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From bricks and mortar to clicks and mortar

A step-by-step guide to structuring your first ecommerce website for London’s small retailers

Are you a small retailer looking to take your business online? Thousands of business owners just like you have already taken the leap and now run a digital store alongside their physical one. This retail revolution can help attract new customers – in London, the UK and beyond – as well as enhance the experience for existing ones. The result? More sales with comparatively lower overheads. Sounds appealing, right?

If you’re considering expanding your business online for the first time, you might have lots of questions. This article is here to help, providing a step-by-step guide to designing and structuring your ecommerce site.

The art and science of ecommerce website design

You’ve decided you need a website for your small retail business, but where do you start? Here are some top tips for what to consider when designing your website:

  1. User-friendly design
    Go for a clean, intuitive site design. Your website needs to be easy for the user to navigate because if customers can’t find what they need, chances are they will leave your site and go to another one where they can.

  2. Mobile optimisation
    Londoners are known for always being on-the-go, so it’s important your website works well on mobile devices as well as on desktop. By aligning with customers’ shopping habits, you’ll be able to capture a wider audience.

  3. High-quality images
    With the rise of social media, there’s an even greater focus on the way things look, so it’s worth investing in professional-quality product images. Make sure to use clear, high-resolution pictures that will encourage customers to buy.

  4. Compelling product descriptions
    It’s time to shout about why your products are so great and what makes them different. Write detailed and persuasive product descriptions that highlight the key features and benefits of your products.

  5. Secure payment options
    Londoners are switched on and security savvy so make sure your ecommerce website uses a secure and trusted payment gateway. This gains customer trust and prevents missed sales due to security concerns over making online transactions.

  6. Clear call to action (CTA)
    Whether you want your customer to make a purchase, sign up for your newsletter or get in touch, your website should make it easy for them to know what step to take next. Clear, prominent CTAs help guide the user on their journey.

  7. Responsive customer support
    Too big, too small, or not quite right. As a small retailer, you know it’s inevitable there will be issues with some orders. Use your website to give details of how customers can reach you with their questions, such as live chat, email and telephone.

  8. Social media integration
    Social media is great for promoting your products and driving traffic to your website, but did you know you can add social sharing buttons to your website? These allow users to share products from your website with their social networks.

Structure for success with these site map secrets

A well-organised site map not only improves the user experience, it also helps with search engine optimisation (SEO) and makes it easier for visitors to find what they’re looking for. Here’s a guide to what to include on your website:

  1. Homepage
    Introduce your business and showcase key products or promotions.

  2. Navigation menu
    Use clear, straightforward labels for categories (e.g. Shop, About us, Contact and Special offers).

  3. Product categories
    Divide products into logical categories and use easy-to-understand category names (e.g. men’s, women’s and accessories).

  4. Product pages
    Each product should have its own page with high quality images, a detailed description, price and clear CTA button (e.g. “buy now”).

  5. About us
    Include information about your company, team and any unique selling points. You can also add customer testimonials or reviews to build trust.

  6. Contact us
    Add a contact form, list contact details (email, phone number etc.) and embed a map with the location of your physical shop.

  7. Shopping basket and checkout
    Make the shopping basket easily accessible and create a straightforward checkout process with as few steps as possible.

  8. Search bar
    Include a search bar and filters to help users find specific products quickly.

  9. Blog/news section
    Share updates, industry insights, and promotions. This is great for SEO.

  10. Footer
    Add important links here such as terms and conditions, your returns policy and links to your social media accounts.

Let’s talk cookies (no, not the chocolate chip kind)

Setting up a website for your retail business means you need to be aware of (and compliant with) two key pieces of UK regulation around cookies and data privacy.

  • General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
    GDPR regulations ensure businesses handle personal data responsibly. This includes not collecting unnecessary data, allowing users to access personal information you hold on them and providing a way for users to request you delete all information held about them.

  • Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR)
    PECR requires you to get user consent before placing any cookies on their devices. You need to provide clear and comprehensive cookie information on your website and a cookie banner which lets users know your website uses cookies and ask for their consent before placing any non-essential cookies.

