Domain name? Check.
Professional product images? Check.
Company logo and killer site design? Check and check.
E-commerce checklist? Uhhhh… not yet (which makes me wonder what the hell you’ve been “checking” up ‘till now).
When you’re starting an e-commerce store, there are about a million things to remember. And the last thing you want is to forget a tiny detail that loses your customers early on. And that’s why, in today’s post, I’ve created an e-commerce checklist that you can use to make sure your online store gets launched as smoothly as possible. But first, let’s get clear on why you need to follow the ABC’s of store launches: Always Be Checklistin’.
E-Commerce Checklist: Why Bother?
Look, I get it. You’re not an idiot, and you’ve been playing the online game for a while now.
Whether you’re a “build it yourself” dev or an innovative entrepreneur, you know what you’re doing. So why would you need a checklist to launch your store? Isn’t that a little… beneath you?
The fact is that checklists are an excellent way to give yourself some accountability before going live with your site. And unless you’re Buddha or Jesus, even you probably make some mistakes from time to time.
In fact, some of the smartest people in the world rely on checklists every day to make sure their clients are well taken care of. Pilots, astronauts, doctors… even the great Elon Musk created a self-health checklist for Tesla employees heading back to the office this year.
And if checklists are good enough for Elon, they’re good enough for you.
So let's dive into our e-commerce checklist to make sure your online store is set up properly from the start. This will save you hours of troubleshooting problems, headaches and help you to avoid losing sales down the road.
For your convenience, though, we’ve broken this subject down by category:
Checklist for developers
Checklist for online merchants
Let’s dive into the lists.
E-Commerce Checklist for Developers
If you’re the developer setting up an e-commerce site – or the client wanting to know what your developer should be working on – you need to make sure you have some key questions answered before the store is ready.
Now, to be clear, this checklist picks up where common sense leaves off.
In other words, if you’re still in the “does my site mostly kinda’ almost function” phase, then bookmark this page and come back when you’re a bit closer to the launch date.
Otherwise, let’s look at your first e-commerce website requirement.
1) Are conversion goals tested and tracked?
Although it varies a bit from industry to industry, online shopping cart abandonment rates are super high, with an average of 88% of carts abandoned before checkout. That leaves only a tiny number of your site’s visitors who end up making a purchase.
The more merchants can do to prevent this, the better. And that means they’ll need good data to work from. As the developer, it’s your job to make sure all the KPIs and metrics your client needs to test and track conversion goals are easily available.
That doesn’t just mean the total conversion rate, either. You should also be able to track stats such as new vs. returning customers, lifetime customer value, and funnel abandonment (i.e. wherein the process customers most frequently bail).
In most cases, this means having custom goals set up and tested in Google Analytics before you go live. So get clear on:
What data does the store need to attract new clients?
What data does the store need to turn those new leads into paying customers?
Here's a detailed guide about marketing campaigns.
Here you need to be SMART and by “smart” I mean that your goals are:
Once you’ve set this up, your marketing and sales team will thank you (oh, and they’ll be able to actually do their job).
2) How is the site’s overall performance?
Again, this goes deeper than just “do most of the buttons work yet?” We’re talking about global performance in terms of:
User experience (UX) (a DIY UX audit)
Remember, site performance is important for two reasons:
First, a site that performs well is one that makes the shopping experience smooth.
Shoppers have high expectations when it comes to buying online. If the site is slow to load, or they can’t easily find what they want, they’ll turn to a competitor instead. 40% of people will leave a website if it loads in more than 3 seconds.
Second, Google (and other search engines) care about your site’s performance and use it as a ranking metric when deciding where your site will appear on their search results page (SERP).
If the site load times are too long, or website visitors quickly bounce back to the search page, Google will penalize your site by moving it down the rankings.
And when it comes to performance, the best defense is an aggressive offense (I’ve never thought that phrase made sense, until now). Because a big part of your role at this stage goes beyond making things work now:
You also need to make sure things are set up to perform well in the future, regardless of who is using the content management system (CMS). Make sure your site loads quickly by including tools that make image compression automatic. That way, it’s easy for the merchant to add new products without worrying about slowing the site down.
