Questions for Ecommerce

We’re adding shopping carts to a couple of websites this week, and I’m noticing afresh how many decisions business owners have to make about their shops, even if they’re not primarily ecommerce companies. Perhaps especially when they’re not ecommerce companies.

Retailers typically already have systems for selling tangible goods and have a lot of information about the process. The carts we’re adding this week are selling books for nonprofit agencies, but you might face the same kind of decision-making if you decide to offer pet food on your veterinary office site or fitness gear at your gym website, tickets to company events or T-shirts bearing your company logo.

We’re using the Woocommerce plugin for both the stores we’re working on right now, so we’ll use that in the examples, but the principles are the same in every case. These are things to think about before you think about colors or fonts.

Your product

You know all the details about your product, but have you taken time to think about what those details mean for your online store? If you’re selling T-shirts, people will want to know the size and the materials used. These features aren’t the most important for books. If you’re selling books, the table of contents will mean more to your readers than the number of pages.


Provide detail, though, no matter what you’re selling. The screenshot above shows a simple description, and visitors know they’re getting a print version of the book, but the page shown below is more appealing. Go ahead and have more detail than your readers will need — just divide it up visually so they can easily skim through any information they don’t care to read.


The nature of your product should also help you decide what form you want to offer it in. One of the sites we’re working with planned to sell physical CDs and DVDs, but their visitors might prefer digital downloads. Will you allow just one download, or can people who have paid for a download come back and download another copy? Where will you put that information?

And think about how your product might be sold. If you need to sell by the yard or the pound, plan ahead and make sure that your chosen shopping cart can handle it. Will you sell partial yards? Will you sell partial but with a minimum order of one yard? Will the price per pound change according to the total volume of the order? Will some products be sold by the yard and some by the inch? Figure these things out before you launch if possible to save headaches afterwards.


Who should receive the news that an order has been placed or that a customer has cancelled an order? Probably not your webmaster. But if you just set up a shopping cart with a plugin, that will be the default. Be sure you know who should get the word and make the right choices in the settings.

You may also want to customize the notifications sent to your customers. Most shopping carts include some generic language, but you might want to be sprightly, warm, hip, or elegant — none of which comes in the generic language.

For Woocommerce, the places where you make these changes can be found under Settings> Emails.

Path to Purchase

Think about your customer’s path to purchase. Do they already know that they need your product? If so, do they know that you have the product available to buy?

Your website should always make it very clear what you have to sell, and how a visitor can find it. But depending on your organization and your product, you might not want to put a store in your main navigation.

Consider making a separate landing page for your product if it’s not the center of your business. Then determine just how people will get from a state of innocent ignorance of your product to putting that product into their virtual shopping carts and make sure that you have the path or paths built all the way from one end of that path to the other.

Some items to consider:

  • Should you link to your product page from other pages and posts?
  • Should you promote your product in social media?
  • Do you need ads for your product?
  • Are people searching for your product, and if so how will you make your product findable?
  • Do you have strategic partners who can help you spread the word?
  • If people don’t yet know they need your product, where are your customers hanging out and how can you reach them there?

Check out

Make sure to test your cart. Better yet, have someone easily confused who doesn’t use the internet very often test your cart. You can be sure that the people who built your cart have already tested it and have found that it works perfectly. For them. They will not be able to imagine all the ways that people can use it wrong. And let’s be very clear about this: people who use the cart wrong are not wrong. They’re just showing you how people will actually use the cart and all the things they will find confusing.


Your cart will basically look the way that the combination of your shopping cart and your theme make it look, unless your designer has styled it for you. However, most shopping carts and themes have lots of configuration options, and a custom website should look just the way you want it to. If it’s not custom, accept the reality of your theme and work with it.


Who will get the product to the customer after an order has been placed? Sometimes expectations are out of line with actuality. For example, you may think that you’ll pack orders and take them to the post office once a week on your way to your office. That will work if you sell 10 or 20 items a week. It won’t work if you sell hundreds.

Equally, if you expect to sell hundreds and you hire people to take care of the packing and shipping but you only sell 10 or 20 items a week, your plan won’t work the way you expect it to.

You may need to find a fulfillment house to take care of shipping, and it won’t jinx your business to figure out some “if-then” plans for different levels of sales. Make sure that your shopping cart fits the workflow you come up with for fulfillment.

As your shopping cart is built, you’ll need to know what you plan to charge for shipping, whether you need to charge sales tax, at what point an order becomes profitable, and what you’re willing to do to get customers to that point (free shipping, for example). Figuring these things out first is helpful.

In fact, it makes sense to think about all of these things before you build your shopping cart.







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