6 Questions We Asked Ourselves Before Starting An Ecommerce Website

I’m Nikolas the Chief Marketing Officer and part­ owner of Lens Hour, an online eyewear retail store situated in Cyprus. Getting past the brief intro, this blog post will cover quite a few things off the top of my head that have been going on behind the scenes.

This is the first post of the “Ecommerce ­ Competing Against The Odds” series of many (hopefully) for our new blog.

If you have the time grab a cup of coffee or tea, it’s going to be quite lengthy.

Average Reading Time: 9 Minutes

The Initial Idea

Other than being the “go­to­guy” for anything tech, website and marketing related (SEO Consulting mainly), I’m a fitness freak and a Physical Education degree holder. This year I’ve gotten back on the track, competing in javelin at the age of 31.

GAndreou Track and Field Team

 

While driving past a very close friend’s optical store on my way to a track and field training session on the beach, something just clicked in my head.

I create websites, I help other companies solve their website issues and create marketing strategies for increased revenue and exposure. One hurdle throughout my own online ventures has always been sourcing products.

Other than providing services to others and being an Amazon affiliate on the side for over 6 years now, with great success, I’ve always wanted to move one step further and sell my own products.

“Building your house in someone else’s yard is never a sound business model.” Click to tweet

This thought seemed to be the first step towards something I have always wanted. I create the website and the marketing strategy, while the products and prescriptions are handled by a certified Optician that’s already in business and has his own sources for the products.

Let’s call the Optician “Cyclops” for now. He will be revealed later on down the road in this blog series.

Cyclops

We’ve talked a bit about his existing website in the past but, as everyone knows, running a ‘brick and mortar’ business and running an online store are two different things. There’s not enough time in a day to be able to single­handedly juggle both businesses on a full­time basis. I personally didn’t have time in the past to help out as I had also been busy myself.

I grab the phone and call Cyclops up:

Me: “Hey how are you?
Cyclops: “At work, the usual. You?
Me: “I’m going to a training session down at the beach and have a great idea.
Cyclops: “Shoot.
Me: “Are you in for an ecommerce eyewear store?
Cyclops: “Yep, let’s do it.
Me: “Ok, gather your contacts and get back to me.
Cyclops: “Give me a few days. You get started on the website and do your magic.
Me: “I will have something ready in just a few days.
Cyclops: “George can help out with the paperwork and also do some of the other chores.
Me: “Great, I’ll come by later on and call George so we can all meet.

George is now the third partner. He has a degree in Economics and an MBA in Finance, so he is
an individual with foresight and a very down to earth guy to boot.

Ecommerce Game Plan

I was skeptical at first on how to proceed, as there’s so many things to work through. It’s never ever easy at first. We had no seed funding or a huge budget to work with, so everything needed to be done on a shoe­string budget. I created a rough draft of questions and answers to get me organized and motivated for the hard first weeks ahead.

 

What domain name to purchase?

This is going to take some time, as it is not easy when all the names we think of are taken. I checked out what the competition is doing (SunglassHut, FramesDirect, LensCraft etc), grabbed a few eyewear terms and started punching some names into Godaddy until one finally came up that wasn’t taken. The end result was Lens Hour. We like it because it’s specific and it’s memorable.

 

What about hosting?

The good thing is that I already have a yearly contract with TrafficPlanetHosting. It’s as good as WPEngine back when I was using them, but at a much more affordable price. In terms of traffic, it can handle just about anything you throw at it. I have a very popular tech blog that can get upwards of 100K traffic at times, which the servers handle without a hiccup. There’s quite a few options online, but stick to one that has 24/7 support but also companies that know the ins and outs of WordPress.

 

What Ecommerce platform to use?

Easy! I work mostly with WordPress and the Woocommerce plugin is one of the easiest/best ecommerce additions as it comes with great support and continuous community contributions.

Why should I recreate the wheel or pay a big lump sum hiring someone to do it for me when it’s already available?

 

What WordPress theme to use?

This comes down to personal preference. I personally not only look at UX (User Experience Design), but also the basic on­page SEO elements. I’m no beginner, so I can customize just about anything, but some things just take too much time and drive you away from more meaningful tasks.

My final choice was the Shopkeeper theme from Getbowtied.

It has a few perks and is easy to use as well as looking amazing. The ‘easy to use’ statement isn’t something I just happened to say from personal belief, I took a bunch of tech illiterate friends and family members and asked them what they thought. Watching them jump from one page to another and finally to the checkout page using the Polaris Theme demo website, helped me see that it was exactly what we needed.

 

What plugins should I use?

This one is kind of complex. I have a standard set of plugins I use for SEO and security, while other elements depend on the website focus and what will be beneficial for the customer experience. For those not into things like these, skip to the next question.

For the rest of you, these are the plugins I am currently using at the time of writing, I have tested dozens to find this mix. These might change at any time in the future though, as businesses grow depending on needs.

This is a great addition to any website as it overcomes the hassle of clogging up customer support tickets or emails to customer care. As soon as you ship the customer’s order, you jump into the order page, reference the shipping provider and the tracking number, and the customer is automatically notified through email about the completion of their order. Better yet, all of the above details are added into the first few lines of the email automatically.

Autoptimize helps aggregate and minimize JS, HTML and CSS. Together with Wp Super Cache mentioned below, our site is blazingly fast.

This plugin is one of the standards I use to keep the website safe from intruders. It has quite a few options that can be found here in greater detail.

This is a payment gateway used to purchase products with Bitcoin. Me, Cyclops and George have been in the Bitcoin/Altcoin space for quite some time now and wanted to add a bit of personal touch to the website. This, of course, is also good later down the road for marketing and garnering backlinks from communities outside of the traditional ecommerce world.