Here’s a rundown of some of the things you will need to do to ensure you are compliant with the above regulation:

  • Website privacy policy
    Publish a clear and easily accessible privacy policy that gives details on what personal data you collect, why you collect it, how it will be used and with whom it may be shared. You should also include information about cookie usage and instructions for how users can manage their cookie preferences.

  • Data security
    Use encryption, access controls, regular security assessments and other measures to ensure the personal data you collect is secure.

  • Data breach notification
    GDPR regulation requires you to notify the relevant authorities of a data breach within 72 hours of becoming aware of it, so put a process in place to detect, report and investigate any data breaches.

  • International data transfers
    Make sure you comply with GDPR data transfer restrictions if moving personal data outside the UK or the European Economic Area (EEA).

The legalities of being picture perfect

As a retailer, you know how important it is to create a visually appealing shopping experience – whether in your physical store or online. Using high quality, engaging imagery on your website helps build a positive perception of your brand and drive sales. However, it’s important to remember there are legal aspects to using images for commercial purposes. Let’s look at how to stay out of trouble when choosing images for your website and find out where you can source royalty-free and free-to-use images:

Use your own images
The simplest way to ensure you can use an image is to take it yourself. Customers value authenticity, which is another reason to use original images of your products and store where possible. Being unique will help you stand out from the competition.

Explore free-to-use image websites
What if taking your own images isn’t an option? Several websites offer high-quality images for free, such as Unsplash, Pexels and Pixabay. You can also use websites like Public Domain Pictures which have images without copyright restrictions.

Think twice before using Google image search
A lot of these images are copyright protected, meaning you could run into legal issues if you use them without permission. Be sure to check usage rights first.

Consider reputable stock photo websites
Some sites offer royalty-free stock images, which are licensed for commercial use without the need to pay each time they’re used. You can also buy images from stock photo websites like Shutterstock or Adobe Stock which offer a wide selection of high quality images.

Finally found the right photos for your website? There are just a few more steps to follow before hitting the publish button:

  • Read, understand and comply with any specific licensing terms.
  • Attribute images properly (where required) by adding a credit on your website.
  • Keep a record of the sources and licences for the images you’ve used in case of any legal enquiries.
  • Compress images to optimise your website’s loading times without compromising quality.

Tools to get your customers from click, to basket, to checkout

Choosing the right tools and platforms for your ecommerce website is key to ensuring smooth back office operations and a positive customer experience. Here are a few options which may be suitable for you as a small retail business owner:

  1. IONOS

This web hosting provider also offers ecommerce solutions, including an easy-to-use website builder that’s ideal for small retail businesses.

Great for:

  • Domain registration and hosting services.
  • Website building.
  1. GoDaddy

This well-known domain registrar and web hosting provider offers beginner-friendly ecommerce solutions and 24/7 customer support.

Great for:

  • Domain registration and hosting services.
  • Website building.
  • Marketing tools for online promotion.
  1. Shopify
    With a user-friendly interface and a host of handy features, it’s no wonder this ecommerce platform is so widely used.

Great for:

  • Secure payment gateways.
  • Customisable templates.
  • App store for additional functionality.
  • Built-in tools for inventory management and order tracking.
  1. WooCommerce (WordPress)
    This plug-in turns your WordPress site into a fully functional ecommerce store. Flexible and customisable, it’s suitable for businesses of all sizes.

Great for:

  • Seamless integration with WordPress.
  • Community and developer support.
  • Plug-ins for added functionality.
  1. Magento
    While it may have a steeper learning curve, Magento is a great solution for businesses with complex requirements, plus it’s highly customisable and scalable too.

Great for:

  • Advanced features for large inventories.
  • Strong community support.
  • Mobile-friendly design.

With so many options on the market, we recommend researching each platform, reviewing customer testimonials and considering any specific needs your business may have. Don’t forget to also check for promotions and discounts these platforms may offer to new businesses.

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