E-commerce websites first started to grow in popularity when Amazon launched its site in 1995. A lot has changed since then, but one thing that has flourished is the desire (and some might say need) to make purchases online. If you’re wondering how to build a successful online store, this guide will help you understand what makes e-commerce websites different from other types of sites, what you need to build one, how to choose a hosting provider, and how to ensure the short- and long-term success of your online store.
How is an e-commerce website different from other sites?
An e-commerce website is different from other kinds of websites because its primary focus is to encourage and enable online purchases. Many other types of websites, such as blogs or business-to-business information providers, are geared toward getting the word out and engaging with visitors. While these are also goals of an e-commerce site, e-commerce goes beyond that to generate sales and promote future business with customers.
To ensure that your online store meets the goals of e-commerce, it should have:
- A mobile-friendly design that makes it easy for customers to make purchases while on the go using a mobile device
- A template that showcases a marketplace of product images and descriptions and supports product pages
- A shopping cart feature that lets customers add multiple products to their cart (and remove them)
- The ability to track customers’ actions and enable remarketing to those who have not completed the checkout process
- Customer support to help you maximize selling and customer engagement opportunities
Create your e-commerce website with these key elements
To build your own online store, you need to start with a domain name, a hosting service, and a way to accept online payments.
Choosing a domain name
Your domain name is the name of your website—it’s what people type into the address bar of their browser to access your site. It has two parts, the name itself and a suffix, or extension, that goes after it. For example, in “mailchimp.com,” “mailchimp” is the name and “.com” is the suffix.
For the name, it’s best to choose one that matches your business name (if that domain name is available) or is close or strongly alludes to your name. For some businesses, it works to use an acronym, with the first letter of each word in the business as the domain name. For example, Others may choose to abbreviate their business’s name and use that for the domain name.
It can be easier to get a domain name that matches your business name if you choose a suffix other than “.com” because there are so many .com sites already registered. The same can be true for “.net” or “.org” because they’re also very popular. But don’t worry—there are literally hundreds of other extensions to choose from. The flip side of this is that you want your potential customers to remember your web address, including the correct extension, so you might not want to choose one that’s too long or obscure.
Above all, make sure your domain name is easy to remember and share with others. Choosing one that is overly complex will make it more difficult for potential customers to directly access your site, which could lose you sales.
How do you get a domain name?
You can buy a domain name from a domain name registrar. A domain name registrar registers your domain name under your identity or that of your business and prevents anyone else from having the same domain name.
Some people also purchase additional extensions with the same base domain name. For example, you may decide to buy not just the .com, but also the .net, .org, .biz, and .tv, to ensure that if a customer types in the wrong suffix, they can still get forwarded to the correct site.
You can purchase a domain name from many companies, including:
Getting a hosting provider
Your hosting provider gives you the space your site needs for its online presence. Keep in mind that some website builders, including Mailchimp, can provide hosting for you. Before starting to use a website builder, be sure to verify whether or not you’ll need a separate hosting provider.
The hosting company not only provides a place for your website on the internet, but it also gives you the storage space and bandwidth to ensure your site runs the way it should.
For an e-commerce site, storage space is particularly important, because you may have hundreds or thousands of product images or videos, each of which may take up considerable space. Therefore, you’ll want to ensure that you use a hosting provider that meets your current space requirements and gives you room to grow. As you add more products or services, you may need much more storage than when you first launch.
Hosting services also provide you with bandwidth—the ability to handle the data that’s transferred back and forth between your customers and your site. You need bandwidth to ensure a seamless experience for your visitors. If you don’t have enough bandwidth, it could slow things down, negatively impacting the user experience. Adequate bandwidth makes it easy for users to:
- Navigate from one page to the next smoothly
- Watch video content
- View images of products, including close-ups
You should have enough bandwidth so that visitors don’t even think about how seamless their visit is. This way, they can focus more on your products or services than on how your page is functioning.
How to choose a hosting provider
When you create an e-commerce website, you need to choose your hosting provider carefully. While virtually any hosting provider with web-building tools can meet the needs of a typical website, an e-commerce site requires specific considerations.
- Accommodation of higher traffic demands: This ensures your site can handle the transactions and browsing of many visitors at once.
- Greater uptime: Uptime is the time a site is accessible on the web. You should always inquire about the amount of uptime you can expect because downtime can mean lost sales. Be sure to ask if there are specific times when uptime may be a challenge, such as during peak selling seasons.