Taking content to the next level, Draw Attention will allow you to offer classic informational content in a more eye­pleasing way.

I’d like to thank Neil Patel from Quicksprout on this one. I’m a frequent lurker on his site as he provides some of the best marketing and content ideas for businesses in an easy, digestible format. Here’s a recent one that caught my attention.

I’m currently using Yoast’s Google Analytics plugin to track visitors on Lens Hour. This is the simplest way of adding Google Analytics code to your website.

This plugin will be changed to a more advanced code snippet for Adjusted Bounce Rate (or Advanced Content Tracking as I like to call it) that will be helpful in collecting information on how readers enjoy (or maybe not?) content when our data is meaningful enough.

While there’s quite a few form plugins available for free, I have the premium Gravity Forms plugin that can do just about anything when customized. From online signature documents to integration with payment gateways and affiliate tracking, it’s my go to plugin for anything form related.

Woocommerce’s product recommendations are “broken” in my opinion, I’ve tried coding my own filters to get it working but sadly wasn’t able to get the perfect result. The guys over at Graphflow have created this “one of a kind plugin” that mirrors what Fortune 500 companies do for upsells and cross-sales, while also promoting the most relevant and/or sold products. I’d also like to provide a little extra kudos to them for helping to fix an issue we had on our theme in a timely fashion.

We had to consider this type of plugin due to having some sole-distributors who disallowed us from selling their products to our home country (Cyprus). This plugin helps restrict specific products so they can only be sold to a country or countries of your choice. The ‘add to cart’ button is hidden while a simple message stating “Sorry, this product is not available in your country,” is provided.

While each image is specifically named so search engine bots can understand them, providing alt and title tags also help. It can be a tiresome task, so this is where SEO Friendly images comes in handy.

This premium plugin helps bulk update anything product related, from titles to sales prices. It’s a must have in my opinion, especially if your catalog is big as it can save you countless hours.

This is also a plugin from my standard arsenal. It caches pages, providing up to 100% faster page load times in specific cases. This is in conjunction with a special admin_ajax code, helped us drop our loadtimes to under 1.7 seconds for US traffic and under 2.6 seconds for traffic from Europe. The specific code overrides the new addition (admin_ajax.php) from the Heartbeat API for Woocommerce sites. Be aware though, as this also disables the autosave functionality.

Adding different options (over 500) when someone enters a lens prescription through Woocommerce’s native variable product features caused the specific pages to take ages to load (over 15 seconds), in addition to also being unresponsive at many times from mobile devices. The WC Field Factory plugin provided a great option to just add additional fields (text for us) to our product pages, while also providing the fast load times we are used to on our other product pages.

This one is self-explanatory if you know anything about WordPress. It’s the backbone of Ecommerce on WordPress.

This is a premium plugin that helps provide different currencies of your choice to users. It runs cron jobs to update exchange rates through Yahoo exchange.

A customer might want to purchase a product, gift wrap it, and send it straight to someone else. We provide the option FREE as it’s low cost and also something really nice to do.

This was once a Yahoo service but is now run by the guys over at WPMU. It lossless compresses images uploaded to the website so they load faster.

WP-Optimize clears up old drafts and database entries so your website runs as good as new. It’s similar to defragging your hard-drive.

We’ve added reviews on our products and this plugin helps automatically send out an email to remind people to review their purchase. Great for beefing up your content without the hassle of doing it yourself. Reminders can be customized to be sent out whenever you want after the purchase.

One is free (Yoast SEO) while the other is a premium plugin. Yoast SEO gives you some out-of-the-box features that fix various on-page issues while also giving you flexibility to customize whatever you want. The latter is an addition for specific Woocommerce needs, which helps to provide perfect communication between the two.

 

What will differentiate us from the bigger Ecommerce retailers?

This is one of the toughest questions that any business will have to face, but at the same time somewhat easy to solve by just looking at what others have to offer. We will look at this in more detail in part 2 of the series, as we are already running long with this article. Here’s a few simple ones:

Digging through the thousands of online websites that sell eyewear, a few things were very apparent:

      • The copy-pasting of product information

The solution was to create a layout for each of our product categories – Contact Lenses, Eyeglasses and Sunglasses – that combines just about anything the consumer needs to now in an easy, digestible format, while also not being a clear copy-paste from elsewhere. This takes quite a lot of time to create at first but scales quite easily further on down the line.

      • Manufacturer photos

While Cyclops has a DSLR camera and is a hobbyist in photography, the first few product pictures were sadly not up to par. I have a friend called Fytos who is a photographer, coming relatively cheap while also being a perfectionist in what he does. We talked for a few hours, getting into detail about what dimensions I needed and how we can overcome photo-theft while not altering the product images in a way that would be unattractive to customers. It took us roughly 8 hours at Cyclops Optical shop for the first batch of around 70 products and Fytos is now working countless hours to perfect the image lighting in Photoshop.

      • Little to no content other than the basic product information

This one is big and can be seen even across very successful retailers. Even Amazon doesn’t do it right, even though they are one of the flagship ecommerce sites on the web. They have user-generated content, but until traffic starts pouring in and people start buying, you are literally helpless until you are able to get them to review the content.

I’ve worked with quite a few people in the past and one specific writer, Lee, from the UK seemed to fit the role perfectly. Even with very basic instructions he researches and adds his own personal touch to whatever he writes, no editing needed, while he is probably the fastest email responder (less than 6 hours on average) I have ever worked with, even months after not being in touch.

Inspired by the blog post from Groove HQ.

Hopefully you have enjoyed the first part of the “Ecommerce – Competing Against The Odds” series. If you have liked it, please feel free to share it with your friends and family.

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As for Part 2, it should be coming your way in the next few weeks.

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