chickens and supplies, ebay is a source of used equipment, and Magazine City offers Mother Earth News at a discounted rate. All of these links have made us a little money, a few dollars now and then, but more importantly... they spare us from having to answer, over and over again, email which asks "where can I buy..." The links are right there!

Resource pages, properly designed and written, are submitted for free to the LookSmart directory, which is the directory MSN and other major search engines draw from. You may NOT submit your front page, or commercial pages to this directory without paying for them, and paying for them adds up very quickly. Writing a few articles and coding the pages carefully to draw traffic unobtrusively back to your main index page is a most cost effective way of getting into the hierarchy, without having to shell out $300 or more in placement fees. So consider "Resources" a must include... not a luxury item.

In addition to the traditional pieces that make up your business, you should consider these additional pages:

Special Orders a forms driven page for the customer who wants something above and beyond the standard fare you offer.

The Newsletter Archive where you store content from your fascinating newsletter.

The Guarantee is almost never used, but look at the miles Land's End and L.L. Bean have traveled with the "unconditional guarantee." If you believe in your products... guarantee them. A guarantee is a priceless piece of good public relations, and often spells the difference between making a sale, and not.

The "Friends" Page is a page you can use to promote other businesses or websites who will either enhance your site by providing content you can't offer, or will exchange links with you.

Directions to Us, often overlooked, but seriously, don't you want folks to actually find you?

The Contest using your product. Sell fleece? Have a contest for the best handspun using your fleece with bragging rights and a small prize. Punch up your site with lamb recipes by having a contest. Have a contest for the best vacation photo of your resort. You can make a contest out of almost anything, just make the rules clear and fair, and run the show clean.

An E-commerce site will also include:

The Shopping Cart handles the transaction, including the "back end" administration: debiting their credit card account, crediting your merchant account, sending an e-mail acknowledging the order, and generating an order form.

The "Warehouse" where you maintain and manage inventory, options, your shipping options, and every other facet of your site.

Feeling comfortable? Most retail business owners can break their inventory apart into categories and subcategories with some ease, but are daunted by the idea of "stocking" an online store, figuring out how to calculate shipping, and how to manage orders. Fear not! We use a full featured online store from Powerful Hosting which will give you, in very simple web based format, everything you need to manage a store. Including relieving inventory, calculating shipping, processing the order, and printing an invoice. It is so simple, you'll wonder why you waited. Contact Us for more details.

Or sit down with a nice cup of coffee, and sketch out some ideas on how you want your store to look and be organized... and then contact us.

At this point, I should say something about design. There are as many ways to manipulate and display graphics as there are web designers. And there are as many ways to present information as there are imaginations. Please visit our portfolio where we discuss different options in detail.


Additional Articles:

Ecommerce without Inventory (or a shipping department... or tears!)