Also, you can use asynchronous loading and caching to reduce loading times. Consider using a content distribution network (CDN) too, especially if you’re expecting a global audience for your online store.
And don’t forget to optimize the site for mobile users too – around 50% of global internet usage now takes place on mobile devices, which includes both tablets and smartphones. It also plays a big role in SEO as Google primarily uses mobile-version of the content for ranking. Your site needs to work well regardless of screen size or aspect ratio.
When you were tracking data for your client, you probably used Google Analytics. For performance, you’ll want Google Search Console. It will let you know if your site is where it needs to be.
3) How’s the site's layout?
It’s truly amazing how many websites are badly designed. Right from the moment visitors land on your site, everything should be clear and logical. That’s because your site’s visitors approach shopping like lyrics to an Ariana Grande song:
I see it. I like it. I want it. I buy it.
It really shouldn’t be more complicated than that. And, frankly, there should be ZERO friction from that first step to the last.
Shoppers are much more impatient online than they are in person. Someone might be prepared to spend half-an-hour wandering around a mall to find the items they need. But on your site? They’ll bounce away in just a few seconds if they can’t find what they are looking for. Here are a few navigational tips to improve UX:
Menus need to be clearly displayed and contain logical categories (same goes for URLs)
Products should be tagged appropriately, so they display in the right places and can be found using the search bar
Filters and sorting options should be available to help shoppers find the items they need.
And the footer menu should include links to key information, including shipping and returns, FAQs, information about the company, and, increasingly, the brand’s ethics and values.
Leave yourself some time for user testing before the site launches to ensure that the layout is logical to potential customers. And organize the content so it’s easy for the merchant to add new products and keep the site clean. Ok, so quick recap. As a developer, you need to test:
Analytics reporting (with custom conversion goals)
User interface (UI) and ease of navigation
But let’s say you’re not a dev. You’re just an online merchant on their way to bigger and better things in the e-commerce world. What are things that need to be on your e-commerce checklist?
E-Commerce Checklist for Merchants:
Your website is more than just a digital storefront for your shop. It also needs to work well with your other processes, including fulfilling orders and managing relationships with customers.
Let’s see what questions need to be answered before launch day.
1) How is inventory set up and managed?
This tip is mostly for brick-and-mortar stores opening an online shop, too. But it can also be applied to e-commerce stores that sell physical products of any kind. Getting an order through is just one half of the equation. Once someone has bought items from your online store, smooth processes need to be in place to ensure the order is fulfilled quickly. And the site needs to be linked to your inventory, so you don’t end up with hundreds of orders for sold out items. Decide what the workflow will be when a new order comes through. Ask yourself questions like:
Will you receive an email for every order, a daily report, or will you manage orders directly through your CMS or e-commerce platform?
How much will be automated and what tasks will be done manually?
How easy is it to add notes to orders and update order statuses?
How will your logistics scale if sales explode?
If you already have inventory management software, make sure your new online store is compatible. If you don’t have existing software, will the new site include tools to manage your inventory? Or will you need to find third-party software?
While you’re likely anxious to make your first sale, don’t be afraid to bet on yourself. Assume your products will fly off the shelves like hotcakes and prepare for it before inventory becomes a nightmare.
It’s like they used to say in the Boy Scouts: hope for the best, plan for the worst.
2) Are email service providers (like Mailchimp) properly configured with automated responses and/or email campaigns?
Unless you’re only expecting a handful of customers a year, you won’t manually email everyone when you receive an order. That means you’ll need your site to integrate with your chosen emailing service provider instead, so you can automate email campaigns and easily manage your email series.
Most e-commerce platforms automate many transactional emails. Providers like Mailchimp let you set up automated responses based on the actions your customers take. But for this to work smoothly, you’ll need to have it properly configured. Your developer should be able to help you do this during the site setup.
Before launch, make sure you fully test your entire customer journey to check that the right emails are being sent at the right time. You’ll want emails that are triggered when a new order comes through, when an order is dispatched, and when someone signs up to your mailing list. You can even configure emails to send when customers abandon their carts to remind them to return and complete the checkout process.
3) Are payment gateways set up and accessible to most people?
Increasingly, online stores give customers some choice about which payment gateway they use. The easier you can make it for your potential customers to hand over their money, the less likely it is they will abandon their carts at checkout.
