Setting up an e-commerce site for your start-up may help you reach more customers and sell more products and services than just opening a physical shop.
While online shopping may be rising in popularity with consumers, Lloyds Banking Group opens in new window has found that only one in ten small businesses has moved online opens in new window due to the pandemic.
It found that around half (49%) of smaller firms are missing out on increasing customer reach that going digital can offer opens in new window.
A lack of skills and confidence in setting up a digital presence was reported as the main barrier to a business going online.
Setting up an e-commerce site can help your start-up reach more customers opens in new window and increase sales.
There are misconceptions about how expensive the process can be, but there are many low-cost or free solutions to help; you need to find the right e-commerce platform for your business.
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As part of our Learn with Start Up Loans opens in new window partnership with The Open University, our online course is free to join, delivered by experts and includes a free statement of participation on completion.
What is an e-commerce platform?
An e-commerce platform is software that enables you to build an online store to take and fulfil orders.
It can control and manage e-commerce needs, such as:
- product pages
- customer support opens in new window.
Setting up an e-commerce platform can help you manage your digital presence in one place.
It can remove the need for manually controlling stock and transactions, so you can have more time to spend in other business areas.
Key features to look for in an e-commerce platform
No e-commerce platform is a ‘one-size-fits-all’.
By determining your business needs you can find a platform that best suits your requirements.
Some features are essential, though, if you want the best out of the platform.
Key features to consider include:
- Functionality – an e-commerce site that isn’t user-friendly may potentially lose sales. Find a platform that you can customise, which is simple to use and navigate with features such as a search bar and product information boxes.
- Customer support − look for a platform that offers 24/7 support opens in new window when launching your site. This feature can help you resolve issues without losing customers opens in new window.
- Marketing tools – tools such as abandoned shopping basket reminders or email opt-ins opens in new window can be beneficial for bringing customers back to the site.
- Site security − look for a secure e-commerce platform that protects your website and customer data. Platforms should have an SSL certificate opens in new window, the protocol for encrypting Internet traffic and verifying server identity.
- Capability to grow − the ability to scale up opens in new window or down is essential for business growth. The platform should also allow integration with other software opens in new window so you can grow and scale your business.
- Payment options − your chosen e-commerce platform should support various payment options for greater flexibility with customer payments opens in new window, such as credit cards or digital wallets.
Low-cost or free e-commerce platforms to consider
Looking for low-cost e-commerce platforms to get started? Here are five that may be suitable for your business.
Before signing up for an e-commerce platform, do your research opens in new window to ensure it is suitable for your business.
The platforms listed below are not endorsed by the British Business Bank and may not be suitable for your business.
You should shop around when choosing the right platform for your business.
Shopify opens in new window is easy to use and can be customised without knowing about code or design.
It caters for worldwide selling, enabling you to increase your customer base.
- built-in marketing opens in new window tools
- customer insights
- integrated sales channels, such as sales through eBay opens in new window, Facebook opens in new window, and Instagram opens in new window
- mobile app opens in new window features
- customer support options (available in 19 different languages).
The platform offers a 14-day free trial, and pricing starts at £25 per month for a basic plan.
There are plans suited to different business requirements.
- the ability to track and process purchases from a single dashboard
- detailed business insights opens in new window
- an app allowing you to manage e-commerce from anywhere
- multi-channel inventory management
- built-in SEO opens in new window and marketing tools
- over 50 payment gateways, including ‘buy now, pay later’ options.
Wix offers a free trial, but basic plans start at £7.50 per month with the option to add advanced features as your business grows.
WooCommerce opens in new window is a platform plug-in used on WordPress, which is a popular website-building tool.
It’s suitable for small businesses and caters for individuals wanting to use their blog opens in new window for selling.
It’s customisable, allowing for a strong brand image opens in new window.
- flexible and secure payment options (integrating with 140 region-specific gateways)
- an easy-to-use interface with dashboards for easy management
- automated tax calculations opens in new window and live shipping rates
- marketing opens in new window integrations
- an ability to sell across the globe opens in new window with different currencies and languages.
It is a free plug-in, but you will have to pay for a hosting server.
It is also scalable and can handle unlimited amounts of products (as long as it doesn’t slow your website down).
Squarespace opens in new window is a simple and easy-to-edit e-commerce site builder, allowing you to choose from templates to customise.
It allows businesses to sell their services opens in new window, not just physical goods, with an online calendar for bookings.
- integration with social channels opens in new window
- flexible shipping options and real-time shipping rates
- multiple payment methods
- mobile management from the app
- order and inventory management
- sales analytics.
The interface is suitable for small businesses and businesses selling subscriptions opens in new window or digital content (like downloads).
Prices start at £17 per month with the ability to scale your business and additional e-commerce features for a higher cost.
With customisable themes, you can brand the site opens in new window to suit your business without needing any expertise or lots of time.
- marketing tools, SEO and insights
- real-time shipping and shipping tools
- inventory management
- automatic tax calculator and easy checkout system
- product search and badges
- mobile and tablet app for management on the go.
Prices start from £9 per month with additional plans including advanced features for when your business starts to grow.
Thinking of starting a business? Check out our free online courses in partnership with The Open University on sustainability in the workplace.
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Reference to any organisation, business and event on this page does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation from the British Business Bank or the UK Government. Whilst we make reasonable efforts to keep the information on this page up to date, we do not guarantee or warrant (implied or otherwise) that it is current, accurate or complete. The information is intended for general information purposes only and does not take into account your personal situation, nor does it constitute legal, financial, tax or other professional advice. You should always consider whether the information is applicable to your particular circumstances and, where appropriate, seek professional or specialist advice or support.