- SSL encryption: Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption protects your customer’s personal and financial data. It disguises the data while it’s in transit. This way, if someone were to intercept the data between the customer’s browser and your website, they wouldn’t be able to read crucial details like credit card numbers or home addresses. This security is provided in the form of an SSL certificate on your site.
- Automatic backups: An e-commerce site should have regular, automatic backups. If the site were to go down, you would need to be able to revert to a backup that includes product names, descriptions, images, and videos as soon as possible. This aids in business continuity and resiliency, which lets you bounce back soon after an unexpected event.
- Adequate storage: Ideally, you want to choose a hosting provider with expandable storage. As your business grows, you may need more storage to accommodate the increasing content on your site.
- A fast database: With an e-commerce site, the data pertaining to each item you’re selling is stored in a database. The site pulls information from this database to present to the user. This may include prices, images, descriptions, videos, and anything else associated with each item. A fast database enables shoppers to see accurate, complete information all together, making it easier for them to make a purchasing decision. On the other hand, a slow database may result in delayed images or other critical information, which can cause visitors to lose interest.
Implementing a payment service
A payment service is central to an e-commerce site’s function because it lets customers purchase your products directly from your site. If you already have a brick-and-mortar store, an effective online payment solution can increase your sales volume by giving you another way to do business.
- You may have customers who are unwilling or unable to travel to a physical location.
- Your customers might be used to online buying experiences like those provided by Amazon and expect to be able to purchase from the comfort of their homes or while on the go.
- Online shopping makes it easier and faster for customers to compare products, so the ability for them to make a purchase immediately after choosing your product can boost your bottom line.
Your payment solution can integrate with your business’s bank account, an online payment provider like PayPal, or a mobile payment solution, such as Square. Furthermore, you can accept a wide variety of payment methods, including direct bank transfers, credit card transactions, and those provided by online payment solutions. It may also be possible to accept cryptocurrencies, depending on your payment preferences and provider.
Aside from the functionality, you should also consider your payment provider’s transaction fees. A payment service may charge a fee for every transaction, which can impact how much you charge for your products.
Most e-commerce platforms offer built-in payment services. Some may give you and your customers multiple options to choose from, while others may use just one payment service. For example, Mailchimp uses Stripe to process payments. When choosing an e-commerce platform, you’ll want to look into the details of what payment services they offer to see if they work for you and your business.
Build your site with your customers in mind
A great place to start when embarking on your e-commerce journey is checking out the site-building tools of reputable hosting companies. This will give you an idea of the various design options available to you and help you decide whether to go it alone or hire a web designer or agency. Both are valid options, but hiring someone could get expensive. Many of the site builders out there guide you through the process, making it easy to get a site up and running.
You should also be sure to check out what your competition has done with their online stores. There are plenty of great e-commerce websites that you can take inspiration from—and you can also think about what you can do better.
As a business owner, you want to prioritize the customer experience when creating an e-commerce website. This means thinking about how they shop, what they shop for, how they go about making a purchase, and how they engage with other elements of the site. Mailchimp’s e-commerce solutions help you consider all these factors as you build your site.
While the entire purpose of your e-commerce site is to allow visitors to browse and purchase, certain features may help create a comfortable, user-friendly shopping experience that will keep customers coming back.
- Customer reviews of individual products or the company as a whole help instill confidence in the minds of shoppers. Some sites even have plugins that showcase social media posts with pictures or mentions of the product.
- A search function lets visitors look for products, services, or articles that appeal to their interests.
- A well-thought-out navigation bar makes it easier for a customer to quickly go from one page to another while visiting your site.
- A shopping cart is where customers can hold the products they want to purchase while they continue to browse. A great option is to have a mini cart that pops up on a page, rather than leading to an entirely new page, so that shoppers can quickly see what they’ve added to their cart.
- A blog helps attract traffic because it contains keywords users search for. As a result, even if potential customers don’t know about your business, they can still stumble upon it after searching for a specific term. Incorporating keywords related to your product and business into your blog posts is good search engine optimization (SEO) strategy.
- Mobile-friendly options are important as more consumers shop directly from their mobile devices. In addition to ensuring that your design works well on a small, narrow screen, you can expand your payment options to include mobile payment services.
Taking advantage of some or all of these features will not only make visiting your site a great experience, but it can also translate into higher sales.
Your very own online store
Mailchimp offers domain names, hosting, and web-building templates that you can use to customize your e-commerce site. With Mailchimp, you can also customize email campaigns and optimize your marketing strategies with features that empower you to get more site traffic, boost customer engagement, and increase sales. Start using Mailchimp for free today.