At the bare minimum, you’ll need a card payment processor set up to work with your website.
Since there are a lot of different options available, you’ll want to choose one that accepts the kinds of cards your customers use, accepts payments from the countries your customers live in, and integrates with your checkout software, as well as your website.
You might also want to consider allowing customers to pay using PayPal, Google Pay, or a similar gateway that means they won’t have to enter their card details directly. This makes the checkout procedure even more convenient for them, meaning they’ll be less likely to decide against making the purchase.
Once you’ve chosen which payment gateways you’ll use, they need to be configured to work with your site as seamlessly as possible.
4) What are your customers’ shipping needs?
Where do your customers live and what are their expectations for shipping costs and times? Answering these questions will help you decide which options to offer via your online store.
If you’re marketing your goods to customers worldwide, you’ll need to have your checkout forms offer shipping options and prices that change responsively according to the customers’ location.
You may also want to configure different email journeys for customers who live abroad, so you can manage expectations around delivery times. Even if you’re only expecting customers from your own country, you might want to offer different shipping options depending on the speed and service they prefer. That means your online store will need to be configured with different options and prices.
Finally, you also need to decide if you will offer a flat rate for shipping or increase the amount based on the order weight, and then have your developer set up your site accordingly.
5) Who has access to the CMS?
When it comes to managing your online store, you’ll need to decide who will have access to your content management system (CMS) and what levels of permissions they’ll need.
When setting up your site, decide who will have access to the CMS and what tasks they'll need to do. Build your roles and permissions accordingly. You’ll also need to know how to add and remove users, set passwords, and determine which roles a user has. Ideally, adding a new member of staff to the CMS should be an easy process.
Users should also have their own individualized login, letting you easily track who is doing what around the site. These are the main considerations you need to have when planning an e-commerce store launch. But before wrapping up, I wanted to specifically discuss the checkout portion of your customer journey.
How Snipcart Checks All the Boxes?
Here’s the deal: when you’re creating an e-commerce store, you’ll need a way for your customers to pay. But, again, you’re not an idiot. You already knew that.
This is the part of e-commerce that’s our wheelhouse, so I wanted to briefly explain how Snipcart can take a ton of the mental load off your store’s launch.
In other words, Snipcart will check all the boxes for the checkout portion of your e-commerce list.
We recently overhauled the design of our checkout flow:
In doing so, we made sure that Snipcart was 100% mobile-friendly, stripped of any unnecessary fields, and integrates with any website. We’re big fans of the Jamstack (that’s no secret), but our product sits peacefully on both sides of the aisle. Regardless of the technology you're using, Snipcart... just works. it lives in the frontend - here is our CEO talking about it if you fancy some more technical stuff.
You can integrate Snipcart with a CMS like TakeShape, Sanity, or WordPress for example, just as easily as you can with a Shopify store.
Plus, it integrates with all your major payment gateways, like:
Payments can be made in multiple currencies, and shipping/tax rates are calculated as early as possible. This prevents “surprise sub-totals” that often lead to people abandoning their cart. And to make things extra easier for everyone involved (your customer, your developer, your client, or YOU), we have an order validation process in place to guarantee the integrity of all orders at checkout. If you want to geek out over the nuts and bolts of our order validation process as hard as we do, you can check out the documentation here. (Or send that to your developer if they’re skeptical!) The point is that using Snipcart gives you a quick, reliable, and frictionless shopping cart for your e-commerce store. If you wanna try it for yourself, it’s good to know that Snipcart is forever free in Test mode and there’s no credit card required to try it out.
Starting an e-commerce store is something you should be excited about. But you also need to be realistic about the amount of things you need to keep track of. By working with an e-commerce checklist from the start, you can prevent future problems that hurt your sales and, worse, your brand’s online reputation. Doing anything else could result in a massive failure to launch. And not only is “failure to launch” just a god-awful movie, but it’s also not what you want for your future store. And if you want to kick things up a notch, be sure to read our in-depth guide on e-commerce checkout flow best practices. That resource will give you even more information about how you can improve UX during the checkout process, reduce cart abandonment, and maximize your store’s sales.
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